By Rich Lindbloom
As I walked down the stairs at 5am on Friday morning, I took a nervous glance at the two hirsute beasts laying on their mats. Our Wheaten Terriorist had taken a turn for the worse recently, and had a growing mass on her back. The night before we noticed she was having a very difficult time walking, also giving up any interest in food. For you dog lovers out there, it had reached the time where you would offer the dog steak or ice cream, anything to try to get them to eat. Unfortunately, we all seemed to know it was only a matter of days before – pick one – Zoie, Zobo the Hobo, Dumb Blonde, Taco or Bird, would breathe her last.
Both my son and wife petted Zobo and spoke words of affection to her that night in a way that seemed to say, “Goodbye old friend.” Hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst, I actually thought about sleeping on the floor next to her that night. Odd, this relationship between man and dog. Almost the same as a diehard Toronto fan and their team.
When I had reached the bottom of the stairs I noticed George, our 130# Newfie, was lying close beside her – not a normal morning habit. What a sickening feeling as I called Zoie’s name and got no response. As I knelt beside her, searching for life in a stiffening body, feeling and observing her chest for signs of breathing, I realized the end had come to this cherished companion.
Zoie was a feisty little blonde. Although she only weighed 35 lbs, she would not back down one inch from our 105 pound Akita or George. With her teeth exposed she would go after the behemoths, never afraid to let the goof balls know that was her bone. She was quick as grease lightning, able to leap the two steps on our back deck like a gazelle. She loved her walks, although she much preferred when my wife would walk her. Nathalie would take the beasts to the Izaak Walton preserve across the street, the cherished stomping grounds for all our dogs.
Two days before she passed away, Nathalie took George and Zoie and let them run free on the ice covered pond. That’s pretty much a slice of heaven on earth for a dog! In a dogs world it rivals a hat trick or a shutout or seeing Brandig Bollig sitting on Corey Perry. It always made me feel inferior when I’d say “C’mon guys, lets go for a walk,” and Zoie would walk over and sit by Nathalie. After a little coaxing she would agree to let me put the collar on, settling on the two block walk we routinely took at 10pm. The dogs would always get a little longer walk when the Hawks triumphed, as I talked to the dogs about my three stars of the game. Several pieces came to light in the dark hours of late night walks when they would sniff the same spot for a short eternity. (I love an oxymoron.)
If there were a player on the Hawks who reminded me of Zoie, it would be Andrew Shaw. It seems that neither one of them realized how big they were/are. As my friend Rubin once told me, when Shaw looks in the mirror he see’s 6’5″, 235 lbs staring back at him. As the saying goes, it’s not the size of the dog, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. Shawz is sort of a dirty blonde, no?
At any rate, while trying to figure out what was wrong with our terriorist the last two weeks, I listened and read many pieces and fan assessments on what was wrong with the Hawks since the start of the New Year. Blackhawk fans are no longer satisfied with wins, they are demanding domination-a “You will obey me” mindset. As Zoie would put it, “That’s my bone nozzle, keep your paws off it.” Grrrooowwwwlll!
While the lingering effects of overtime losses have left a foul taste in our mouths, I see absolutely nothing to panic about. Someone texted Judd Sirott last night and noted, “It was a great effort but something still seems to be wrong with Jonathan Toews.” You may recall that back in 2009 I noted we should get rid of Tazer while we could still get something for him. After two Stanley Cups I realize my assessment was a grossly misconstrued. Besides, I was only saying that to get a rise out of my 15 year daughter who was more and more convinced that Jonathan could skate on water.
Sirott actually chuckled when he read that observation. Basically he said “I’m sorry but given the facts I just can’t come to the same conclusion as you.” What he was actually thinking however is, “You moron, Toews is 11th in the league in scoring with 47 points and is a +21, centering perhaps the most dominant line in hockey. Lay off the stupid pills.”
I get that his miscue against the Avalanche, that led to their extremely annoying OT goal, was excruciatingly painstaking. However, and this is just my expert opinion, Tazer took his eye off the puck to calculate where everyone was on the ice in order to generate a prime scoring chance. In other words, for a moment he thought he was Kane and or Bollig and didn’t need to keep his eye on the puck.
Perhaps a better play would have been to fire the puck into Varlamov’s stellar glove hand, eh? Truth of the matter is, if Hammer doesn’t go brain dead for a moment the game would have most likely ended in a shootout. That scenario hasn’t worked out to well lately either. Either way, I don’t expect that Coach Q will be benching “The” captain anytime soon. (Although with Q, one never really knows!)
My assessment of the Av’s beatdown is that the Hawks did not lose that game. If any Avalanche player could actually look at himself in the mirror after that weak performance and say, “We won tonight,” they need to undergo psychiatric evaluation. RoeConn echoed many nervous Hawk fans sentiments when he had Mark Lazerus on his radio show on Thursday. Roe wanted to get Lazerus’s take on the “Is there something wrong with the Hawks,” angle so many pundits were promulgating. “Damn it! We expect perfection, nothing less will do!”
Lazerus seemed to be on the same page with me, which vaulted him to the top of sport columnists covering the Hawks in Chicago in my mind. If you haven’t checked him out, you’re missing one of the best hockey reporters in Chicago. (Although I’m not sure I’m buying the “It was just another game in January” approach he took in his piece after the quacks from Duck Dynasty was dispatched.) As Roe kept probing him, trying to get him to give a compelling reason why the Hawks don’t win every game, Lazerus gave a great take on the situation.
He noted not only did the Hawks fire 48 shots at the villain between the Av’s pipes, they attempted 88 shots that game. A lot of the misses were due to realizing you need to pick tiny openings in Varlamov’s cage if you expect to score. It would seem, other than Shaw’s brilliant effort, the bottom half of the goalie who wasn’t good enough to play for the Capitals is pretty much reinforced with Flex-Seal. And as anyone who has seen that infomercial can attest to, that crap is impenetrable. I believe that was the game Kane set up Keith for a misfire from ten paces in the slot. Bottom line, Lazerus went a long way to assuage any nervous nellie’s out there who were beginning to think the Hawks are toast.
A good dose of Marian Hossa also can go a long way to lifting one’s spirits. Steve Konroyd described Hossa when he filled in for Eddy-O in a way that went past the common observation among the Blackhawk intelligentsia, the “I’m Marian Hossa, and your not,” view. I think it was in the second period when Konroyd said something along the lines of, “What he’s doing is magical – it’s like he can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants to.” Not Steve’s exact words, but the admiration of a former NHL player over what Big Hoss can do with the puck bordered on adulation. Actually, that was one of the better TV broadcasts all year for Pat Foley also. Of course, with 48 shots on goal for the Hawks, there wasn’t much dead time!
Worry warts will also point out that Kaner is in a mini slump. as far as those thoughts go, well as Rex from the classic movie Napoleon Dynamite would point out, “Forget about it.” Kaner had and set up multiple scoring chances that night. Some of you might not realize this, but the reason we were able to draft Kane was because of the last game of the season for the Edmonton Oilers, the year of Kane’s draft. The Oilers were playing a meaningless game against I believe the Flames, and the Flames had half of their starters in the press box to rest them for the playoffs. Edmonton won the game, but lost the war when the Hawks were bumped ahead of the woeful Oilers in the draft order as a result. This is just me thinking, but somehow I don’t see the Blackhawks hoisting the Cup twice without Crazy 88’s on the roster.
If you can get by the outcomes, the winning is everything mentality of Mr, Cheesehead – Vince Lombardi, there have been a lot of bright spots in January. Perhaps the brightest spot was the return of Corey Crawford. Will the goalie controversies ever cease in Chicago – what does Crow have to do to prove himself? I’m so tired of skeptics comparing Raanta’s record with Corey’s. Also-News Flash-when a sniper in the NHL fires at you uncontested from the dot, those are not the gimmee’s the announcers would have you believe. Bottom line, anyone worrying about Corey Crawford-cease and desist. He’s the man, period.
Also, for those of you lamenting the fact that Brandon Bollig continues to ply his trades for the Hawks, I would direct you to page 40 of Ken Dryden’s book, “The Game.” Oh what the hell, here’s what he says about a fairly successful coach named Scotty Bowman;
“But speed is not enough. Quick players are often small, and in smaller rinks against bigger teams, are frequently subject to intimidating attack. Bowman knows that Lafleur, Lemaire, and Lapointe, players whose skills turn the Canadiens from a good team into a special one, must be made “comfortable,” as he puts it; they must be allowed to play without fear. So never farther than the players bench away, to balance and neutralize that fear, Bowman has Lupien and Chartraw, sometimes Cam Connor, in other years Pierre Bouchard, and of course, Larry Robinson. With a game to game core of 14 to 15 players, Bowman fine-tunes his line-up, choosing two or three from among the six or more available to find the “right mix,” as he calls it, for every game we play. He believes that a championship team needs all kinds of players, and that too many players of the same type, no matter how good, make any team vulnerable.
In other words, in terms a Blackhawk fan can understand, too many Chiefs and not enough Indians spoils the pot. Say what you will about Danny Carcillo, but one of the best plays he ever made was when David Backes decided to goad Tazer into a fight after a corner scrum. Carbomb came roaring in to Tazer’s defense. I’ll never forget the look on Backes’ face – it screamed out, “You’re not the one I wanted to fight/intimidate,” as Danny boy opened a can of whoop-ass on the Blues hooligan. That’s hockey!
While I’m convinced so many hockey wins are determined by which way the puck goes after it ricochets off of the congestion in front of the net, you still have to find a way to win. I’m pretty comfortable with the Hawks chances with the current roster. Watching a player like Versteeg bust his butt no matter where Q slots him is quite reassuring. It’s lonely at the top they say, and certainly any team they face wants a shot at the champ. Beating the Hawks is still a pretty sizable feather in your cap.
To put it quite simply, a doggedly determined effort is needed night in and night out. There are no gimmee’s on the NHL schedule. For you finger nail biters out here, take a chill pill. The victory against the Ducks gave a pretty good indication of what the Hawks are capable of when they get seriously up for a game.
In closing, I’d like to leave you with some observations my son Greg made when I told him Zoie had gone to that great Izaak Walton in the sky. First off, he unsuccessfully fought back tears as memories came rushing back into his mind. He told me how when he came home from school everyday and made his bowl of cereal, (Greg is living proof a kid can make it to age 17 eating nothing but Cocoa Puffs or Frosted Flakes), Zoie would sit at the top of the stairs waiting for him to go down to his play station games. You just can’t replace that type of friendship and loyalty.
Secondly he told a story that may be beneficial to the way the Hawks can win a few more games this year. (If only we had a true #2 center or a real goalie!) Last fall, George stole one of Zobo’s toys in the back yard. She went tearing after him like a bat out of hell, trying to force a turnover. As she rounded a corner she ran smack dab into the middle of a bag full of leaves, knocking it over. She was stunned momentarily, and was clearly trying to shake out the cobwebs for a moment or two. Her attempt to recover the stolen toy was unsuccessful in that instance; but you had to admire her effort!
Actually, I attended the Wolves vs. Toronto Marlies game last night while the Hawks were thrashing the Ducks. Hockey doesn’t get much better. Both teams are among the tops in the AHL. I swear this is the gospel truth, at least 20 players had to dust their britches off last night. It was the hardest hitting hockey game I’ve seen all year. Players were constantly taking shots to the face in post whistle scrums. Both of these teams wanted a victory and gave it their all.
Zoie would have been proud of the effort. That’s my toy damn it, get your paws off it!
That’s our Cup, NHL teams. Get your paws off it.
other important stuff:
In memory of Zobo the Hobo
Remember if a dog was the teacher you would learn things like:
When loved ones come home, always run to meet them.
Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joy ride.
Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
Stretch before rising.
Run, romp, and play daily. (just be on the alert for full leaf bags!)
Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
Avoid biting when growling will do.
On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under shady tree.
When your happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
Never pretend to be something your not.
If your want lies buried, dig until you find it.
When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently. – Author unknown.