Remember man, that you are dust…
“A year has come ‘n’ gone since we heard the news ’bout Billie Joe
Brother married Becky Thompson, they bought a store in Tupelo
There was a virus going ’round, Papa caught it and died last Spring
And now Mama doesn’t seem to wanna do much of anything
And me, I spend a lot of time pickin’ flowers up on Choctaw Ridge
And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge.” – Bobbie Gentry
By Rich Lindbloom
Passing through the back roads of Mississippi last week, I noticed an old abandoned grocery store. With all the talk of a “Blackhawk Dynasty” being bantered about, the dilapidated grocery store stood in stark contrast to the holy anointing of the Blackhawks. I’m sure that little mom and pop place named C L Prather Grocery, also had its day in the sun.
Looking at its desolate, run down state, evoked nostalgic feelings in the pit of my stomach. My mind wandered to days gone by – to things that have come and gone in my life – to the good ol’ days. Like so many things, as time continues its inexorable march toward the newer, shinier and better, (?), the tiny grocery was devoured by the gaping jaws of obsolescence. Unfortunately, it seems like a bit of us gets swallowed up right along with it. Life isn’t “all” about winning, now is it?
As I drove through the less traveled roads in the Magnolia State, I was struck by its immense, dense, green beauty. It’s almost as if God took all the green color He could muster up in heaven, and tossed it down with a big “Splat!” Of course He had to toss in a few muddy rivers to keep everything watered. The Tallahatchie River, located near Greenwood, Mississippi, was semi-immortalized in Bobbie Gentry’s haunting ballad Ode to Billie Joe. In 1967, Billboard ranked that song #3 behind The Letter by the Box Tops and #1 To Sir With Love by Lulu. I’m guessing The Triplet Line never heard one of those classics, eh? I’m also guessing a few of us might need to wipe away a nostalgic tear or two as we recall those fabulous songs. If that doesn’t make you cry, consider 1967 was the summer we traded Phil Esposito, Fred Stanfield and Ken Hodge to the Boston Bruins.
The Tallahatchie Bridge
While coursing through the country side, there are times when one is treated to vistas of rolling hills, covered with thick forests. Times like these made me reflect on the Civil War. I could imagine troops on both sides marching through thickets of trees and mosquito infested swamps as they positioned themselves for battle. I thought about the over 620,000 men who perished in that great conflict. As I reflected on the brave men on both sides of the Mason/Dixon Line, I felt like I was being somewhat admonished for often times comparing hockey to war. War is hell. Hockey, while sometimes bearing a remote resemblance, not so much.
The back roads take you by gorgeous homes, flanked by trailers with a lot of stuff in the front yard. However, with the price of scrap metal nowadays, you don’t see as many cars on cinder blocks in the front yard. Many towns had antique stores that time did not allow me to visit. Consider yourself lucky, that probably spared you two or three paragraphs of descriptions of what I found in them! I always try to find a mom and pop type restaurant off the beaten path to eat. Mom and pop places like Prather Grocery occupy a special place in my heart. It seems they have so much more character than the many fine chain restaurants you can easily access off the main highway. Tallahatchie Gourmet in New Albany, the Orleans Bistro in Grenada and even Sam’s Place in Mize were all stopping points on my latest trip. As Andy Griffith would put it, they were all “Goooooood!” Tallahatchie Gourmet’s catfish were the best I’ve ever eaten!
At any rate, as I meandered my way through Mississippi, I spent some time pondering that prideful word, “dynasty.” Merriam-Webster defines the word dynasty as “..a powerful group or family that maintains its position for a considerable time.” I guess by that definition, the Hawks might be set forth for consideration. What bothered me about all the dynasty talk was the compelling need to elevate the Hawks on a higher and higher pedestal by their fan base. It wasn’t enough that the Hawks won the Cup this season, many clamored for a “You will bow before us,” adoration. Is it any wonder so many teams in the NHL are eagerly awaiting the day of Humpty Dumpty’s fall or jump, off a Tallahatchie Bridge..
After the Hawks Fifth Conference Final in seven years and winning their third Stanley Cup, it’s easy to start taking success for granted. As the Hawks inched closer and closer toward hoisting the Cup this year, I thought about something Scotty Bowman said at the Hawks Convention in 2010. My daughter and I were in a room where Bowman, Brian Campbell, Jordan Hendry and Troy Murray were answering questions. I recall thanking Soupy for risking life and limb by coming back two weeks earlier than expected from his broken clavicle. Eerie, isn’t it, when one considers we probably don’t get by the Preds in 2010 or 2015 without Campbell and Kane both returning to the line up ahead of initial expectations? As Yogi Berra would say, “It’s like deja vu all over again.” I’m also reminded of that hockey commercial from 2010, “These guys are tough.”
Then I asked Jordan Hendry how he survived all those crushing checks when chasing the puck behind Niemi. You might recall #6 teamed up with Brent Sopel to form our third pairing in 2010. I liked the way Hendry played, he skated hard and was not averse to contact. His biggest weakness was there were times he treated the puck like a hot potato. In 2011, he tore his ACL after a check by Shane Doan sent him awkwardly into the boards. While not exactly relegated to the “Prather Grocery” status, regrettably Jordan only played a handful of NHL games after that injury.
Finally I asked Bowman, “Scotty, do you ever get tired of winning these things?” Everyone in the room had a good laugh. (Bowman had coached 9 Stanley Cup Champions and been involved in team’s front office three other times at this point.) Bowman’s answer perfectly described how I felt when all was said and done this past season. “No, each one is special in its own way.” You might think after that many Cups, it’s no big deal.
However, I thought about Bowman’s statement as the Hawks battled their way to the finish line this year. While I most certainly exhorted the Hawks on, the excitement that accompanied the brash, upstart Blackhawk team in 2010, was not as palpable this season. Think about it for a second; the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in Toews and Kanes third year! Kane had about as much peach fuzz as Teuvo Teravainnen that year; and it’s quite apparent that Teuvo may have sported the worst playoff beard ever. Every Series that the Hawks advanced through was a bonus. In short, the expectations were far less for the 2010 team than the 2015.
This team was somewhat annoying by comparison. It was the year of off-ice controversy, great sorrow, disappointments, odd man rushes, breakaways and critical injuries. The Hawks appeared to be given every opportunity to overtake the Predators and Blues for the Division Championship. They then proceeded to lose the last four games of the regular season. Tazer scored two goals in the last two minutes of the game against the Sabres, or it would have been five losses to end the season. So much for momentum.
To make matters worse, Corey, or perhaps more correctly the defense in front of him, had a meltdown in the first two games of the Predator series. After a spectacular relief performance in Game One, Scott Darling started games Three thru Six. In my mind, the turning point for the Hawks good fortune was when Cor-dawg relieved Darling in Game Six at the 11:16 mark of the first period. We were down 3-1, eleven minutes into the first period against those pesky Preds. Can you say Nightmare on Madison Street? Nobody was using the word dynasty at this juncture of the playoffs!
The exchange between goalies when Cor-dawg stopped to encourage Darling struck a chord in me. It was clearly a “we’re in this together moment.” I’m pretty sure the rest of the Hawks took note of the emotional moment. Corey was still a little shaky, but managed to turn away 13 out of 13 shots fired at him. I believe one of the first shots he faced clanged off the post. Darling almost faced as many shots as Crawford in 11 minutes as Corey faced in 48:44 minutes. The goalie exchange when Crow went in seemed to be a wakeup call to the rest of the Hawks.
Corey regained his footing against a determined Wild bunch, as the Hawks swept a very good team from the Twin Cities. The Hawks won three – one goal games, staving off a little over three minutes of the most chaotic hockey I’ve ever witnessed in Game Four. Minnesota outshot the Hawks 37 – 25 in that game. It’s not often a goalie is named #1 star of the game after yielding three goals against. A 4-1 lead at the 16:53 mark of the third period dissipated when Nino Nieddereiter made it 4-3 at the 18:33 mark. The last minute and a half resembled an 11 car NASCAR pile up in front of Cor-dawgs front porch. Taking a too many men on the ice penalty didn’t help matters with 15 ticks of the clock left! Fortunately, the kitchen sink never did squeeze by Corey.
It was against the Hawks next opponent, the bellicose Ducks that I started to think this Blackhawk team was beginning to become as special as the 2010 and 2013 champs. There was a noticeable fire in their belly. The Hawks managed to win two of the three overtime games in this series; truly, advancing to the next round in the playoffs is so often a razor thin margin. In Game Two, Crawford turned away 60 of 62 shots! Andersen turned away 53 of 56. Most of the players legs were rubber by the time Marcus Kruger ended the game about 1:15 am Chicago time.
In a fitting description of Kruger’s “blunt” dagger, Eddy-O noted, “Kruger shoveled the puck past Andersen.” That was after numerous brilliant saves by both goalies in the OT. This was the game of course where we all learned you cannot head butt a goal into the net. When discussing that momentarily confusing moment, my brother John noted, “On a play like that you just have to give the guy credit and waive the rules.”
Game Seven was a bit anti-climatic, with the Hawks firing on all eight cylinders. This despite Ryan Kesler’s premature proclamation that “no human could withstand the physical punishment the Ducks were laying on the Hawks,” The Ducks out hit the Hawks in the finger nail biting series, 341 to 234. To the casual observer, it appeared Anaheim might have been the better team throughout the 7 action packed games. In my opinion, it was one of the better playoff series I’ve witnessed in the last seven years. In the end, the dynastic core of the Blackhawks once again proved to be a very tough out. Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Hossa, Toews, Kane and Sharp, mainstays on all three Championship teams, once again proved they were a modern day murderer’s row.
A lot of pundits thought the Hawks would sort of breeze through the Finals against an inexperienced Lightning squad. After the Hawks won the opener, in a game many thought the Hawks were soundly out-played, Tampa Bay rebounded to take Games Two and Three. I can remember Keith Jones basically stating that the Hawks should feel intense shame for emerging triumphant in Game One. You could just picture millions of Chicago fans in their family rooms, writhing in their lazy boys, wringing their hands, bemoaning the fact that we’ll never be considered a dynasty if we lose to the Bolts.
Then Brandon Saad provided the heroics in Game Four on a rather fortunate goal. Antoine Vermette banged in a Kris Versteeg rebound in Game Five in Tampa, once again rekindling the dynasty word.
As Scotty Bowman said back in 2010, “No, everyone was special in its own way.” The Blackhawk’s third Stanley Cup Championship in six years will always be remembered as the one they won at home. As I looked ahead to possible lineups next season after yet another cap-ocalypse, it dawned on me what a great job management did to bring in the pieces that captured the cup in 2015. I’m thinking there is no way the Cup is hoisted to the rafters in the United Center without the acquisitions of Richards, Vermette and Desjardins. Quite likely, all three will be skating on different ponds next season. I sure would like to at least see Desjardins stick around.
Brad Richards name came up a lot in the Playoffs. He had two phenomenal assists on both goals in Game Six. Actually, on the second goal, I should have been accredited with an assist. On that goal, Brandon Saad entered the Lightning zone on the left side. I started screaming, “Trailer, trailer!’ as I noticed Richards sliding in behind him. I’m not sure if he heard me, but he might have. After receiving the drop pass from Baby Hoss, Richards skated to the top of the faceoff circle before feathering a no-look pass to Crazy 88’s. Black Magic wasted little time burying the puck, and Tampa’s faltering hopes, in the twine behind Ben Bishop. As BB King would put it, “Let the good times roll!”
On the first goal, Richard’s made a great cross ice pass to Kaner who utilized the highly effective Brooks shield play.
Voted most likely to have a hockey play named after her in the High School yearbook.
Actually, the play was named after Coach Herb Brooks. In Jerry Mc-Dawg’s words, “Jonathon’s first goal is what I would have called “a very fine execution of the “Brook’s shield” (named after Herb Brooks).
Nicely used in the 1980 Olympics, it involves the “feigning” of taking the puck deep/trying to get around the D-man. A sudden stop with your body facing the board (thus shielding the puck) creates space away from the defenseman and gives you time. Hard skating forwards take a man to the net and a player follows the play. If that final member has beaten his backchecker, or if there is no backchecker, the pass goes to him. There are variable options as well. Review the play and see Kane do the “shield”, Toews goes to the net and Jhaaaaalmersen makes three. I used to coach it but it was tough to execute with brain dead teenagers.”
While Mc-Dawg was describing Tazer’s first goal in Game Seven, Kane once again executed the play to perfection on the Hawks first goal in Game Six. Waiting patiently as Saad crashed the net, Kaner feathered a pass to a streaking Duncan Donuts. Cedric Paquette, who had a fine series, looked like a turn style on this play, as Keith skated by him banging home his own rebound. Go back and look at that play though. Patrick Kane drew “two” Lightning players to within about five feet of him at the blueline, before sending Robin Hood on his merry way! Do you think the Lightning were concentrating on shutting down #88 in this series?
Boy do I wish we could somehow sign Antoine (call me Tony) Vermette for next season. As the playoffs “wore” on, (my tattered nerves), I started thinking to myself that Vermette reminded me a little of Toews in playing style. It seemed he always gave 110%, playing with a tenacity that drives the opposition batty. While no one could top Toews when it comes to measurements on the “Serious Meter,” Antoine was wound pretty tight himself. He scored four goals in the playoffs, anchoring a lethal third line of Teravainen and either Sharp or Versteeg. Somehow, at least at the start of next year, I don’t think our third line will be quite as dangerous. Vermette also excelled at the dot. I could be mistaken, posting a team high 58% faceoff percentage. It will be awhile before we forget his game winner in the second OT of Game Five against the Quackers or his dagger in Game Five against the Bolts. Talk about an adrenaline rush. I think even Coach Q gave Vermette a high five after that game winner!
Along with Andrew Desjardins, Vermette brought a physicality to the equation that the Hawks desperately needed. The truth of the matter is, I was greatly saddened by the departure of Ben Smith. However Desjardins brought a fearless, physical, doggedly determined aspect to our fourth line. He and Shaw seemed to be on the same wavelength. The line of Desjardins/Kruger/Shaw turned out to be Coach Q’s safety blanket. It reminds me of a story.
My wife and I were entertaining customers one fall weekend downtown at the Ritz Carlton. We left the kids off at my sisters in Rockford for the weekend. Taylor was about 6 and Greg was about 4. Aunt Mary Therese is this archetype of a perfect aunt. I’m not sure who was more tired when we picked them up on Sunday, the kids or her and Uncle Jerry. The only down side of the weekend was when Aunt Mary asked Taylor what they liked to eat. “Chuckie Cheeses is pretty good,” said Taylor. Now my sister is a bit of a restaurant snob, and for one reason or another, had never checked out Chuckie Cheeses. My guess is, it was never reviewed on “Check Please!” When we picked the kids up, she told us about her experience and said with crystal clear clarity, “I will never step foot in a Chuckie Cheeses again.” Images of her eating soggy pizza and drinking rot gut wine still make me chuckle.
On the way home, Greg was already fast asleep after about 20 minutes when Taylor made a very funny observation about the weekend at Aunt Mary’s; in a bit of a jealous outburst Taylor noted, “Greg is Aunt Mary Therese’s pet.”
It dawned on me; Andrew Shaw is Coach Q’s pet. Actually, in Game Six, Shaw played 16:49, Kruger played 13:59 and Desjardins skated 14:22. Freddy took a beating, as usual, or he probably would have been over 16 minutes. I believe it was LizMcneil at second city hockey who once said Kruger’s tombstone is going to read, “He died taking a hit for the team.” Not only were they a shutdown line, it seemed they sealed the puck deep in enemy territory throughout the playoffs, creating numerous scoring chances. “The Pet Line,” played an enormous part in the Hawks reacquiring the Cup.
I think it was in the second period of Game Six I noticed a look on Marian Hossa’s face. I told my son, Hossa is in beast mode. Greg said that was Marshawn Lynch’s nickname. (Actually, not letting Lynch punch the ball over the goal line in the Super Bowl from a half yard out and three downs to do it, was a worse decision than Coach Q benching Vermette and Teuvo in Game Three against the Ducks!) I have to believe Hossa’s teammates were inspired by the intensity of a player who I think is the best two way forward I’ve ever seen play the game. Even on the bench, he was 100% focused. You could see the 36 year old, who has accomplished just about everything an NHL player can attain, wanted it. You put 18 players on the ice that play the game like Hossa and I think you go 82-0. As my brother said, “You take the puck away from Marian Hossa, you keep the puck.”
I also lost $1 to my son, betting Crawford would be named Conn Smythe winner for the MVP of the playoffs. I seriously doubt we win the Cup without our “just above average” goalie. It’s hard to fathom how Crow has battened down the hatches for two Stanley Cup Championship teams, and even fans in Chicago still doubt his ability. I watched a replay of Stamkos’s breakaway in Game Six. We all noticed how Crow made the pad save, thinking he was lucky Stamkos didn’t elevate the puck. On the replay though, watch Cor-dawgs glove hand before Stamkos makes his final move to the right. For a crucial few moments, it is at a perfect angle to takeaway anything directed upstairs. Play of the game? Our Big Dog on the porch silenced his critics, at least until he lets in the next one “he should have had.” Corey may want to rent and study the movie The Kings Speech though.
Elite goalies say, “The biscuit stops here.”
Certainly, I couldn’t argue with Duncan Keith’s selection as the 2015 Conn Smythe trophy winner. Actually, as I noted in a piece earlier this season, the rebirth of the Hawks from the dark ages occurred when Keith and Seabrook joined the team in 2005/06. Kane and Toews were just the icing on the cake. Could it be the key to success in the NHL is defense first? Wouldn’t Seth Jones have looked good in a Lightning uniform instead of Jonathan Drouin, if you were a Bolt backer? Watch out for the Preds next year. They have a hell of a defense corp.
The only Blackhawk jersey I’ve ever owned has a #2 on it. (Unfortunately Keith signed it “To Taylor, best wishes, Duncan Keith – but that’s another story.) I would proudly wear a #7 jersey. By the way, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a puck hit a post more squarely than Nacho Grande’s blast in Game Six. Like life, sometimes hockey is not fair.
The Blackhawk’s defense corp of Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson and Oduya deserve some kind of medal of honor for the minutes they logged throughout the arduous playoffs. I’m thinking they must be wicked, because they certainly got no rest. Thinking about the salary cap dilemma made me think about possibly losing Seabrook. Obviously, he would draw the biggest return in a trade. I certainly hope that never happens, I’d love to be in the United Center when they raise #2 and #7 concomitantly to the rafters.
I mention Seabrook’s name only because it appears other teams in the NHL are trying to steal Patrick Sharp. It seems many Hawk fans have flippantly resigned themselves to the possibility that Sharp will be the sacrificial lamb to the salary cap gods. I’ll let you go back and total up his considerable contributions to the Hawks good fortunes over the last 8 years. Needless to say the handsome one was a major part of “the core,” during this Golden Age of Blackhawk hockey.
Sharpie joined the team in 2005/06 when Keith and Seabrook made their debut. For those of you counting, he’s been a Blackhawk for 10 years. It sure seems like he has a lot of hockey left in him at this juncture. I don’t think he’s quite ready to be put out in the front yard on cinder blocks yet. Without Sharp patrolling his familiar left wing spot next year, the team will get a bit uglier in more ways than one. If he must be jettisoned, here’s to hoping it’s to the Eastern Conference.
Meanwhile, back at the United Center, it seemed to me in about the middle of the second period, the Hawks had the Lightning on their heels. You could sense the Blackhawks swagger at that point. The sharks were circling. It’s obvious the Lightning have a very bright future, but not this night, not in our kitchen. The Hawks started playing with an intensity that left little doubt about the outcome of Game Six.
As the final seconds of this season ticked away on the United Center scoreboard, while fans robustly chanted 18 – 17 – 16 – 15 …, I found myself as excited as I was back in 2010. It certainly wasn’t anything close to resembling a “been there, done that,” feeling. Getting your name inscribed on that Cup is one of sports highest honors, no matter how many times it happens. It takes consummate skill, hard work, bravery and a good dose of luck. (I can still hear Stamkos’s blast in the first period clanging off the cross bar.) As Bowman noted in 2010 about each team being special, this team etched a spot in Blackhawk fans hearts that will remain for some time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many men hugging other men. Over 22,000 fans were treated to an event that last occurred in 1934. It was worth the wait, eh?!
In a emotional moment, Lord Stanley’s Cup was ushered into the United Center while Aaron Copland’s Fanfare For The Common Man was played over the PA system. Someone once said if there is any song that will make you want to take trumpet lesson’s, Fanfare For The Common Man is it. With all the focus on the word “dynasty,” my heart went back to all those warriors who wore the Indian Head on their chest – even in the dark ages. If the truth be known those days weren’t all that dark. A lot of great memories come to mind over the 50 years I’ve followed the Hawks. Although I have to admit; qualifying for the playoffs only one time between 1998 and 2008 saw a few Hawk fans getting ready to jump off the Tallahatchie Bridge alongside Billy Joe McCallister.
Yes, some of those memories were from days when the Blackhawks more resembled C L Prather Grocery’s current condition, than the jubilation of the last 7 years. However, when the “dust” settles, beware you who boast of the Hawks dynasty; as Jerry Garcia used to sing, “When life looks like easy street, there is danger at the door.” Besides, Dynasty seems like such a prideful word. I much prefer The Golden Age of Blackhawk Hockey. The true Golden Age was Toews and Kanes rookie year. Even though they didn’t make the playoffs, you could watch two of the brightest young stars in the NHL for $10.00 – ah – the good old days!
As I pondered throughout the week what song I should punctuate this ramble with, many came to mind. As I walked the dogs yesterday, it hit me though. No need to worry about what tomorrow, and the dreaded cap-acolypse, have to bring next season. Clearly, the extraordinary efforts of the 2014/15 Chicago Blackhawks are a cause for immense celebration.
So put on those bad boy white shoes and party hats, now let me see a couple spin moves, move the hips from left to right. Yeah! Indeed, “we gonna have a good time tonight…” It’s a celebration.