Wednesday, June 16, 2010

2010 Hawks Stanley Cup; A Die Hard's Perspective

At about 10PM on June 9th 2010 I stood in my living room staring at every move made in game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals. I was waiting for history, and we almost saw it happen in tragic fashion when Duncan Keith turned the puck over about 10 seconds into the OT. At 4:06 of overtime, Patrick Kane slyly snuck around Kimmo Timonen, sized up the net, and scored a perfectly placed goal right between, former Blackhawk, Michael Leighton’s legs. HISTORY. A million thoughts ran through my mind. Roughly 30 years of being a hockey fan, player and coach had come to this moment. I wanted to cry, and I was speechless. Something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. What a ring it has to it.

I thought back to my introduction to hockey in the early to mid 80’s. Some friends in my neighborhood had talked me into playing street hockey with them during the summer, and I loved it “EEEEEEE-MEDIATLY”. Soon, we weren’t playing baseball during our hot summer vacations, or after school, but we were playing street hockey, almost religiously. Any good little hockey player was a fan of our hometown Hawks, and names like Denis “Savvy” Savard, Steve “Gramps” Larmer, Dougie Wilson, Chicago Eddie Olczyk, Al Secord, Troy Murray, or good ol Murray Baaaaaaaaaaannerman. Even some names that are more suited for the trivia books like Keith Brown, Behn Wilson, Dan Vincelette, Mike Hudson, Everett Sanipass, and who can forget the “legendary” two headed goaltending duo of Jacques Cloutier and Alain Chevrier? We even had our early versions of Burish and Eager, in the cementhead twins, Stu Grimson and Mike Peluso. I’ll never forget watching each and every one of them, and each name brings a smile to my face, because I wanted to grow up and be one of them. I’m sure I could rattle off each of their numbers, fairly quickly. Of course, I was the sucker of the neighborhood that loved playing goalie, so Murray Bannerman, Bob Sauve, Warren Skorodenski, and Darren Pang were my heroes. We had the original, “flash in the pan, former Washington Capital goalie, that we just had to sign because they played a handful of decent games in the previous year’s playoffs, even though he is just an average goaltender, at best”, Bob Mason. Christobal Huet salutes you, my friend, and may you always be linked by that very distinction. Yes, I sat up and watched that entire 4-OT game on April 18th 1987, between the Islanders and Caps, just over a month after my 13th birthday. Even though a non Chicago player, Calgary Goalie Mike Vernon, was my favorite player since his heroic rookie season in 85-86, I was still a huge Hawks fan. I can clearly remember spending the night at my friend’s house many nights and his parents would get us cheap third balcony tickets. They would drop two or three of us off at the stadium where we would watch games way up in the old barn’s corners, and then they would pick us up after the games. We didn’t care that we were only 13 or 14, because we were at the game! It never seemed like we were with a stadium full of strangers, because it was a big red, white and black family. A loud, obnoxious, drunken family, but anyone from Chicago knows that’s what a family really is. The anthem was MUCH louder in that old barn, and it gave you chills EVERY STINKIN TIME. I truly believe the roof actually rose a few inches quite a few times. People use to pound out Indian drum beats on the wood doors that lined the walkways of the north and south balconies, just like we imagined old Blackhawk tribes would in their war dances. The old antique organ made the floor vibrate when it was played, and sounded like an enormous evil haunted mansion. The two final defining moments in the old Chicago Stadium, in my memory, were the All-Star game national anthem during the first gulf war (youtube it, if you’ve never seen it), and the Hawks heartbreaking finals appearance against Pittsburgh. I went to a game with my brother and father, in which my little brothers favorite player ,Denis Savard, scored against Mike Vernon to tie the game with under 30 seconds to go and the goalie pulled. Sure, he had scored against my favorite player, but I couldn’t help but smile and enjoy the chaos. I acted disappointed, but I loved every second. Even the old dirty troughs in the men’s bathrooms are worth mentioning. It was personality or, as Gallagher calls it, STYYYYYYYLE.

In the early 90’s hockey was still strong in Chicago, but they never got the attention they deserved because the Bulls were absolutely demolishing the NBA. At the time, Michael Jordan owned Chicago, and the Hawks would have to play second fiddle. You had coach Mike Keenan, who was bigger than life, and even Darryl Sutter showed some promise. The players, whom I feel all should have their names on banners in the rafters, were Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios, Eddie Belfour, Dominik Hasek (whom I predicted would be a great goaltender, before he played a single game in the NHL), Gary Suter, Steve Smith, Tony Amonte (amazing hair before there was any knowledge of Duncan Teeth), Joe Murphy, Dirk Graham (one of the best Hawks captains ever!), Alex Zhamnov (you never stood a chance with Hawks fans, my man), and Eric Daze (the original Martin Havlat). Although, any true Hawks fan remembers legendary names like Sergei Krivokrasov, Jimmy Waite, James Black, Steve Dubinsky, Christian Laflamme, and Chad Kilger. The Hawks moved to the new stadium and so did we all. A new chapter. Times were changing and we had a brand new clubhouse to break in. The Hawks, unfortunately, were heading for a mediocre phase, and that lead to a simply terrible phase in the early 2000’s. I was always very outspoken about the Dollar Bill Wirtz’s “no home games on TV” policy. Most people who live outside of Chicago don’t realize that most of us rarely ever saw a home game on TV until a few years ago, because old man Wirtz had some twisted logic about how showing games on TV would take away from the ticket sales. I can remember, in my early teens, riding my bike with my friend to Palos Lanes in Palos Hills, to sneak into the bowling alley bar, so we could watch home playoff games on the Wirtz version of PPV, Hawk Vision. Talk about a lame way to treat young impressionable future Hawks fans. Make them have to feel like criminals to see the team they love and admire. We weren’t even trying to sneak alcohol, we just sat there, drank cokes and loved seeing the Hawks in the playoffs. How’s that sellout streak looking now, old man? It made no sense and aggravated me to no end, but I really became aggravated when the management just didn’t seem to care about the fans or the tradition.

In my middle 20’s, I had had enough of the archaic management style. They either signed “nobodies” or washed up “has-beens” and I certainly wasn’t lining the pockets of Dollar Bill with MY money, when he couldn’t have the common decency to let me watch my favorite team play a home game on TV. So I began my boycott of the Wirtz family, and it actually, probably, lasted 6 or 7 years. Judging by the attendance, I’m not the only one who boycotted. I loved the Hawks but I hated what had happened to our proud franchise. We were, pretty much, the laughing stock of all sports. This all came to an end the day William Wirtz passed away. As much as I want to respect his family, because I’m sure they loved him dearly, I couldn’t have been happier, and would have gladly danced a jig on his grave, if I knew how to. Any true fan knew that things were going to change soon. Rocky Wirtz, I will always respect you, because you, sir, are what us Hawks fans deserve. I basically predicted what would happen, from then on out. First, Hawks games on TV. We were in the middle of a season so contracts needed to be signed and schedules adjusted, but they started showing us home games and the following season all games were in TV. Second, was to bring some big names to Chicago. Third, I felt they would just miss the playoffs the next season, followed by making a strong playoff effort the next, and compete for the Cup the year after that, which is 2010. So to all of you Chicago Blackhawks fans, like me, who have suffered through the heartbreak and the disappointment, I raise a glass to you…We are Stanley Cup Champions. Let me repeat that:


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