David Morris' hockey writing has been featured at KuklasKorner.com and Chicago Sports Then & Now. He is also the North American correspondent for leading Swiss hockey site, Planete Hockey.
Watching the Blackhawks this year, the Temptations’ hit of the ‘70s comes to mind. “Ball of Confusion” was a throbbing, chaotic collage of music and voices that spoke of a world changing faster than humans could comprehend. An appropriate soundtrack for a Hawks’ team that, halfway through the season, is often chaotic, and has changed faster than either the fans or the team itself can comprehend. So what’s next?
When one speaks of hockey as a simple game, one also speaks of its absolutes. It has a speed and flow unlike any other spectator sport, and it has a suddenness and unpredictability that both excites, and tests the patience of, the fan. If one’s team is going well, the vicarious adrenaline rush takes over; when that team is struggling, the emotion can be unforgiving anger or brutal depression. The mood swings match the momentum swings of a contest and a season. The ride on the roller-coaster that has been the Chicago Blackhawks from October through December 2010 has been rocky at best. And waking up in tenth place on New Year’s Day 2011, shocking.
“Christmas, game 41, New Years, all-star games, you can look at all (of them). To me, I look every day. Every day you’re looking at what it’s going to take.” Those were the cautious words of Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville ahead of the Christmas break. He knows this is crunch time for his team. Does his team know? Hawkey watchers are about to find out.
December dawns, and the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks have, if their recent record can serve as evidence, found firm footing. After staggering through the first half of November going 2-4-1, they scorched through the next two weeks at 5-2-0 (though their loss in Calgary was, to pardon the expression, a flame-out). Evaluating their status at the quarter pole, this column suggested, “If the Hawks can find strength in their recent adversity, and come back from their road trip with a solid harvest of points, December will look a whole lot better.” They did, and it does.
A month ago the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks were leading their division. As they reach the quarter season mark, that picture has dimmed: the Hawks’ winning percentage is one of the worst in the NHL and they are firmly, some say floundering, in the middle of the pack. If the expectations were high, the trepidation level went through the roof. But is it any surprise? And have similar situations happened to Cup Champs, some of whom, by the way, bounce back as the season goes on? To paraphrase the NHL’s current ad campaign, “Questions Will Be Asked”.
“Chicago Blackhawks, Stanley Cup Champions” being half a century in waiting, it’s easy to understand why Hawks fans might not know what to expect of their team now that they’ve earned the title. Defending it is quite another matter. One month in, the club has been dramatically overhauled, and while the expectations are high, the trepidation level is similar. So where are the Blackhawks after the first month? On top of their Division. At least, for now.
There’s something about the Chicago Blackhawks being Stanley Cup Champions that rubs some people the wrong way. As the Hawks enter the 2010-11 season, the chatter about how many roster players and how much depth are gone fuels off-season discussions. But chatter doesn’t matter. What matters is how this team deals with higher expectations and greater challenges.
Thanks to our good friends Fork and CT at HockeeNight! in Chicago (hockeenight.com), we’re pleased to bring you this two hour podcast recorded Tuesday, July 22. Featuring NHL on XM Radio’s Hawks correspondent and HockeyIndependent.com columnist Al Cimaglia; Dave Morris, also a feature columnist at Hockey Independent; and hosts ForkLift and CT, it’s a lively, [...]
The UFA Frenzy has passed. As the experts survey the after-effects, the front page news has alternated between ‘The Ilya Affair’ and ‘The Chicago Fire Sale’. The drama set off a few more fireworks on Canada Day and the Fourth of July, while the beer flowed and the barbecues sizzled.
The spice was laid on liberally to disguise the lack of meat in the stories. The blogosphere buzzed about Kovalchuk, but no one knew anything. As for the foofaraw about Chicago, it seemed everyone forgot there isn’t a single Stanley Cup winner since the lockout that hasn’t, following their victory, overhauled their roster. So why should this year’s Champion Blackhawks be any different?
“We’ve said all along that the key to sustaining a team is bringing up young players year after year.” That was how Stan Bowman viewed the Chicago Blackhawks’ posture going into the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. As a Stanley Cup Champion, the Hawks executives clearly felt they could afford to look at prospects who would pay off long term, rather than focusing on immediate returns. The choices also reflect some of the new trends in player development.
The confetti has barely been swept up from the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup Championship parade, and already salary-dumping scenarios for the Hawks are being concocted. While Islanders great Mike Bossy suggested the Hawks can become a dynasty, some observers say the party’s already over as The Cap, in their eyes, crushes all hope. Where the truth is, perhaps, only Chicago GM Stan Bowman knows. At least, Hawks fans hope he does.
Like the playoff series preceding it, this year’s Stanley Cup Final is making predictions obsolete.
At mainstream outlets like ESPN, RDS, TSN, Yahoo Sports and the NHL Network, many experts were picking the Blackhawks to win, though some hedged their bets by saying we would see a seven game series. Dissenters were favoring the Vegas underdogs from Philly.
Few expected that each game thus far, would be decided by a single goal (the empty netter in Game Four notwithstanding).
As the curtain rises on the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals, the stories and connections that surround and link the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers are rich with hockey lore. This has provided, and will continue to provide, ample material for commentators, scribes and fans alike. The romance of ‘Original Six’ versus ‘Original Expansion Six’ also fuels the conversation. What confounds the soothsayers is the saw-offs in skill between Chicago and Philadelphia. Scanning the usual suspects in the hockey media, the predictions appear to be running about 60-40, advantage Hawks, as if predictions were worth anything after this year’s slew of upsets. The pundits do agree this Final has the makings of a modern classic.
When Troy Brouwer scored the first goal of the Blackhawks’ 5-1 series clincher, he put the game of hockey in perspective. With his father recovering from surgery to alleviate a blood clot in his brain, Brouwer showed courage, coming back from his absence while he stayed with his father, and getting his game in focus. “It feels great,” he said. “Sitting out those couple games gave me a little bit of perspective and thankfully the coaches stuck with me. I didn’t want to disappoint them or the team or my dad.” Now the perspective switches to the Hawks’ second consecutive WCF and a first playoff meeting ever with San Jose.
This Conference Final brings together the number one and number two Western powers, whose final standings were separated by a single point. Tough to imagine two clubs more evenly matched.
The history between the Hawks and Sharks, then, is limited to their regular season contests, though there are some interesting relationships.
“Whenever you can win a playoff series, it feels good. I don’t know who said it was going to be an easy series or we were going to get upset. It was two teams that played hard going back to the regular season. It was a very tough series. I give them a lot of credit. It could have really gone either way.”
This was Patrick Sharp’s summary of the series against the Predators, but it could have been a preview of the rematch between the Blackhawks and the Vancouver Canucks. The ingredients for a classic combat are there. Two talented teams with a history of hate; two teams who match up in a variety of areas; two teams who have been anointed as legitimate contenders for the Stanley Cup.
When the final horn sounded at the United Center in Chicago on April 16th, one sensed the sagging hopes of Blackhawks faithful as the Nashville Predators wrested Game One from the favorites. Though the game had been decided by a single goal, the last two empty netters must have felt like a punch in the gut, not only for the crowd, but for the players as well.
It didn’t take long for the hockey pundits to sound the alarm.
As the Chicago Blackhawks prepared to honor former centerman and current WGN Radio Hawks color commentator Troy Murray with a Heritage Night on January 14, 2010, at the United Center, they were celebrating a player who embodies, perhaps as much anyone in the Hawks’ eighty-four year history, the spirit of the team. If the audience and the media have romantic notions of the hockey player as professional warrior, Troy Murray knows the realities, being one of the few who reach the summit of the Stanley Cup.
At the end of the Hawks’ 2-1 shootout win over New Jersey Friday April 2nd at the Prudential Center, Stanley Cup winning goalie and Devils TV color commentator Chico Resch spoke his mind. “Antti Niemi just made a believer out of me. They’ve found the goalie who can carry them far in the playoffs.”
Counting down to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Hawks are currently hovering between 1st and 2nd place in the West. Depending on their performance and that of their presumed opponents between now and season’s end, the Blackhawks will likely face Detroit, Colorado, LA or Nashville. What are their chances?
The Chicago Blackhawks are, barring unforeseen cataclysms, poised to enter the post season in consecutive years for the first time since 1997. From 1998 through 2008, missing the playoffs was the norm, save for a quick exit in 2002. While the euphoria of last year’s resurgence may have carried the Hawks along with their talent, expectations have now been ramped up to the maximum. But are the Blackhawks ready for success, or is too early to think Stanley’s silver is within their reach?