Friday, April 29, 2011
Posted: 9:25 a.m.
By Frankie O
The dream ended suddenly, disappointing those who were swept up in the emotion of the Blackhawks improbable rise from the mat, only to suffer the last, fatal, knockout blow. Alexandre Burrows overtime goal, after intercepting an ill-fated Chris Campoli clearing attempt, created as big of an emotional about-face as Ive ever witnessed at the bar. True to their nature, the Hawks never quit when they were down 3-0 in the series and their effort in Game 7 was worthy of a defending champion. Captain Jonathan Toews game-tying short-handed goal with just over two minutes left in regulation had everyone at the bar in a frenzy and wondering if we would be hearing Al Michaels famous phrase before the night was over. Alas, the Hawks ran out of miracles, but Im positive this wont be the last we hear of them.
This year has been one of ups and downs for the 2010 Stanley Cup Champions, starting with jettisoning 10 players that had their names engraved on Lord Stanley. You know that had to hurt, the players leaving I mean. The bond that it takes for a team to win the most difficult prize in team sports cant be under estimated. The roster turnover was at the heart of every conversation I had when the topic was: Whats wrong with the Hawks? I always said that it was part of the price of winning. Locking up the core for big-money for the next 5 years meant some guys were going to have to go. (I dont fault the Tallon contracts as much as some others do, the big-guns were going to use up the cap space anyway.) Detroit didnt win the Cup every year, but their core group has enabled them to win 4 of the last 13 and to be considered among the favorites every year, including this one. That core changed some over the years, except for the incomparable Nik Lidstrom, but they always seemed to have more elite skaters than everyone else. Its the Bowman way, and since Scotty is the Blackhawks Senior Adviser of Hockey Operations, that it would happen here should be of no surprise. Besides, can you argue with the results? The Hawks are going to be contenders for the foreseeable future, and thats good.
I cant help but look at the Hawks situation now, and the one that I have been living as a Philadelphia Flyers fan for most of my life, and envisioning where this is heading from a fan standpoint. Trust me, when cornered, I still like to tease Hawk fans that they still have the tag on their Patrick Kane jersey. But the point is, there are a ton of people wearing 88, especially young ones.
In my youth, there were no bigger heroes than those who wore the orange and black. They won back-to-back cups in 1974 and 1975 and ruled hockey with an iron fist. They also started an enduring love-affair with the Philadelphia region that is still burning bright to this day. I can still recite from memory, every player, his number and position, from those two teams. I know Im not the only 40-something (I heard that!) from that area that can do that. The Flyers have owned me since hello. That hello was the journey to those two championships. The voices of Gene Hart and Kate Smith still bring me goose-bumps. When my boys are in the playoffs, my blood-pressure doubles for each game and gets a little higher the further they progress. That they have progressed to the finals SIX times since that last title, and lost each time and Im still here is a marvel of modern medicine. But again, Im not the only one. Thats part of being a Flyers fan and we share a special bond, although Im sure my family here in Chicago would put the word special in quotation marks.
As I personally suffered here as the Blackhawks beat my Flyers last year in the finals, there was something that I knew would become true and its something that I think is very cool. I knew that this city, this Original Six city, would become a hockey hotbed again. Being a hockey fan, and Hawks fan when theyre not playing the Flyers, I know this is a good thing. The amount of hockey interest and conversations that I had at the bar this year might be equal to the amount that I had in all of the years before this combined. (16, if youre counting.) And thats just at the bar that I work in. Hawks pride is everywhere to see. (Although I havent seen hide nor hair of Bouncing Betty!) (Did I just go Dennis Miller on you?) What I love about that is that it reminds me of when I was young and the Flyers were the thing that brought us all together. Whether it was with your family or friends, we all gathered to watch the games. Sure, the winning started it, but the bond has endured. Here, the lost generation of Chicago hockey die-hards have been reborn, theyre the kids in the 88, 19 and 10 jerseys that you see everywhere in Chicago-land. Im envious of the hockey journey that they have begun to share with all of those around them. That, even as devastated as they feel about the end of the Blackhawks season, that they will have many great times ahead. For their sake though, I only hope that it doesnt take their team another 35 years (and counting!!) to win. Thats something that could make you just a little crazy! (And a slight health risk!
P.S. Its CPR night at the bar during Flyers games for the rest of their playoff run. Anyone performing CPR on a horizontal Frankie O, successfully of course, (I heard that, also!) gets a free round!