A beautiful day for a parade

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A beautiful day for a parade

Friday, June 11, 2010
7:30 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

Almost five years ago, the Chicago White Sox threw a chilly World Series celebration party for their fans that qualified as the largest outdoor gathering in Chicago history. Today's Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup parade might not quite have matched the Pale Hose in sheer mass, but it certainly did for joy -- and far surpassed it in sweat, sunburn and empty water bottles.

Five years ago, I was just another fan taking it all in and recording with a video camera. Today, I was lucky enough to ride on top of one of the parade buses, shooting video, snapping photos, and waving like a Kennedy. Here's a notebook of vignettes straight from the parade, some you may have seen, and some that eluded the cameras.
Patrick Kane's stubborn mane

Stanley Cup clincher hero Patrick Kane was the rock star of the entire affair. He sat in the last seat of the last bus alongside Conn Smythe winner and Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, and was the last to leave the parade bus when the caravan came to a stop on Michigan Avenue. Clearly Kane is taking it all in, and after Wednesday's heroics, why shouldn't he? But surprisingly, someone else accompanied him to the parade: his unruly, hilarious mane of playoff hair.

We could have seen this coming. First, he walked into a barber shop knowing just what to ask for (a Billy Ray Cyrus 'do with a side of Vanilla Ice). Then he added side flair in order to make it clear everyone knew his mullet "was a joke." Then he got the entire affair "touched up" for the Stanley Cup Finals. And now, while teammates from Andrew Ladd to Patrick Sharp had seized the first opportunity to de-caveman their faces, Kane's mane remained.

As you could tell from the parade podium, Kane was really happy today. So happy, he might not have heard my question clearly as he walked toward the podium. But when asked why he remained so dedicated to the particular 'bouf, Kane said, "I don't think I'm ready to give it up yet. We've been through a lot."
Getting out of the garage

Punctual Scandinavians all, the Hjalmarsson family was the first out to the buses after the team photos inside the United Center. Brent Sopel, with collar popped, and his wife and children were next. Fair-skinned Brian Campbell hit the top of a double-decker bus, prepping for sun exposure by getting sunscreen slathered on him and having an umbrella at the ready. Then things got rowdy, with the Adam Burish's and Dustin Byfuglien's ransacking the grounds.

Big Buff was as animated as ever, toting a cooler full of beer, cans which he happily dispersed to teammates on other buses. He also sported the team's title belt, which seemed curious given he surely could not have won the prize for his Game 6 performance, overshadowed by the likes of Kane, Brent Seabrook and Antti Niemi, among others. Buff also had dipped into the box of megaphones the team had provided so players could interact with fans along the parade route. Byfuglien's didn't come with a beep censor.
Curiosity

Oddest sign seen along the parade route: "Bring Back the Winnipeg Jets!"
Finnish line

Minor-league goalie Hannu Toivonen, acquired with Danny Richmond from the St. Louis Blues for Joe Fallon at the beginning of March, was on hand for the rally. Toivonen hails from the former Kalvola, Finland, a bit north of Niemi's hometown of Vantaa, and upon meeting him I mentioned it was a pretty good trade for him. Hannu smiled and gestured at the huge crowd: "For sure. Otherwise, I'd be back home by now." Niemi was walking just ahead of us, and I speculated that now, the two Finnish backstops might hop the same plane home. "Maybe," Toivonen said. "Antti has some good stories, I bet."
Seizing up to Boston?
I spent the Blackhawks rally next to the United Center's "Shipping Up to Boston" jigger, Chris Pisani, who posed for as many pictures with fans as several of the Blackhawks players did. Pisani, in his customary Toews jersey, was unsure whether he'd be called on to dance the rally crowd into a frenzy, but was at the ready. However, the heat was taking a toll on him: "I'm afraid I'll cramp up."
Reach the beach

Did anyone else worry that Blackhawks prospect Kyle Beach would cross-check a Chicago assistant coach or front-office exec once he hit the podium? Even in a jersey and jeans, he looks tough. Hide the women and children when that kid gets called up.

Be honest

Choose or perish: Kris Versteeg's word jazz or Kane's shirtlesscabbie cracks?
Be honest, again

Was that brief introduction of Kane by Byfuglien, awarding him the title belt for the summer, the longest and loudest stretch you've ever heard Big Buff speak?
The legends

All five of the Blackhawks' good-luck superstars of years past were on hand for the rally on Friday, sweating out decades of frustration over Cups unwon. Four of them all feel like family members: Tony Esposito, kindly and soft-spoken, always with a good word or a funny story; Stan Mikita is the one who still wants to head out to the driveway and put a puck past you; Pierre Pilote, as gracious a man you will encounter, and one who lives to surprise you; and Bobby Hull, who holds court and commands a room just by showing up.

But if there's one "cool" legend, it has to be the man they call Savy. He really does have that savoir faire, evident every time he steps out with Blackhawks fans. It's a hot day, he's with his family celebrating emeritus a title he could never win in Chicago, and he's working the walk from bus to podium like a star: bumping knuckles with fans, slipping skin to cops riding police horses, giving the horses themselves some love taps. Forgotten in the hullabaloo over former GM Dale Tallon's role in building the champion Blackhawks is the fact that the first coach for Toews and Kane was Denis Savard. And it was Savy -- cool always but not in this moment -- who angrily called out his team and challenged them to Commit to the Indian three seasons ago. Arguably, that was the moment this group of Blackhawks took its first step toward the Cup.

Being there

OK, so Niemi perhaps isn't as misplaced a sensation as the central character in the Peter Sellers movie, but is there a more unlikely hockey superstar than the big-hearted rookie? He's rocking the Norse god look with the bushy beard and staunch countenance, but deep down, he's still a little kid, new to all the trappings of stardom. That's why it seemed perfectly placed that he walked from bus to podium a pied piper, young fans begging for a photo or an autograph all along the way.

I asked him if all of this would ever sink in for him, and he didn't even seem to realize what "all of this" was. So, short answer, no. But then, Antti did something I wasn't anticipating; he put his arm around me and gave me a hug. True, I had written some of the earliest articles endorsing him as a legitimate permanent starter for the Blackhawks, back when such thoughts were dismissed as needless wailing over the plight of Cristobal Huet. While it's certain Niemi hadn't read nor cared much about such articles, he and I had spent a lot of accumulated time together in the dressing room, me asking questions the goalie might not entirely grasp, and sometimes he responding with his own questions, delicious non-sequiturs as they usually were. Always, the big fella packed a lot of meaning into his words. Today, it was a simple statement that spoke volumes to me: "Thank you. I had fun."

That's the sort of stuff that makes all of us happy to be able to hang with this team, at whatever proximity.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Coyotes: Nick Schmaltz shines on 21st birthday

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Coyotes: Nick Schmaltz shines on 21st birthday

The Blackhawks were finally getting healthy and now may be missing a key player once again. That depends on how Niklas Hjalmarsson feels after suffering an upper-body injury against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night.

It was certainly the toughest part of the Blackhawks' victory, a 6-3 triumph that has the Blackhawks closing in on the Wild. We'll see what the Hjalmarsson update is over the weekend. Until then, let's look at the notables from this one.

What Worked: The offense. We'll give an honorable mention to the penalty kill, which snuffed out all of the Coyotes' chances including a double minor that overlapped the second and third periods. But the offense was just buzzing again. Here's another shocker: the top line is still working just fine. The trio got things started with Nick Schmaltz's goal just 37 seconds into the game (Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik assisted). And much like in their meeting with the Coyotes earlier this month, the Blackhawks needed just about every bit of that offense. While we're on this topic...

What Didn't Work: The first-period defense. The Blackhawks looked like they were in good shape up 3-1 but then they gave up two goals within a minute late in the period. Michal Rozsival had a rough start in his first game since Jan. 15, but overall, the Blackhawks' defense through that first period looked discombobulated. Obviously, it didn't help that the Blackhawks lost Hjalmarsson during the first, either.

[RELATED: Patrick Kane nets hat trick as Blackhawks cruise past Coyotes]

Star of the game: Patrick Kane. One game after Jonathan Toews recorded a hat trick Kane did the same, scoring his 21st, 22nd and 23rd goals of the season. On a night in which the Blackhawks dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen, Kane got a little extra playing time. His first goal came on a first-period shift with Ryan Hartman and Tanner Kero, the second off a long pass from Brent Seabrook and the third with his usual line mates.

He Said It: "I didn't play much before I got hurt, then I missed four weeks with my injury. It wasn't easy but definitely the way the team's playing now, it made it easier for me. It felt like the first game of the season for me but glad we got the victory and glad I was back playing. I enjoyed it." — Michal Rozsival on returning to the Blackhawks' lineup. 

By the Numbers: 

6 – Number of times, in their last eight games, the Blackhawks have scored five or more goals.

342 – Assists for Jonathan Toews, who tied Dennis Hull for 12th all-time in franchise history in that category.

35 – Combined points for the Blackhawks' top liners Jonathan Toews, Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik in their nine games together. The breakdown in those nine games: Toews has 16 points, Panik 10 and Schmaltz nine.

1997 – The last time the Blackhawks had hat tricks in back-to-back regular-season games. Alexei Zhamnov and Eric Daze had them on April 11 and April 13, 1997, respectively.

Patrick Kane nets hat trick as Blackhawks cruise past Coyotes

Patrick Kane nets hat trick as Blackhawks cruise past Coyotes

It seems like ages ago when the Blackhawks struggled to score goals.

Line combinations were scattered, production was low and the Blackhawks were relying heavily on their goaltending. Now, however, the offense is rolling and the Minnesota Wild are back within striking distance.

Patrick Kane had a hat trick and Michal Rozsival's first goal of the season proved to be the game winner as the Blackhawks beat the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night. The Blackhawks have now won eight of their last nine and are just three points back of the Wild, who are on their bye week.

Kane's hat trick came one game after Jonathan Toews recorded one against the Wild. It was the second time the Blackhawks have had hat tricks in consecutive games since May 5-7, 2010 (Dustin Byfuglien and Toews vs. Vancouver in the postseason that year).

With the victory, however, came a loss. Niklas Hjalmarsson pulled up in the first period with an upper-body injury. Coach Joel Quenneville said Hjalmarsson will be re-evaluated today – "we're hoping he's going to be OK but not sure," Quenneville added.

Nick Schmaltz (celebrating his 21st birthday) and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and an assist. Toews had two assists. Corey Crawford stopped 34 of 37 shots in the victory.

[RELATED: Niklas Hjalmarsson to be re-evaluated Friday after suffering upper-body injury]

The Blackhawks got their offense on track on their Ice Show trip and, outside of their 3-1 loss to Edmonton out of the break, the production has been steady. That continued on Thursday as they tallied six more goals, including Kane's third career regular-season hat trick. That just so happened to come one game after Jonathan Toews had a hat trick against the Wild.

"Yeah, we were kind of laughing about that on the bench there after I scored the third one. It's funny how it worked out," Kane said. "Those guys played amazing in a huge game. Jonny with five points and a plus-5. You can look across the board at that line – they've been playing awesome. I'm just trying to contribute in any way I can and hopefully let them lead the way and just follow up after that."

But as Quenneville said, the Blackhawks were a little more loose on the other end than they'd been in recent games. The Coyotes took advantage of that, erasing the Blackhawks' 3-1 lead and tying it 3-3 by the end of the first period. 

Rozsival, dressed as a precaution with Hjalmarsson apparently ailing, got the game winner 2:56 into the second period. The goal helped Rozsival, who hadn't played since Jan. 15, get over a bad first. 

"I did not have a good start to the game, I think I was minus-2 in my first for shifts. It didn't go the way I wanted early on but in the second period, when I scored that goal, I got my confidence back a little bit," said Rozsival, who missed four weeks with a foot injury. "Even the coaches put a little more trust in me and I was able to finish the game. At the end, we were able to win. That's the most important thing, so definitely big win."

The Blackhawks are on a roll right now. How Hjalmarsson is, and how that affects the team defensively moving forward, remains to be seen. Obviously, that would be a big loss. But offensively the Blackhawks are doing a lot of things right, and another productive game has them closing in on the Wild.

"We're chasing [the Wild] and they have a bye week, so we're trying to close the gap as much as we can," Schmaltz said. "These are huge games for us. We have a little stretch at home so we want to take advantage of it."