Hawk Talk: The drought ends after 49 years

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Hawk Talk: The drought ends after 49 years

Saturday, June 12, 2010
10:28 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

It was February 7, 1973. My first Blackhawks game. I cant remember whether it was a Christmas present or an early birthday present, but my dad came home from work downtown to the near southwest suburbs, picked up this 9-year-old and headed back downtown with me to Chicago Stadium.

Up to the second balcony. A seat was, what four bucks back then? Yes, I did get beer spilled on me at some point and came home smelling of that and cigarette smoke. I also remember it was a 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres in which I yelled out a penalty before the ref blew his whistle for a Sabre using his hand to cover the puck as it trickled towards the net. Ill have to go back and look over the tattered program thats still saved in a box somewhere, along with newspaper clippings for other details. I remember Rick Martin was on the cover. Not Pit. Rick. But that was about all the disappointment I had that night, falling in love with the building, the noise, the sport, and the team.

Id missed Bobby Hull by one season, but all the other greats from that era were right in front of me. Esposito. Mikita. Pappin. Martin. Dennis Hull. Koroll. White. Stapleton. Magnuson. I remember a few short months later being on the verge of tears listening to Lloyd Petit describe them falling in Game 6 to Montreal in the Stanley Cup Final.

Fast forward 37 years!

Turns out a kid from Buffalo, born almost 16 years after my first Hawks game, ends up scoring the goal that finally lets me see them win a Cup. I never asked Patrick Kane, but Id guess he was probably on the verge of tears at age 10 watching his beloved Sabres lose in Game 6 to Dallas in the Cup Final. I wonder if Kane ever holds Brett Hulls heart-breaking controversial goal against Bobby when he deals with The Golden Jet here. By now, probably not, if ever. Kanes was in overtime Wednesday night in Philly. Hulls in triple-overtime.

Kanes goal will be remembered, and it was the finishing touch. But hed be the first to tell you it wasnt just him and there were too many moments and contributors along this glorious ride the past two months. Heck, the past 9-12 months. Go up and down the roster, and every one of those players did something along the way big or small that helped them get to that moment Wednesday night, just after 10 oclock.

Its truly been a privilege to have gone along with them albeit from a reporters distance on that ride. Hockey players are by far the easiest professional athletes to deal with, and this group made it real easy to root for them, while trying to balance some journalistic integrity. Witnessing them go through that grind some as early as last August with Olympic orientation, to Helsinki, through Vancouver, then re-charging after 82 contests for 22 more pressure-packed games, one couldnt help but feel happy for them in that loud locker room Wednesday night, into Thursday morning. And again, I smelled like beer (champagne, too) and smoke (cigars this time) when the night was done.

Like many of you who grew up with the franchise and followed it through thick and thin, you may have experienced the same sensation I did Friday - whether you were at the rally or watching on television. It was almost 90 degrees outside, but there were moments I looked down at my arms, and the hairs were standing up.

With this celebration comes realization. John Madden admitted Saturday there had been times over the previous two and a half days that the players talked of being in their final moments together as a team. Not everyone can come back, courtesy of the salary cap. For those who might still be bitter about what looms ahead and point fingers over whos to blame for last summers contract issues, lets look at it this way: Do you really think the organization wouldve purposefully put itself in the situation it faces right now with all the talent theyd love to keep around longer than they may be able to? No, we didnt know a year ago whether this would actually become a championship team. But if it didnt happen this year, it was a safe bet theyd want to keep as much of it as they could together for another run. Lets see how Stan Bowman and company are able to maneuver the cap and the personnel over the next couple of months. He admitted Saturday hes thought about it a lot because hes known its coming. Its just a guess on my part, but things may very well happen quickly, especially with the draft just two weeks away. A veteran or two could conceivably be moved to teams looking for immediate help in exchange for early-round picks that help the cap now, and supply talent that can be NHL-ready in a couple of years. This teams locked-in nucleus will still be young. Plus, the postseason pedigree that Kane, Toews, Keith, Niemi, Seabrook etc. gained over the past two months should keep this team contending, no matter whos around them. Yes, the depth of this roster was unmatched and was a huge factor in its ultimate success. But all you have to do is look around this years playoffs to see its not always the deepest, most talented teams that survive deep into the postseason. Most importantly, they - and everyone else who comes back - have done it, and will have a greater understanding of what it takes to do it again. Guarantees? Nope. Just ask Sidney Crosby after he figured it out a year ago before his Pens were knocked out in the second round last month by a much thinner team on paper. But its certainly better to have done it already than not. And thats the important thing moving forward. Imagine how the organization and fans wouldve felt if theyd fallen short, with all the work ahead looming? What also cannot be underestimated is how well these players get treated by management, and all you fans. Other players around the league notice that. When theyre weighing offers, dont think that doesnt factor in. The same goes for the current Hawks wholl be able to listen to other teams. The other side of that is - they have the ring, now they want the money.

But while we wait for whats unknown right now, lets keep enjoying what this teams already given us. That wait was way too long not to enjoy it.

Johnny Oduya finds a new home in Eastern Conference

Johnny Oduya finds a new home in Eastern Conference

Johnny Oduya is headed to the Eastern Conference.

The 35-year-old defenseman signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Ottawa Senators. The contract could be worth up to $1.25 million with incentives.

Oduya, who the Blackhawks re-acquired prior to the trade deadline last season from the Dallas Stars, finished with two goals and seven assists in 52 games between the two teams.

It comes to no one's surprise that the Blackhawks didn't re-sign the veteran defenseman.

After being swept in the first round of the playoffs last season by the Nashville Predators, Stan Bowman has made it clear the Blackhawks are headed in a different direction, and their offseason has been plenty of busy so far. Headline deals included trading Oduya's linemate Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes for 24-year-old defenseman Connor Murphy and re-acquiring Brandon Saad from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Artemi Panarin.

Oduya heads to a Senators team which got ousted in the Eastern Conference Final in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Ryan Hartman likes how he feels approaching this season, his sophomore stint with the Blackhawks. Scoring 19 goals, earning the trust of the coaches and gaining a good deal of responsibility in your rookie season will do that for you.

“It’s feeling like I should be there,” he said on Friday. “Maybe sometimes when you first get called up, you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m here,’ and you’re still thinking about that. Now it’s just feeling like hockey for me and how it’s always supposed to be.”

More confidence is there for Hartman, as well as a few other young Blackhawks players who cut their teeth last year. That’s good, because those guys, having shown what they can do, will likely get more responsibility this season.

That includes Nick Schmaltz, who will either get first crack at the second-line left wing vacancy or help the Blackhawks at center, which he says is his preference “but I’m fine with wing, too.” Schmaltz struggled to start last season but following a few games in Rockford, he returned a more confident player. He played well with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik on the top line and filled in for Artem Anisimov later in the season.

“I was nervous coming in. I didn’t know if it was going to work and I gained confidence game by game and felt more comfortable,” he said. “I was making the plays I’m used to making.”

When Tanner Kero was recalled right before Christmas, it was because of Anisimov’s injury. But outside of a bye-week return to Rockford Kero turned that call-up into a full-time gig, giving the Blackhawks another bottom-six center option and earning himself a two-year contract. With Marcus Kruger and Dennis Rasmussen no longer here, Kero is expected to have that third- or fourth-line center role; thanks to experience gained last season, Kero’s more comfortable now.

“It was great,” he said. “Going in, you’re not sure. It’s day-to-day to start and you just want to prove yourself and get those opportunities, get trust and more ice time. As the season went on I got more confident, trusted my game more. Going into the season I’m going in with a lot more confidence.”

John Hayden felt fairly comfortable when he joined the Blackhawks last spring thanks to his senior season at Yale – “I needed that fourth year as a player and a person,” he said. Still, getting in some NHL games, getting a feel for the pro level and gaining familiarity with the Blackhawks will benefit him in September.

“It’s important considering it’s my first training camp and I’ll know a lot of the guys, which helps a ton. From an on-ice standpoint, I have that experience,” he said. “I’ve spent a ton of time addressing areas in need of improvement all in all I’m excited for training camp.”

But Hartman and others don’t see it as weight on their shoulders.

“I don’t think there’s pressure,” Hartman said. “When you look back you want to see improvements every year, you want to see yourself becoming a better hockey player. That’s something I want to do, I want to be able to look back and say I had a good career my first year but each year I got progressively better. That’s where my mindset is at.”

There’s more opportunity for the young players but Hayden says that’s true of everyone.

“I don’t really analyze opportunity. Regardless of the team, it’s going to be competitive,” he said. “Every summer you have to have a hard-working mindset and do what you can to show up in the fall in the best shape of your life.”

The Blackhawks’ young players have all set the bar at a certain level and will be expected to improve. It takes confidence to take that next step. Thanks to experience gained last season, they’re feeling good about taking it.