Saturday, June 12, 2010
By Chris Boden
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.