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.

Blackhawks acquire Tomas Jurco from Red Wings

Blackhawks acquire Tomas Jurco from Red Wings

General manager Stan Bowman saw the potential in Tomas Jurco several years ago.

For the 24-year-old forward, it wasn’t working out with the Detroit Red Wings. Perhaps a change of scenery, an opportunity on a team that could vie for another Stanley Cup, makes a difference. The Blackhawks are about to find out.

The Blackhawks acquired Jurco for a third-round pick in this year’s draft on Friday afternoon. The 24-year-old Jurco has played in 16 games with the Red Wings this season but has yet to collect a point. In four seasons with the Wings, Jurco had 15 goals and 24 assists in 159 games. Red Wings general manager Ken Holland told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press that, “things haven’t worked out” for Jurco there and that he wanted to go elsewhere.

Jurco was on a bye as a member of the Red Wings but, now that he’s with the Blackhawks, the bye ends. Bowman was hopeful Jurco would join the Blackhawks at practice on Saturday. Also, to clear a roster spot for Jurco, the Blackhawks reassigned Vinnie Hinostroza to the Rockford IceHogs.

[RELATED: Nick Schmaltz gaining confidence, effectiveness with Blackhawks]

Bowman said he’s been watching Jurco for a few seasons now.

“We’ll be patient with him but we really think there’s a good fit there, looking at his skills and the style of hockey we play,” Bowman said. “He’s been an accomplished player at a lot of different levels. He’s shown flashes in the NHL, not as consistently as he or the Wings would like, but you can see the talent and potential. You have to have some patience with these guys. It doesn’t always come together right away. I’m not expecting him to carry our team but I think he can contribute.”

It was an under-the-radar trade for Bowman but that’s not surprising. In late January, Bowman said he probably wouldn’t do much at the trade deadline; he liked how the Blackhawks’ young players were progressing and figured, if that continued, the team would be in good shape. Since then the Blackhawks have won eight of their last nine and are just three points behind the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Wild. As the Blackhawks kept winning it looked like, if they did anything, it would be a depth move.

So will there be any more moves? At this point it doesn’t seem likely, be it on forward or defense – Bowman didn’t have an update on Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) but said he’s happy with the depth in Chicago and Rockford on defense. Bowman said he’ll keep talking but, “but it’s a little bit different than in previous years when I thought we definitely needed something and were lacking in an area.”

“I’ve had a feeling about our team, not just recently but even a month ago. I liked the way this group was starting to come together,” Bowman said. “We’ve seen that enhanced over the last couple of week here. We’ve seen players step up, [Nick] Schmaltz in particular. [Ryan] Hartman’s been good all year. We’ve seen Jonathan [Toews] become a dominant player again. It gives your team a confidence that you have balance, scoring in different lines. We just added a young player to help us now as well as in the future. There’s a lot to be excited about. I’m not expecting more trades. I can’t predict more will happen but I have a good feeling about this group right now.”

 

Nick Schmaltz gaining confidence, effectiveness with Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz gaining confidence, effectiveness with Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz's game has made tremendous strides since he came back from Rockford. He's has the puck more. He's playing with more confidence. He's recognizing when to hold onto the puck and when to give it up. 

Now to improve in one other category.

"I've been telling myself that for years now to shoot the puck and I still don't do it enough," Schmaltz said with a little smile. "Definitely shoot more and just play my game."

That, like everything else, will come with confidence more play but there's no doubt Schmaltz is making a bigger impact these past few weeks. Schmaltz celebrated his 21st birthday on Thursday with another multi-point night, this time a goal and an assist in the Blackhawks' 6-3 victory over the Arizona Coyotes. The rookie is brimming with confidence as part of the Blackhawks' surging top line with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik and has nine points over his last seven games.

For Schmaltz, every lessoned learned this season, including the ones from Rockford, has been put to good use the past few weeks.

"We're just having the puck more. That's my game. I like to have the puck, hold onto it and make plays," Schmaltz said. "I'm making more plays off the rush, in the zone. I'm definitely more accustomed to playing this style and hopefully we can keep it going because I know that's how the Blackhawks have played in the past. And it only helps our team game when every line is playing well."

The Blackhawks have developed a better four-line rotation and a big part of that is the chemistry Schmaltz, Toews and Panik have formed on that top line. Panik said he's seen the change in Schmaltz lately.

"I think he just holds onto the puck more," Panik said. "He doesn't give it up quickly and that's what he's good at, just possession with the puck and making a space for him and he finds me or Toews."

[RELATED: Nick Schmaltz shines on 21st birthday]

Coach Joel Quenneville was particularly complimentary of Schmaltz's game in Minnesota, which featured a "spectacular" pass to Toews on what was the captain's second goal of the night. 

"The one thing we want him to do is play with the puck, play to his strengths and have it. Now he wants it," Quenneville said. "He had the puck a lot [on Thursday], like he did in Minnesota. I just think he's improved his pace and his strength in the puck area is coming along. For young guys, that's always an area where you get better over your first few years. But the quickness and confidence with the puck is definitely more noticeable."

Sure, Schmaltz should shoot more. In his time with the Blackhawks Schmaltz has had two or fewer shots in all but one game (Nov. 23 vs. the San Jose Sharks). When he has shot lately it's led to good results. Sometimes the decision to shoot is easy — please see the 2-on-1 with him and Toews to start Thursday's game — but the Blackhawks want to see him take a few more chances.

"You're a young guy and sometimes you feel the need to move the puck a little bit but he rolled that half wall early in the Minnesota game and we kept saying, ‘Shoot the puck, think shot, think shot,'" Quenneville said. "I think that will open up his other options and all of a sudden they're going to have to respect him coming out of those tight areas with a quick snap shot in that area. He can work and get better in that area knowing, get a little more comfortable with it, snapping it."

The Blackhawks have shown steady improvement this season. The same goes for Schmaltz. The start of the season was a little rough and not surprisingly so; the transition from college to pro isn't easy. But Schmaltz is now looking like he belongs here, and he wants to keep building.

"I feel I'm playing at a high level, where I need to be. But I can't get happy or complacent in my game," Schmaltz said. "I have to keep working and keep that level as high as possible."