Hawk Talk: Let the Buildup Begin

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Hawk Talk: Let the Buildup Begin

Wednesday, April 28, 2010
5:51 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

One team, the Chicago Blackhawks, has its sights set on a Stanley Cup. Meanwhile the Vancouver Canucks have been pointing all season long toward upending Chicago in a postseason rematch.

Despite these differing goals, the second straight semifinals matchup between the Blackhawks and Canucksespecially when taking into account the regular-season hijinks between the teamsshapes up to be a high-flying, hard-hitting affair. Whichever club advances to the Western finals could well end up drained and dead on their skates.

And yet players on both sides are chomping at the bit for Hawks-Nucks, Mach II.

These are the rivalries you love, Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell said. Theres not a lot of love lost between us.

It was a lot of fun last year, said Hawks forward Patrick Sharp, without a single word spoken through gritted teeth. Whats that they say about familiarity, it breeds contempt? Thats about it.

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews even allowed himself some rare levity when speculating about the Chicago-Vancouver rematch.

Were going to have a lot of fun with the series, Toews said. "We can put our experience last year to good use.

Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa broke into a smile when talking about the rivalry between the two teams, even though hes yet to participate in a Hawks-Nucks playoff battle.

I watched the other playoff games last year when I wasnt playing for the Detroit Red Wings, Boss Hoss said. I could see how tough it was. It was that way in this regular season, too.

Last years playoff battle, won by the Blackhawks in six games after dropping two of the first three, certainly had interesting moments, including gilded Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo tearing up in the Vancouver locker room after the Blackhawks romp to clinch the series in Game 6. But the 2009-10 regular season is whats truly upped the ante.

Among a flurry of interesting statistics and trends, two violent episodes from this seasons Chicago-Vancouver matchups leap out.

The first and most infamous was Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchells crushing check on Toews after being sprung from the penalty box in the third period of two teams first tilt, at the United Center on Oct. 21. Mitchell decked the unaware Captain flat, leaving Toews dazed and barely able to skate back to the Chicago bench. The Blackhawks would lose the game late, and the Big Red Cheese would end up missing six games with a concussion due to Mitchells hit. Ironically, just three months later Mitchell himself suffered a violent concussion in a game vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins and has been sidelined since.

The other episode, a more sustained and humorous bit of controversy, is the Andrew Ladd-Ryan Kesler feud. Kesler had apparently been spoiling for a fight with Ladd since receiving a supposed cheap shot from the Chicago winger in the 2009 playoffs. But when the two squared off at the GM Place on Jan. 23, Ladd decked Kesler with a quick left cross, breaking his nose. Curiously, Kesler chose to advance the controversy by calling Ladd a coward after the game. Theories abounded that Kesler was more injured by Ladds tauntingquickly pointing to the welts he delivered to the centers facethan by the punch itself. In Marchs season series finale at the United Center, Ladd took a run at Kesler right away, but on advice of teammate counsel, Kesler demurred.

You media are probably going to have a lot to ask Kesler and Ladder this year, right? Toews asked, breaking into his version of a guffaw, a wry smile.

Kesler himself is trying to laugh at the controversy. You had to bring that one up, did you? he asked the Vancouver Sun on Monday. Im not too worried about Ladd. Im more worried about winning the series and trying to get even that way Its a team game, and were focused on the main goal here. There are no selfish guys on this team who are going to try to close up an individual battle and make the team suffer.

Kesler doesnt only claim no hard feelings, but over the past couple of months since last meeting the Blackhawks has developed a grudging admiration for Ladd. Absence makes the heart grow fonder?

Ladd is a guy who plays hard, he told the Sun. I dont think there is any rivalry there. Whats done is done. We fought and thats the end of it.

Luongos heartfelt reaction to, in his words, letting my team down in a 7-5 Chicago romp in Game 6 last year is another famous moment in the Vancouver-Chicago rivalry. But the Olympic goal-winning netminder fueled the flames a bit back in February, after his Canadian club knocked off the U.S. in the gold medal game. In the handshake line, Luongo reminded Patrick Kane that hed be looking forward to exacting revenge in the playoffs.

Kanes first career hat trick came in that Game 6 clincher vs. Luongo, and the ace has had his share of troubles over the years vs. the Blackhawks.

Contrary to common conception, Luongo has a terrific track record against Chicago in the regular season. Over the past four years, the netminder is 10-5-0 with a 1.90 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage against the Hawks. Of course, some persistent concerns may be in the goalies mind as he skates into the crease for Game 1 at the United Center: His poor performance in last years postseason (23 goals in six games), and getting shelled for five goals on 14 shots in the first period of the teams most recent meeting, a 6-3 Chicago win on March 5.

Even worse for the gold-medal winner is that Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has shifted his lineup in anticipation of the highly-skilled Canucks. Cool Hand Q has bumped the burly Dustin Byfuglien back to forward from the blue line, where he is expected to play the same pesky, physical role in front of Luongos blue ice he did, to raves, a season ago.

For a team not necessarily known for physical play, the Blackhawks did a marvelous job pestering Luongo last season.

I thought the Chicago series last year was the most Ive ever seen for guys going to the net and falling on the goalie, Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa told The Province.
I know its part of the Blackhawks game plan for sure, but Ive got to deal with it, Luongo added. I dont have a problem with that. Its a challenge for me, and I look forward to challenges like that.

And it wont just be Big Buff, who took in Tuesdays team practice not as a point on the power play but at long last back in front of goal, tangling Luongos long locks in the semis. Count on Adam Burish, Ladd, Tomas Kopecky, Bryan Bickell and Troy Brouwer all to buzz the goalie with drive-bys.

Heading into this titanic tilt, the bluster from both dressing rooms will be in full force. As Quenneville said, Im sure it wont take long to rekindle the animosity.

And once animosity has been raised to threatening levels, the reporting of every last deal stemming from the soap opera that is Blackhawks-Canucks will begin.

As soon as someone breaks their fingernail, it becomes a story, noted Toews, once again as jocular as youll find him. The players even talk to each other about that.

Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.

Hawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks' bottom six steps up in Colorado

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AP

Hawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks' bottom six steps up in Colorado

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Jamal Mayers discuss the bottom six carrying the Blackhawks to a come-from-behind win over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night.

Later, Mayers weighs in on possible targets with the NHL trade deadline just six weeks away.

Listen to the latest episode of the Hawks Talk Podcast below:

Playing close to home a special experience for Hartman, Hinostroza families

Playing close to home a special experience for Hartman, Hinostroza families

DENVER – When Ryan Hartman went to Michigan at age 16 to play with the U.S. National Development team, his father Craig moved the whole family there, too. Craig wanted Ryan to stay close with his brother, who’s several years younger.

The move was worthwhile, but not easy. Craig traveled back and forth to Chicago for his work, and the stay in Michigan, originally expected to be two years, turned into four when Ryan played for the Plymouth Whalers.

Now when the Hartmans want to see Ryan, whether it was Rockford last season or Chicago this season, it’s less than an hour away from their West Dundee home.

“Either transition’s been great because I’ve been seeing him a lot, taking care of his dog when he’s on the road,” Craig said. “It’s pretty cool when he comes and sees his little brother play hockey. It’s pretty amazing to have him home. If he’s in any other city, he’d be gone. It’s special to have him here.”

For many of the fathers currently on the Blackhawks’ dads trip, this excursion is one of maybe a handful of times they’ll get to see their sons play in a season. But for Craig Hartman and Rick Hinostroza, Vinnie Hinostroza’s dad, their sons play for the hometown team. They get to see them at least half of the season. And for both of them, it’s an incredible feeling.

“It’s pretty unbelievable to be able to just drive, depending on how traffic is, it could take us a little over an hour to get there. But just to be able to be home in 35 minutes and we get to sit and talk to him after a game or go out to dinner, things like that,” Rick Hinostroza said. “It’s really nice, and we’ll take it as long as we can.”

Craig and Rick are also enjoying their first dads trip, which began in Denver and now goes to Boston. Ryan Hartman said it’s been a great experience for him and his father.

“It’s my first year here and [it’s a chance] for him to be able to see what we go through on the road, so he has a better idea of what I’m doing when I’m gone all the time. I’m sure it’s good for him to be here and see that,” Hartman said. “And just being on the road with him, it’s a cool experience. I’m glad to have him here.”

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Vinnie Hinostroza said this was the first hockey trip he’d been on with his dad since his midget hockey days.

“It’s so special to bring him along, where he used to bring me and pay for the hotels and everything. It’s nice he gets to enjoy this,” Hinostroza said. “It’s special for us to have them here. They sacrifice so much for us growing up, taking us on hockey trips.”

Rick Hinostroza got his first taste of how his son travels on this trip. The elder Hinostroza was impressed, from the charter jet to the hospitality that wasn’t the usual commercial-flight can of soda and bag of pretzels.

“The attendants going back and forth, asking if I wanted something to eat and here you have this list, a choice of all this stuff. I’m used to the attendant coming around with the cart and you get what you get when you get it,” he said. “To be exposed to that and see just how the organization treats the families and players, it’s pretty neat. It’s really surreal.”

But as important as playing in hometown Chicago is for Hartman and Hinostroza’s parents, it means so much to the players as well.

“It’s a blessing, really, having them so close,” said Ryan, who sees his younger brother play hockey whenever he can. “It’s nice. You don’t have to plan a trip for them to come and you don’t have to be waiting for the next time you’re going to see them. Sometimes there are off days when I go home and relax with them. It’s definitely nice to have.”

The latest Blackhawks’ dads trip will end this weekend. Most of the fathers will head back to their respective homes, most of which are a good distance from Chicago. For the Hartmans and Hinostrozas, the return to Chicago means being back home and continuing to live the dream of watching their sons play here.

“I’ve gotten to meet a lot of fathers and having a nice time,” Craig Hartman said. “It’s fantastic. Growing up in the city – I was born probably about 15 blocks from the UC – being part of this and having my kid play with the Blackhawks, it’s crazy.”