2009-10 Blackhawks Road Trips/Meet-ups

Thank you, Twitter. I wouldn’t have been able to do anything without you.

For posterity’s sake, here are a few potential road trips that are being organized/planned.

Home Meet-ups:

  • Is It October Yet?
    When: September 3
    What: Meet-up with @chollis; commiserate about the lack of games around this time
    Where: ??
    Details: tbd
  • Training Camp/Pre-season
    When: September 19
    What: Pre-season game against the Caps; training camp festival
    Where: United Center
    Details: tbd
  • Bruins with @sarah_connors
    When: December 18
    What: Bruins game
    Where: United Center
    Details: tbd
  • WC Rematch?
    When: December 20
    What: First home game against Detroit Red Wings
    Where: United Center
    Details: tbd
  • @witenike Comes to Town
    When: tbd
    What: tbd
    Where: tbd
    Details: tbd

Road Trips:

  • St Louis Trip
    When: February 6
    What: Away game at St Louis
    Where: Scottrade Center in St Louis, MO
    Details: tbd
  • Phoenix Trip
    When: March 20
    What: Away game at Phoenix
    Where: Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, AZ
    Details: tbd

I’d love it if you could comment with your Twitter username and let me know which ones you’re interested in going to see.

steep postseason learning curves are steep

This was a post I’d intended to write during the first round series, when the so-often-touted-as-inexperienced-and-baby-faced Blackhawks were up against Iginla and the Flames, but somehow I never did get around to it.

The gist of it was this: before round 1, there was plenty of doubt about exactly what the Blackhawks could bring to the table. Their lack of playoff experience was cited as a huge factor, and while many agreed the Flames/Blackhawks series would be a hard-fought one, the majority seemed to favor the more experienced and playoff-tested (my adjectives are slightly more generous than the truth) Flames.

Don’t you know, Iginla is their Jesus Havlat?

True enough, in the first game of the playoffs, the Flames drew first blood. Coach Q had said the difference was night and day in terms of scoring first in the league, and it did not bode well for the ‘Hawks, but they scored to tie it up, and when Calgary scored again to pull up a point ahead, the ‘Hawks forced the game to overtime. (Martin Havlat won the game with the third shortest overtime goal in history, but that’s neither here nor there. Well, except to relive the moment. 12 seconds. Relish it. Enjoy it. Mm, yes. There, done? Good. Let’s move on.)

Calgary scored first again, and then they scored another. It wasn’t until after the first intermission that the boys came back, and how. Toews less than a minute in, on a power play, Sharp a few minutes past the halfway mark to tie the game, and then, with 24 seconds left in the second, Toews with his second for the night.

With barely any playoff experience to share among them, the Blackhawks have learned– in two games– how to erase 1- and 2-goal deficits and come out of those games victorious. They have learned how to come back from 3-goal deficits (last night was not the first postseason), though not how to win those. (I don’t mean to say they won’t– see Toronto, November 22, 2008– but I also wouldn’t like to have a head full of greying hair by the end of the playoffs, thanks.) In one night they have learned how to win both away from the United Center, and against a team fighting to stay alive.

Too young to know any better

This post begs to be written now because once again, the Blackhawks showed just how much they need to learn, but also how much they already have. The playoffs brought out the best in them, more than even I expected to see. Byfuglien finally learned to use his body, even to the extent of generating game-winning plays. Campbell has improved his game from a lackluster mid-season. Barker has started developing into a two-way player. Even Kane (RIP Goldie) has broken through from his I-have-a-gimpy-ankle-it’s-hard-okay? play, scoring four times now to lead the team in goals. Versteeg somehow decided to make a serious run for the Calder upon learning of his nomination, and Bolland last night finally netted himself a goal as well.

The secondary scoring has been incredible, and only 7 of the 20-man roster have yet to score a goal– of the 7, 3 are defensemen, 1 has played only in one game, and 1 other is the goalie. It seems only a matter of time before Brouwer and Eager dent the net too. (On a side note, even Q has been learning something– juggling lines to find the formula that works, and somehow, putting Eager out there sparked the third period into what it was.)

Bitter pills to swallow

It’s a new round, and there are new questions. Instead of inexperience overcoming experience, the first round against the Flames has turned instead into an issue of health over injury. Coming into round two, the Blackhawks are now pitted against a healthy, well-rested team that swept their first series and boasts of the best goalie this side of the League, and even discounting the last two regular season games against the Canucks, where one would hope for a certain kind of redemption, round two by itself already requires a much higher level of play for the Blackhawks.

The first game, of course, as I have now come to expect of this team, was filled with a lot of hard lessons: how not to spend nearly half the first period killing penalties, how to look for the other Sedin when one of them has the puck (Duncan Keith, have you not learned this from working with the Tower of Power?), how not to wait until the last period to play hockey (they’re procrastinators, these boys, isn’t it obvious?), and yes, how one mistake could end on a 4-on-1 breakaway goal that’ll end the game earlier than it should have.

But last night, they also took away an important lesson that I hope they apply consistently over the course of this series: how to score on Roberto Luongo– thrice– in the space of 13 shots.

And they’ll continue learning.

‘coz every girl’s crazy about a sharp dressed man

What. A. Comeback.

Short one goal for a hat trick, there was no better way for Patrick Sharp’s return to have played out than it did today against the LA Kings. First goal of the game. An assist for the second. An empty netter from deep in the ‘Hawks zone to clinch the win–I don’t think he was even trying to get that one; it looked more like a lucky bounce more than anything else. (And just for kicks, Havlat scored another one too, bringing the tally up 4-1.) Hell, he even overtook Patrick Kane in the race for lead goal scorer, coming up with 25 goals to Kane’s and Havlat’s 24, only 4 goals behind Toews’ 29. It’s the Blackhawks’ first win in the last 6 games they’ve played, after going 7-7-3 without Sharp, who was injured on Valentine’s Day in a game against the Dallas Stars.

I knew the team was hurting from Sharp’s absence, but man, I didn’t know they were hurting that much. I honestly did not expect him to play the way he did tonight, but you know what, that’s because I’ve always thought all those Mighty Duck-esque stories were just in the movies.  (Who am I kidding? This is hockey. This is the Blackhawks. Those stories are real.) And the great thing–the fantastic thing–is that Sharp isn’t the only one who shone tonight. Not by a long shot. Those three regulation losses were hard to take, and the overtime losses? They were bad, but they showed a team that was building up to an effort like tonight. (May I also mention the spectacular LACK of penalties taken? Save for Pahlsson’s interference that cost us a shutout and that first penalty for too many men on the ice, we were squeaky-clean. Meanwhile, the Kings were all over the place.)

Martin Havlat

Come on. Beautiful passing between Marty and Sharp led to the second goal of the night, and then that second empty-netter with 18 seconds left in the game basically clinched it. He’s already given one lucky fan $1million from scoring at the 10:00 mark in January’s Monday game against Minnesota, but tonight he also gave all the United Center attendees a Big Mac from scoring in the last minute of the period.

Brent Seabrook

Seven hits tonight. Seven. Hits. (Take a look at everyone else– Keith had just two and the rest of the 19 total hits are spread out among the rest of the team.) This is the sort of physical presence that our boys have been lacking most of the season, and it’s just damn good to see Seabrook stepping up.

Brian Campbell

Oh, Soupy. Coach Q has hinted before that Soupy was simply lacking in confidence somewhat, and well. It looks like he’s getting it back. He played a mean 25:57 minutes of ice time tonight, 30 seconds MORE than the Blackhawks workhorse Keith, and he’s learned to read plays enough to be offensive or defensive accordingly. No crazy, botched Spin-o-ramas for Soupy tonight, and here’s to hoping he’s really on his way back to being the D-man he was at the beginning of the season.

Duncan Keith

This man needed a star, but I guess there weren’t enough to go around. From a +27, he earned a +3 in tonight’s game (and they weren’t just passively earned– he had assists for all of them) to get him to +30. Of course, the +/- leader is Zajac from the Devils and Wheeler from Boston, with +36 points each, but they’ve also played 72 games, while Dunc’s only played 67 thus far.

The Last Eleven Games

Of course, I hardly think this means that everything is going to be easier from here on out. Quite frankly, the Blackhawks will have to start fighting tooth and nail to come out on top (or, well, maybe at least fourth seed?) at the end of the season, because damn, it is not going to be easy.

The last three games of this home stand will be against San Jose (currently gunning for first in the Western Conference, maybe even the President’s Trophy), New Jersey (Does Brodeur’s 552nd win ring a bell? Which team was that against again? Us? Oh.), and Vancouver (who keep insisting on unseating us from 4th, gah, go away, home ice is ours–OURS, I say!). Then we’re up against Montreal (no comment) and April will be a mix of home and away games against the Central Division, against whom we have our worst record. 

So yeah, if we wanted to be a little realistic, we probably blew off what could have been the ‘easier’ part of the second half of the season, but hey, tonight is just the kind of night we needed, and maybe this will help us a lot in the next games to come. 

Like Jonathan Toews said, “If we keep working, we’re going to get the breaks. We have to. We’ve got too much talent and too much character in this room not to.”

the blackhawk fan’s guide to getting autographs

I had plans for this weekend that fell through early in the week, so on a whim I decided to spend Saturday watching the Blackhawks practice in The Edge, a rink in Bensenville, IL. I didn’t realize, if not for the fantastic @suzechooch, that watching the Blackhawks practice meant I could also possibly get autographs from them too, so I started to make plans. Because not everyone may have a go-to gal like @suzechooch, here’s a guide I’ve written for if you ever find yourself in Bensenville.

Bring supplies.

Most people who went there had their own Sharpies to hand to players, and some even had jerseys put up on cardboard or flat panels so that players didn’t have to worry about finding a hard surface to write on. Myself, I only had with me two Sharpies, my Keith jersey, and two caps– one for me, and the other for @carolineduda.

Know where to go.

The best way to get to the arena is by driving there, but it is accessible by commute. Take the Metra’s Milwaukee District – West line headed to Elgin from the Union Station and get off at Bensenville. It’s 30 minutes away by train, and another 25 minutes on foot. (You can probably call for a cab from the station though. I would have if I didn’t end up with plenty of time to make the trek to and from the arena.) It isn’t very far from O’Hare either, so you can also probably pick up a taxi from the airport if that’s easier.

Come early, leave late. 

The Blackhawks practice anywhere between 10am to 11am, but players come in earlier than that, and your best bet is to meet them as they enter The Edge. Some of them come in super early, and some of them leave super late, and really it’s up to you to decide how long you would want to wait. Nothing is set, to be honest, and it’s a combination of luck and effort, in the end.

Alternate. 

The Edge has three parking lots– one at the back (which has been roped off to avoid cars accidentally backing into people), one at the front across the street, and another to the side. There are two entrances as well– the back door and the front entrance. Players used to park out front but since more fans have been watching them practice, it’s gotten harder to enter that way without signing for a few minutes, so most of them park in the back. It may be advisable to stay in the back, because when people like Kris Versteeg, Jonathan Toews, or Cristobal Huet come in through the front you’ll be able to tell by the crowd that starts gathering there, and you can always catch up to them.

Talk to the fans. 

Some of the fans out there will know infinitely more about what’s going on than I ever will–talk to them! Make friends! They’ll tell you which cars the players drive (You know Tazer and Kaner have Tahoes, and Versteeg apparently drives a Hummer), which ones usually sign autographs (Huet and Toews, hands down; Patrick Sharp used to but not as often anymore), and so on.

One woman told me about the time her daughter and her friends went out with the boys one time, and one of the girlfriends, who knew absolutely nothing about hockey, turned to Patrick Kane and asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Ready? Get set. Go!

Notice the St Patrick's Day Cubs cap.

Notice the St Patrick's Day Cubs cap.

Jonathan Toews was not the first player to come in, but somehow I’d forgotten to take photos when David Bolland entered (through the back, and looking rather grumpy– at being up so early in the morning, I hope) nor when Kris Versteeg walked in. (Should have told him I had Glamorous stuck in my head thanks to him.)

Toews, however, did stay long enough that I gathered my senses soon enough to snap a couple of photos. He posed with the kiddies, but I was rather unable to say anything so all I got was of his cap. Sorry. :\

Huet came in after and I was hardly able to get the autograph, let alone a photo. Some guy asked him about his son being a goalie and Huet said, “Well, only if he wants to.” D’awww.

 

Practice happened, and I was even worse at taking photos.

Practice happened, and I was even worse at taking photos.

So then the team started practicing, and I went to grab lunch–for $5 I had a disgusting pork BBQ sandwich, chips, and a soda– and tried to snap photos from where I can. The lines were Sharp-Toews-Brouwer, Kane-Pahlsson-Versteeg, the regular Ladd-Bolland-Havlat, and Eager-Fraser-Burish. Now that Eager has been suspended for three games I’m not sure if Byfuglien is gonna end up out of defense again or not. I guess we’ll see. Practice ended fairly quickly afterward, though. It started at 11:45 and was done about an hour later.

I went out to the back parking lot, figuring I’d already gotten the front-entrance players, and managed to get Soupy and Burish, as well as my ability to make small talk. “Nice hit!” “Great goal!” I missed Havlat because of the crowd, sadly, and Patrick Kane went out to sign only for the kiddies before his dad drove them out, running two red lights in the process. (Or so reported the boy who ran after their car. Um.)

Awkward, but sweet.

Awkward, but sweet.

Khabibulin drove off, and Seabrook also snuck out, and I waited around for a bit. I’d been told some players could stay out as late as 3pm or 4pm, and it was only close to about 1pm, so there was plenty of time to wait, but I really had my heart set on getting both Keith (jersey!) and Sharp (since I missed his signing). 

Finally, they were outside. Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith came out at the same time (look at that, how lucky) and were both signing autographs for the fans in the back.

I walked up to the crowd, finally managing to get my way up to the front. A little awkwardly, I managed to snap a photo of Patrick Sharp. (I would have asked him to look up and pose for Caroline’s benefit, but as I had to ask him to sign the caps twice I felt like I was asking for too much already, haha.)

Well, he's a hell of a player.

Well, he's a hell of a player.

Both players were basically going back and forth signing things that hadn’t been signed yet, and for Keith I held out the jersey and caps.

“Hell of a jersey!” said he. (I have quoted this too many times. I cannot help it. It pleased me.)

“I know!” said I, rather lamely. (Half an hour later, my lightning wit finally struck, and I realize I should said something more along the lines of the caption under his photo. Tragic, the things left unsaid.)

And he signed my jersey and the caps. (“I have two nephews!” I blurted out. “Oh really?” he said. Not that either of my nephews were even hockey fans, but I figured it sounded less creepy than “My BFF and I think you’re the best and your minutes are insane and you’ll get your +/- back will you stay a Blackhawks forever pretty please?”)

After a few minutes, both of them drove off (same car, yes; Sharpie on the wheel, if anyone wanted to know). It was about 1:15pm by then, and I’d gotten autographs from Bolland, Versteeg, Toews, Huet, Campbell, Burish, Sharp and Keith. It kind of felt like Christmas, and I figured it was a good last autograph note to end on, so I made my way back to the train station.

Which autograph is whose?

Which autograph is whose?

I used a Metallica Sharpie, so the light reflected off it. Oops.

I used a Metallic Silver Sharpie, so the light reflected off it. Oops.

Here's a better view.

Here's a better view.

“Hell of a jersey,” he said.

It was a hell of a day, I decided.

so long and thanks for all the wiz

It wasn’t, by any means, a massively skewed trade.

Everybody had known for the longest time that the Blackhawks desperately needed a Center, someone to push the team over .500 for face-offs. The Ducks wanted to strengthen their blue line. And for a fairly solid D-man like James Wisniewski, it’s hard to get much ice time (maybe even a decent opportunity to develop as a player) in a team with defensemen like Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.

So don’t get me wrong, because I understand. There are arguments to be made for giving Wiz up to get Pahlsson. This is something that can truly work out for everyone involved.

But.

And there is a “but.” There is always a “but.” I’m sorry to say it isn’t the sort of hesitation that can come from any kind of learned hockey analysis. This is of the purely emotional sort–it comes with the attachment that a fan develops towards certain players in a team. Wiz was one of my favorite Blackhawks, and I used to say he wore 43 because he was the answer to life, the universe, and everything, and then some. If there had ever been a Blackhawk able to win by pure personality alone, that would have been Wiz, who launched his own clothing line, who can never remember his lines, and who is the first person to pick on his teammates as soon as the opportunity arises.

So you’ll forgive me if I’m not overjoyed that we’ve finally acquired a Center. I guess when I wished for that, I didn’t think about what it would cost us, but that’s how sports franchises work, don’t they? Better get used to it now; Chicago’s going to be making a few changes in the next few years, and I’ll probably never agree with all of them.

Thanks for the season so far, Wiz. I’ll be following you in Anaheim, and I hope you thrive over there. You always did say you liked the view in LA; at least now you’re somewhat closer?

The things Blackhawks would do for their fans

We lost to the Penguins 5-4 last night (Well-played, Malkin, but you were against a rookie goalie in a power play during overtime, so. I’m just saying.), but it was the sort of game where we kind of won and lost at once? Jonathan Toews, 20-year old sophomore captain of the team, did something beautiful last night.

Double Hard Hat Trick Night

It’s basically a fucking drama, on ice!

So at the United Center they give away things sometimes if sponsors wanted to give away swag, right? And it’s usually cool stuff– bobbleheads, posters, bags (tomorrow I’m watching a game just to get a reusable tote, hah)– but last night? Last night it was construction helmets.

Yeah, I know. WTF.

But this is important to the story, I swear!

The Penguins scored 2 points in 1st period, then Jonathan Toews manages to score a point for Chicago, so we’re not really down by much after first, right? And a quarter of the way into the second period, Jonathan Toews scores again, bringing it up to 2-2.

People realize two things at once:

  • Jonathan Toews could end up with a hat trick
  • There are 10,000 people in the United Center wearing construction helmets

But Jonathan Toews has never scored a hat trick in his life, so I figure, hey, maybe the chances weren’t that good. He’s always scored two goals but never more than that, really, even if he is a stellar player and even in nights when his team isn’t completely on, he is still 150%.

Now, here’s the thing about Blackhawks that you have to know: they will bend backwards for their fans. When there’s some corporate promotion on, like, say, a giveaway of a Bic Mac to every person in attendance should a Blackhawks score in the final minute of a period or overtime, Kris Versteeg will score in the last minute of the third period. When the Illinois Lottery puts up a promo giving $1 million to a fan if a Blackhawks scores at exactly the 10:00 mark in 2nd period, fuck yeah Martin Havlat will do just that.

You see what I’m saying here?

So if it’s HARD HAT GIVEAWAY NIGHT at the United Center and you’ve put down 2 goals already, damn RIGHT you can expect Jonathan Toews will score a third.

And he did. And it was amazing. I was watching the feed and there were hard hats everywhere on the ice. Never tell me these boys don’t know how to bring in the lulz, plus he brought the game 3-2 in their favor.

And then the goal was disallowed.

High-stick, they said. Which is funny, because when Minnesota did the same thing in the last game against us, NHL officials let it stand. Bullcrap.

But they don’t know Captain Serious. I said– and I said it with complete honesty, because I know these boys have a history of being awesome– “Give the fans their hard hats back, because Jonathan Toews is SO going to score a fourth time, just to prove he can.”

And what do you think he did, guys?

1:55 into third period and it rained hard hats a second fucking time.

jfa;ksjfd’laksf;asdkfa;sdlkflajfl;dsf

GOD I love these boys.

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