Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Smile As Broad As Its Shoulders

Yes, those of you who know me know that when it comes to matters of hockey, the New Jersey Devils are the be all and end all for my emotions. But I have made it no secret that during my time with the Chicago Blackhawks as a wee web intern from Northwestern University I developed a fondness for what was, at the time, an utterly moribund franchise. Chicago had made one playoff appearance in the previous decade when I got there, and was never anything close to a contender.

The plus side to that, however, is that copious high draft picks mount up, and if you have a smart enough scouting staff and a savvy GM, the fortunes can turn around swiftly. Those fortunes all came to fruition last night when the Hawks knocked off the Flyers, 4-3, in overtime for their first Stanley Cup in 49 years. Now, some might harp on the fact that Patrick Kane's game-winner was one of the more bizarre incidents I've ever seen in sports, as colorfully painted by the announcers whom had absolutely no idea what was happening, but it doesn't matter. A good goal is a good goal, and if you're in the right place at the right time like Kane, the good goal makes you a Stanley Cup Champion.

Awkward or no, my guess is the Windy City won't be caring. And neither do I.

While the final winning score might give an indication that perhaps goal judges should always be sitting behind the net, a close look at the video shows that Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp both reacted immediately, and that, perhaps, they're the only two people in the arena who actually knew what was going on. Of course, the rest of the building would figure it out soon enough when commissioner Gary Bettman presented captain Jonathan Toews with the Stanley Cup.

Toews, who was also awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, got that always crucial decision of whom to pass the Cup to first. Starting with the 22-years-in-waiting delivery of Lord Stanley to Ray Bourque in 2001, the first person after the captain has generally been one who has waited the longest or been most deserving of the title. Unsurprisingly, this year's recipient was Marian Hossa, whose journey to a third straight final with three different teams finally ended in a victory. While I generally don't believe in curses, it was hard not to wonder after Philadelphia tied the game late in the third period on a goal that essentially bounced into the net off Hossa. Fortunatley for Hossa, however, and the Hawks who have him under contract for 11 more seasons, the curse seems to have been lifted.

Not surprisingly, the celebration stayed underway for a while. After arriving in Chicago around 4 a.m. local time and immediately went to a bar to start drinking. I'm not sure anyone will blame them as most of Chicago, a city that outside of Michael Jordan's remarkable reign in the 1990s, often feels an inferiority complex in a history of sparsely won championships. The Hawks' 49-year drought aside, the Bears have one title in the last 47 years, the White Sox went 88 years before winning the World Series in 2005 and the Cubs, well, the Cubs are special. So it's not surprising that the City of Broad Shoulders is reveling in its triumph just a bit, and to those who have lived there or been part of the Blackhawks organization, however large or small a capacity, you can't help but be touched by the moment. Some of us are a little better at controlling our emotions than Jeremy Roenick, who was drafted eighth overall by Chicago in 1988 and clearly still carries pain from experiencing a Finals loss with the Hawks in 1992. But while some might claim he's trying to take the spotlight for himself, I thought it was a sweet moment showing how special the awarding of a Stanley Cup can be.

Besides, lord knows there have been other vain attempts at publicity that are far more ridiculous.

There is likely to be talk about the hit this team may take depthwise as the salary cap chickens come home to roost following last offseason's embarrassing contract mishap. But while some players will likely be shipped out, with big scorer Patrick Sharp possibly among them, Kane, Toews, Hossa and other stalwarts like Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will be in the fold for years to come.

One can never predict the likelihood of multiple Stanley Cups, but I would be surprised if the Blackhawks weren't in the mix for the next decade to come. In the meantime, you'll have to forgive them if they're having a little too much fun enjoying their first visit with Stanley in half a century.

And even if they aren't my absolute favorite team, you'll have to excuse me if I take some time to enjoy it, too.

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