-- It's proved to be a match made in heaven for John Madden
and the Chicago Blackhawks
The Hawks were looking for some veteran stability to help shape a young team loaded with potential but possessing precious little big-game experience. Madden, a big-game specialist with two Stanley Cups on his resume, was looking for a new challenge after a successful run with the New Jersey Devils
When Madden signed as an unrestricted free agent last summer, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville
knew his job as coach would be infinitely easier overnight because of Madden's character, experience and on-ice skills.
It's hard to explain what a Cup-winning player brings to a dressing room because so much of winning in the postseason is about intangibles, but Quenneville tried to put his finger on what Madden has meant to this Chicago team, which won its first title in 49 years after Wednesday night's victory against the Flyers in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final at the Wachovia Center.
"I think he brings leadership and character," Quenneville said. "In the beginning of the season that was what we were looking for him to instill and we wanted some improvement in our penalty killing. We really enhanced that immediately with his presence -- be it key faceoffs or play in his own end.
"That leadership, particularly at this time, though, has really been noticeable."
It's leadership learned at the hands of a veteran core during New Jersey's glory years -- a group that was headlined by the legendary Scott Stevens
. It was hard-earned, as well, gleaned from countless postseason battles with an organization that made several long postseason runs in the past decade.
Heck, Madden had played 112 postseason games before he even joined the Blackhawks for this year's run.
With New Jersey, Madden mimicked the intensity of the hard-nosed Stevens, playing with a chip on his shoulder from the moment he joined the franchise. He won a Stanley Cup during his rookie season in 1999-2000, helping the Devils beat Dallas. The next year, Madden found himself in Game 7 of the Final, losing to Colorado after his team blew a 3-2 lead in that series. In 2003, Madden was at the height of his powers as one of the game's best checking centers when the Devils defeated the Anaheim Ducks
Today, there is a softer side to Madden at the rink.
The once-omnipresent scowl is now reserved solely for games. He remains an elite checking center who gives no quarter on the ice, but he has learned to be more approachable in the locker room, becoming a mentor to a team learning how to become champions.
"He's funnier than he looks," Troy Brouwer
told NHL.com. "He's a funny guy. For him, it's all about the leadership role. He's won Stanley Cups, he has lost Stanley Cups, been in every situation imaginable and just brings that calmness to our team because no matter what situation we are in, he has been there before and he has that experience to pull us out of it, or pull us through it."
Madden may be more willing to offer his advice now, but he has no interest in stepping on the toes of Chicago's young leadership group, which was spearheaded by 22-year-old captain Jonathan Toews
"There's so much leadership in the room," Madden said. "The guys are young, but way beyond their years in terms of the way they handle themselves. There are lots of leaders in the room that do a lot of things. It's been easy to come in and play hockey and not worry about all the other things that go on."
But Madden, it seems, has picked the right times to speak this season.
"When he speaks, you know it is important," Dustin Byfuglien
told NHL.com before Game 6.
In fact, Madden spoke to his team about the perils of assuming Game 6 was in the bag, speaking passionately about the disappointment the Devils felt in losing Game 6 in 2001, setting the stage for the most traumatic lose of his career in Game 7 in Denver.
"He just let us know what happened and what we had to do," Brouwer said. "It was good that he shared those experiences with us."
Madden laughed when informed that his teammates have hung on his every word this season.
"I tend to say things in the dressing room when things aren't going so well, so I've had very little to say this year," Madden said.
While there may not have been much quantity when it came to Madden's speeches, the quality was undeniable. That, combined with his on-ice skill, has been an integral part of Chicago's success this year.
"Madden has been great," Chicago alternate captain Patrick Sharp
said. "Right from Day 1, he's -- I don't know if 'accepted' is the right word because he stepped into the locker room and guys flocked to him right away. He's been through the battle a few times.
"Look at what he's done this year. He's a huge part of the team on and off the ice; to add his leadership in the room and what he can bring to us in different parts of the game -- whether it's taking a faceoff, playing well defensively, killing a penalty.
"Those aren't always the things people like to write and talk about, but really valuable to our team."