We are all painfully aware that the last ten years of Blackhawks hockey have been marked by, shall we say, a noticeable absence of success. Despite that, the Four Feathers have still been pretty well represented at the NHL All-Star Game in terms of quality, if not quantity.
There have been eight All-Star games in the ten years since 1998; the season-long lockout resulted in the cancellation of the 2005 event, while the league choose to cancel the 2006 festivities so that players could participate for their home countries in the Winter Olympics.
The chronic absence of star-power talent that has led to the Hawks' struggles on the ice during the season is reflected by the low number of Blackhawks chosen to be All-Stars since 1998. Just six Hawks have been so designated in the last decade, and because the NHL does not have a rule requiring that each team be represented, the Hawks actually had no one on the 2004 Western Conference All-Star team.
In fact, if it weren’t for Tony Amonte, the All-Star Game would have been a Blackhawks-free zone in three of the last eight games.
Of course the NHL All-Star Game is, like similar contests at the major league levels of other professional sports, more of a popularity contest and name-recognition measure than anything else. Fan voting determines the starting lineups while ‘industry professionals’ choose the rest of the players.
Those hockey insiders held Amonte in high regard. Although he was never voted in as a starter, Amonte was selected to four straight All-Star teams between 1998 and 2001. His four appearances were for Team North America during the period when the game was played as a ‘North America vs. the World’ contest.
One of the reasons the NHL moved away from the format was that the North American team may as well have been named Team Canada; there were never more than four or five Americans on the squad. Amonte, born in Hingham, MA, and a two-year member of the Boston University Terriers, represented the USA as well as the Blackhawks during each of his four All-Star appearances.
Despite being an outnumbered American, Amonte showed his Canadian teammates a thing or two about performing in All-Star Games. He had at least one point in each of his four games. In the 2001 game in Denver he had a four-point game (2G, 2A) and would have been an excellent candidate for the game’s Most Valuable Player had Boston’s Bill Guerin not scored a hat trick.
The 2002 game was played in Los Angeles and that game’s MVP was, in fact, a Blackhawk. Brace yourself: Eric Daze scored two goals and had one assist for team North America. Brace yourself again: Alexei Zhamnov had a goal and an assist for the World team! Daze and Zhamnov: Blackhawks All-Stars. Win a few bar bets with that information.
It may be difficult to believe there is a Blackhawk All-Star moment that exceeds the civic pride and excitement of Daze and Zhamnov playing in the same game, but there was one back at the dawn of the 12-team era in the late 1960s. The 1968 game was the last one in which the defending Stanley Cup champions played an All-Star squad selected from the league’s other 11 teams (the following year the league adopted the East vs. West format).
In 1968, the 1967 champion Toronto Maple Leafs faced an All-Star team on which four of the five starting skaters were Hawks: Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, and Ken Wharram brought the Scooter Line to Toronto while Pierre Pilote was one of the starting defensemen. No team before or since has put four skaters on the ice to start an All-Star Game.
Hull, of course, was an All-Star regular; in addition to being part of history in ‘68, he also won the MVP award for the 1971 and 1972 games.
While defenseman Duncan Keith is the first member of the ‘current generation’ of Blackhawks to be so honored, it's safe to say he won’t be the last.
Van C. Oler is a freelance writer and Blackhawks fan who grew up in Wheaton and currently resides in Cincinnati, OH.