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No Place Like Home To Start A Season

by Staff Writer / Chicago Blackhawks
For the first time since 1968 -- and only the fourth time in team history -- the Blackhawks will open a season with three straight home games. The Hawks host Anaheim on Wednesday, October 5 at the United Center, followed by San Jose on Friday and Columbus on Sunday before their first road test against the Blues on October 11.

Looking back at the '68-'69 season, the team won all three home games and took their road opener as well. Unfortunately, that squad -- led by Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita -- failed to make the playoffs and, in my opinion, was the best 6th-place team in NHL history. Chicago posted a winning record (34-33-9) and set a host of team records, some of which still stand today. (The following season, the Billy Reay-coached Hawks went from last in their division to 1st place -- an accomplishment not seen before in league history).

That infamous '68-'69 Hawk team had five 30-goal scorers (Hull, Mikita, Jim Pappin, Dennis Hull and Ken Wharram), plus two more 20+ scorers (Pit Martin and Doug Mohns) -- both still team records with Hull's 58 goals still tops among all-time Hawks. Also, the club posted a Chicago record for goals scored, 280 (158 home, 122 road), with players registering eight hat tricks. To put it into today's perspective, the Hawks have not matched that 280 season total since 1991 and only once ('95-'96) had a higher goal total on the road (134). Although in the 80's, with the likes of Denis Savard, Steve Larmer, Al Secord, Troy Murray and Doug Wilson, the scoring totals were virtually surpassed every year.

I want to recall the two other unusual home campaign starts. The '44-'45 Hawks had their ranks thinned with many players in the Army during World War II and finished 5th. That team, led by future Hall of Famer Billy Mosienko, finished out of the playoffs and won only two of their first 14 games.

The '30-'31 Hawks were a lot better with Hall of Fame goalie Charlie Gardiner, finishing 2nd and going to the Stanley Cup finals. The team tied their opener and won the next five as Gardiner had four shutouts to rack up a league-best mark of 12 in the 44-game season.

The first year Chicago joined the NHL ('26-'27), the Hawks opened with four straight at home -- against Toronto, Boston, Detroit and the Pittsburgh Pirates (not the baseball team). With today's scheduling, it is unlikely we'll see that again.

Pressure will be on new goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin October 5 against the Mighty Ducks because for the past three seasons Chicago's home opener featured shutout wins by the Blackhawk starter. Tyler Arnason got the lone goal in '03 against Minnesota, while in '02 the Hawks won 3-0 vs. Buffalo and also 3-0 in '01 against Phoenix.

Coach Trent Yawney will have 17 back-to-back situations this season. The Hawks had 19 in the '03-'04 schedule when they went 5-10-1-3 in the front end and 7-9-3- in the back end. The difficulty this year is that 10 of the games are back-to-back nights on the road; 5 others have the first one away and the second game at the United Center. There are only two times when the initial game is at home and the nightcap is on the road.

Fans can point to four early season clashes with key Central Division rivals Detroit and St. Louis. The Hawks face the Blues in their first road game October 11, then tangle with the Red Wings for three in a row -- October 27, 29 and November 1. The middle game is at the United Center, and after the third game, the Blackhawks travel to St. Louis to battle the Blues the next night.

With a lot of new and young faces expected on the Hawks, Yawney hopes the team chemistry will jell early in the schedule since 21 of the first 37 games are on the road through December. January and March will provide the Hawks more time on home ice with each month having 10 games at the United Center.

Like most Hawk and hockey fans, the first preseason game at the United Center can't come soon enough, let alone the NHL opener against October 5. See you there!

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