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Oduya overcomes rough start for fine finish

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks

As if being traded just before the deadline weren’t enough of a jolt to his system, how about Johnny Oduya’s debut at his new address? He stepped onto the United Center ice Wednesday night, all decked out in jersey No. 27, and before you could say that Jeremy Roenick once wore that number... bingo, the puck is in the net. Toronto Maple Leafs lead, 1-0, at 59 seconds of the opening period.

Couldn’t the newest member of the Blackhawks get even a minute of peace to settle in?

A lesser man might have been rattled, but Oduya has been around. So, almost three hours after his initial first depression, he viewed the evening through a proper prism.

“Not the start I wanted, but the finish was good,” said the 30-year-old defenseman after the Blackhawks outlasted the desperate Maple Leafs, 5-4, to halt a three-game losing streak.

As uncertain as the Blackhawks seemed while falling in arrears early, 3-1, they gathered themselves over the last two periods behind Ray Emery, who relieved Corey Crawford in goal for the final 40 minutes. Emery was excellent, and Sami Lepisto made a key save too.

Oduya, who arrived from Winnipeg in the wee hours Tuesday, began the game beside Brent Seabrook, then hooked up with Nick Leddy for the latter two periods. They settled in nicely, no small step for Oduya, though he has changed teams before. It’s never easy, especially when the phone call that alters your life occurs in the middle of the winter.

“I left friends I battled with and a good organization with the Jets,” Oduya said. “But to come to a franchise like this, Original Six, with all the history, it’s nice to be wanted. When I first started coming to Chicago years ago, there were maybe 8,000 people in the building and not much buzz about hockey in the city. What a difference now.”

Oduya received high praise from Head Coach Joel Quenneville, who is old enough to remember when the trading deadline in the National Hockey League could mean wholesale changes. With so much parity now, not to mention a hard salary cap, vast personnel transfers just don’t occur, as witnessed by Monday’s rather sedate commerce.

Perhaps the mother of all blockbuster Blackhawks deals at the deadline occurred in 1979, when they and the Atlanta Flames exchanged eight players. Ivan Boldirev, Darcy Rota and Phil Russell left Chicago, and five Flames came here: Tom Lysiak, Harold Phillipoff, Pat Ribble, Greg Fox and Miles Zaharko. Lysiak was the face of the Flames’ expansion team and became very popular in Atlanta. He was crushed about the trade, but he was no less shocked than the three players dealt by the Blackhawks. Fans were startled, too. At the next home game, from the Stadium’s second balcony were hung three “tombstones” bearing the numbers of Boldirev, Rota and Russell.

One of the Blackhawks’ best deadline maneuvers occurred in February of 1970, when general manager Tommy Ivan acquired Bill White, Bryan Campbell and Gerry Desjardins from the Los Angeles Kings for Gilles Marotte, Jim Stanfield and Denis DeJordy. Campbell was a serviceable forward and Desjardins a capable goalie, not that he got much work with Tony Esposito as the Blackhawks’ uncontested No. 1.

White, meanwhile, was a terrific stay-at-home defenseman. He fit in immediately and eventually joined Pat Stapleton to form one of the NHL’s best blue line duos. White played 21 regular season games with the Blackhawks, of which they lost only three en route to a stunning first place finish just one season after they finished last—unprecedented in NHL annals.

As Oduya was saying, there’s a fair amount of hockey history in these parts.

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