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THE VERDICT: Sasakamoose Paved NHL Path for Indigenous Men to Follow

Indigenous hockey luminary would've been 89 on Dec. 25

by Bob Verdi /

Editor's Note: This story was originally published on Dec. 25, 2020 and has been updated

When Fred Sasakamoose passed away recently, his remarkable saga resonated throughout the hockey community. Although he only played briefly with the Blackhawks, Sasakamoose defined a path to the National Hockey League for numerous Indigenous men, a legacy that justly elevated him to hero status in the First Nation.

"A trail blazer for our people," praised Jordin Tootoo, whose extensive NHL tenure ended with the Blackhawks during the 2016-17 season. "I had a nice career, and loved Chicago, where the younger of our two daughters, Avery, was born. I met Fred, and was awed just to be in his presence. Humble, great spirit, led by example.

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VERDICT: Prolific Goal Scorer Jim Pappin Dies at 82

Forward skated seven seasons with Chicago as member of famous MPH Line

by Bob Verdi /

Jim Pappin, a prolific goal scorer for seven seasons with the Blackhawks, has died. He was 82.

Pappin joined the Blackhawks on March 23, 1968, in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who acquired Pierre Pilote, a future Hall of Fame defenseman. Pilote had won consecutive Norris Trophies in 1963, '64 and '65 but played only one more season before retiring, while Pappin emerged as a productive right wing in Chicago.

Upon Pappin's arrival to the Blackhawks, Coach Billy Reay rearranged lines. Chico Maki moved to center for Bobby Hull and Eric Nesterenko with Pit Martin at center for Dennis Hull and Pappin. Thus, the MPH Line was formed, and it remained one of the best in the National Hockey League for several years.

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VERDICT: Former Blackhawk Eric Nesterenko Dies at 88

Forward ranks seventh all-time for Blackhawks skaters with 1,013 games played over 16 seasons

by Bob Verdi /

Eric Nesterenko, a fluid skater and deep thinker who played 16 seasons with the Blackhawks, has died. He was 88.

Only six individuals -- Stan Mikita, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Kane, Bobby Hull and Jonathan Toews -- played more games for the franchise than Nesterenko, who logged 1,013 in various roles, many of them unglamorous.

After growing up to immigrants from Ukraine in what he called a "small mining town 400 miles north of Winnipeg, a godforsaken place called Flin Flon," Nesterenko moved with his family to Toronto. Accomplished at hockey as a youth, he was signed by the Maple Leafs, who thought they had a future superstar. But after four seasons during which he felt constrained by their style, Nesterenko was shipped to Chicago, where he became a fixture starting with the 1956-57 season.

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VERDICT: Voice of a Generation, Foley Set to Sign Off After 39 Seasons

Pat Foley to wrap 'fairy tale' career this week as team's longest-serving broadcaster

by Bob Verdi /

For the last few decades, it's as though Chicago hockey fans would tune in just to hear Pat Foley read names from a phone book. He's been that distinctive as a Hall of Fame broadcaster for the Blackhawks, on TV and radio -- a comfortable voice that pierced cold winter nights.

Alas, we have a problem. When was the last time you saw a phone book? They used to be in phone booths, but there aren't many of them around now either.

And here's the larger issue. Foley is about to make his last call. It will be April 14, when the Blackhawks engage the San Jose Sharks at the United Center. He started in 1980 at age 26, a local kid unknown to a market he soon would captivate. Foley completes what he terms a "fairy tale" career as the most enduring and fondly recognized announcer in franchise history.

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VERDICT: 1,000 Games the Latest Accolade in Toews' Decorated Career

Longest-running captain, future Hall of Famer to skate in milestone game on Thursday night in Florida

by Bob Verdi /

Jonathan Toews will play his 1,000th game for the Blackhawks Thursday night in Florida. Wayne Gretzky will be there, and the Panthers doubtless shall recognize the occasion. Then Sunday night, Chicago fans will fondly salute their team's longest-running captain and future Hall of Famer, along with others.

"Yeah, family, friends, buddies are coming down," Toews was saying. "People who helped me along the way. I think they'll have a suite at the United Center. When I started out at age 19, I was told it would go fast. It has. It will be a good time for me to pause and appreciate."

Sunday night's foe, the Arizona Coyotes, were stationed in Toews' hometown of Winnipeg when he was just a lad, dreaming large, promising to buy dad a truck when he made it to the National Hockey League (and scored in his first game on his first shot). Hence, Toews' reference to his support cast "coming down" for the celebration of a remarkable career.

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VERDICT: A Conversation with GM Kyle Davidson

Bob Verdi catches up with Kyle Davidson on the trade deadline, the team's rebuild, his message to the fans and much more

by Bob Verdi /

Kyle Davidson is off to an impressive start. Upon being named general manager of the Blackhawks earlier this month, he was forthright about his plan. Now that the National Hockey League trading deadline is past, nothing has changed, as you will see from this recent conversation.

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VERDICT: Coyne Leading On Ice and Off in Growth of Women's Game

Despite Olympics disappointment, Kendall Coyne Schofield continues to inspire in all facets of hockey

by Bob Verdi /

Safe and healthy, Kendall Coyne Schofield is back home, albeit with an annoying bug smudging that rearview mirror. She was captain and leader of the United States Women's Hockey Team, and there was only one mission at the recent Winter Olympics. But there was also only one gold, and it wasn't to be theirs. However, now she sees a silver lining in that silver medal.

"It's still fresh, the disappointment," she said. "But if you never get over that, you also won't forget the experience, the joy of getting there and playing for your country, the massive TV ratings, the thrill of participating. That stays with you, too."

To celebrate International Women's Day Tuesday, the Blackhawks Sunday night welcomed six members from the U.S. team that performed so well defending its title in Beijing. The extraordinary local contingent included Coyne, Abbey Murphy of Evergreen Park, Megan Bozek of Buffalo Grove, Jesse Compher of Northbrook, Savannah Harmon of Downers Grove and Alex Cavallini, who hails from Delafield, Wis., but played as a youth in Illinois.

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VERDICT: Hjalmarsson Gets United Center Send Off the 'Proper Way'

Three-time Cup winners saluted for stellar career on Legacy Night in Chicago

by Bob Verdi /

Niklas Hjalmarsson, who used to intercept shots for a living, had only to block out his emotions Thursday night. He aced that too. Before a highly affectionate crowd at the United Center, the beloved former Blackhawks' defenseman sprinkled his brief Legacy Night remarks with humor, gratitude and sincerity. An emotional sort, The Hammer didn't require any tissues or his customary accoutrement before leaving any rink, an ice pack.

"When I got traded, I never got to say goodbye," Hjlamarsson said before stepping on the red carpet. "This was the proper way to do it. I'm not sure I deserve this, but I am thankful. So spoiled."

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LONG READ: The 'A' Team

The Blackhawks have identified the next generation of leaders, Alex DeBrincat and Connor Murphy, two steadily improving players

by Bob Verdi /

You're Connor Murphy and you're reflecting on the grim summer of 2020. For the first time in your National Hockey League career, you taste the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But the Blackhawks are confined to that "bubble" in Edmonton, a one-timer necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. From the hotel to the rink, back to the hotel. Constant testing for the virus, social distancing, one sacrifice after another. Correct?

"Not at all," said Murphy. "We didn't have anything to complain about then and we don't now. At that time, people all over the world were living in fear. Losing jobs, losing family members and friends. We're hockey players, lucky to play a game we love. We're pampered. We've earned our way into the NHL, but it's a privileged existence. First-class accommodations, meals, charter flights, medical staff. We had a lot of protocols and still do, but so does everybody else. Nothing. We have nothing to complain about."

If that sounds like someone you should know, an athlete with vision beyond the glass, the Blackhawks think so, too. Murphy, 28, is an alternate captain, along with Alex DeBrincat , who turned 24 just before Christmas. Murphy wears the "A" for road games, DeBrincat for home games. Jonathan Toews was named captain in 2008 at age 20, then the third-youngest ever in the league. He is the longest-serving "C" in franchise history, by a lot. Fellow superstar Patrick Kane is an alternate, also decorated and respected.

But in Murphy and DeBrincat, the Blackhawks have identified the next generation of leaders in the clubhouse, two steadily improving stalwarts who will, it is presumed, pave the path to the next parade. Neither seeks the stage, but have no fear -- they got the "A" because they get it.

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THE VERDICT: 'Irreplaceable' Shaw Saluted in Return to United Center

He was great in the room, where he kept things loose, and great on the bus, where he kept things loud

by Bob Verdi /

Andrew Shaw dropped the puck, not the gloves. Also, during Thursday's Legacy Night at the United Center, he refrained from running into foes, crashing the boards, blocking shots, or venturing toward the slot to accept, and deliver, contact.

Why, the little guy from a tiny town who made it big even managed to stand still for once to speak briefly to an affectionate crowd before the Blackhawks engaged the Montreal Canadiens. Shaw worked for both hallmark franchises, and both appreciated him immensely, although if he enters the Sutures Hall of Fame, chances are he'll go in as a Chicago guy.

That's where he started his meteoric National Hockey League career; that's where he finished it a bit soon; and that's where he contributed with such passion to two Stanley Cups. Shaw hoisted the second one while still bleeding, but Thursday night, his face featured only old scars, and the kid teammates called "The Mutt," the rumpled soul whom they accused of dressing in the dark, looked immaculate, downright spiffy -- sport jacket without a tie.

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