As your loyal and obedient team historian, I am torn between missions here. Naturally, you want to read about the current Blackhawks, who have returned from a stupendous road odyssey during which they escaped Vancouver, San Jose and Alcatraz without a scratch. They play the Sharks in Game 3 of the Western Conference final Friday night at the United Center, and hold a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Team historian Bob Verdi has covered sports for five decades, including more than 40 years as a columnist and contributor for the Chicago Tribune. Verdi authored "Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years" in 2001.
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But with the Blackhawks just two victories away from earning their first visit to the Stanley Cup final since 1992, it is incumbent upon me to provide some historical context to current events. After all, it’s not every day that the Blackhawks find themselves in this position. Or, every century. To wit:May 21, 2005—On this date in history five years ago, we have no idea where the Blackhawks were. But we do know that fans were not worried about whether NBC, Versus, Comcast, WGN Channel 9, or Hockey Night in Canada was televising their playoff games, because there were no playoff games to televise. The Blackhawks could not be blamed for missing the post-season again, because there was no season.
Meanwhile, back to the present tense, coach Joel Quenneville revealed that he will put his players in a hotel after Friday morning’s skate to replicate conditions on the road, where the Blackhawks have won seven straight games, tying a league record.
Once upon a time, Quenneville’s predecessors tried this on occasion. The destination was the Bismarck Hotel, now the Allegro, which was owned by the Wirtz family. Many players lived in the suburbs, and if memory serves, the reason in part was to relieve them of colossal rush hour traffic.
Most players now reside downtown and a lot of them are single, so it’s not as though they will be hermetically sealed in the Loop in order to eliminate distractions caused by mail carriers begging for free tickets. I have no knowledge of where Quenneville has assigned these Blackhawks, but I can assure you they will be treated royally. At hotel California, or wherever this team stays, management does not skimp. I’m guessing the room rates will be significantly higher than they were at the Bismarck, which had a little age on it. One of the popular hangouts there was the William Tell Cocktail Lounge.May 21, 2000—On this date in history ten years ago, sad to report, I don’t have any information on whereabouts of the Blackhawks. However, I do suspect that, instead of bearing the mantra “One Goal,” players were operating more along the lines of “replace your divot.” The Blackhawks, you see, had a habit of producing some terrific golfers, which would have been nice had they belonged to the PGA Tour instead of the National Hockey League. In fact, I once wrote for the Chicago Tribune that the Blackhawks were a better golf team than they were a hockey team, and one of their scratch handicappers thanked me for the compliment. Back in the day, another center of attention in the Stadium locker room was the pool table. The Blackhawks now relax by playing video games, which is healthier because they can’t get skin cancer. The other difference is that these guys are also good at hockey.
After two games in San Jose, it’s obvious that the Blackhawks are fast while it appears that the Sharks are hurried. One of the most interesting comments about what happened out there came from Manny Malhotra, a veteran Shark who said of the Blackhawks: “They do a good job of hunting pucks. They like to be in the middle of the ice and poach pucks.”
Interesting. Whether it’s a stick or a skate or an elbow, the Blackhawks always seem to be in the way, almost as if they know what the Sharks are trying to do. Like the Vancouver Canucks, the Sharks are said to be aiming to shoot high on Chicago goalie Antti Niemi, but they must feel as though they’re either rushed or crowded. You need some free time to tee it up in May. Just ask the 2000 Blackhawks.
The Sharks also have to realize by now that the so-called “Olympic hangover” evidently is not affecting the Blackhawks. Captain Jonathan Toews
, perhaps the most important forward on Canada’s gold medal squad, has been a beast in the post-season, and the defensive tandem of Duncan Keith
-Brent Seabrook is without equal. Those who didn’t vote for Keith as Norris Trophy winner might want another ballot.
Trent Yawney, who coached Keith at Norfolk and Chicago and is now a Sharks’ assistant, said the notion occurred to him of playing Keith for 60 minutes in the minors. He’s getting close. Keith logged 30:21 in Game 2, and he still looks like the Energizer Bunny.May 21, 1995—Playoffs at last! On this date in history 15 years ago, the Blackhawks beat the Vancouver Canucks 2-1 in Game One of the conference semifinals. (This sounds like progress, except if we’re going back 15 years, we are going backwards.) Why so late? In a season that marked the debut of the United Center, the NHL endured a problem between management and labor, so the Blackhawks didn't open until January 20. But they had a good run, beating Toronto in the conference quarterfinals after losing the first two games at home, then the Canucks in a sweep, before falling in five games to the Detroit Red Wings in the conference final. The clincher occurred on June 11, the latest the Blackhawks ever have played and only the second time they’ve ever played past May. In 1992, they dropped their fourth straight to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup final on June 1.
If these Blackhawks reach June this year, it will be because they are better at hockey than golf.