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The Verdict: No days at the beach in San Jose

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
SAN JOSE—After the Blackhawks completed their early afternoon practice Thursday at a suburban facility, a number of them climbed upstairs to exercise some more with Paul Goodman, the team’s strength and conditioning coach. It was an off-ice workout, he explained, and for all I know, the bunch of them went on a five-mile run afterward followed by rope-climbing and a bicycle race.

“These guys are in good shape,” declared Goodman. Evidently. They are preparing for their 95th game of the season, not counting exhibitions, and all they want to do is perspire.


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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You might recall that, after the Blackhawks clinched their series against the Canucks in Vancouver Tuesday night, several players said they would “celebrate” by presiding over video games back at the hotel. I allowed for the possibility that these fine young men were trying to pull a fast one on an old fool of a team historian.

“Oh, no,” confirmed Adam Burish. “That’s exactly what a bunch of them did. Video games. I don’t get it. On the road, I like to bring my guitar and play it.”

What does all this celestial musing have to do with Sunday afternoon’s opening of the Western Conference final against the San Jose Sharks? Well, not much really, unless you are ancient enough to recall when springing  hockey players loose in California for any length of time constituted a decision over which a coach might agonize. It’s not that hockey players would do anything illegal or immoral. It’s just that if you brought a bunch of pale guys to the sunshine with four full days between games, you might be asking for trouble.

The Verdict will not name names so as to protect the innocent, but during one bygone visit to Los Angeles, the Blackhawks were allowed to enjoy one and only one day off. A few of the lads hit the beach, and the beach hit back. They were burned to a crisp, as red as their famous sweater, and the pain they endured merely donning equipment for their assignment against the Kings was matched only by the ire directed upon them by their coach, who shall also remain nameless.

Joel Quenneville, the coach now, was asked Thursday about potential problems such as rust and such, and he didn't seem the least bit worried about either. First of all, the Sharks haven’t played since eliminating the Detroit Red Wings on May 8. More importantly, Quenneville danced around the distraction issue by noting how athletes in this day and age—compared with his age in his day—are so concerned about fitness and nutrition and all those healthy things that a boss like him doesn’t even have to designate the Pacific Ocean, or even smaller and shadier watering holes, off limits.

Again, once upon a time, hockey players were of a different ilk. Cliff Koroll recently remarked about how, as a rookie with the Blackhawks, he learned the drill when the squad arrived in Montreal. There was no swimming of note there,  but there was a little establishment with a green door out front. Koroll was instructed by veterans to dump his suitcase in the hotel room, return immediately to the lobby, take a sharp right and then look for that green door. Inside, he would quite likely find most or all of his teammates in no hurry to leave.

“The next night, game night,” Koroll recalled, “we would often play quite well, which can happen when you play on guilt."

Feel free to assume that these Blackhawks need not ever play on guilt, but they might play frequently on NBC. When the Bulls of Michael Jordan were ruling the National Basketball Association, NBC was such a regular that some folks in the league contended that the network’s call letters stood for Nothing But Chicago.

With the Montreal Canadiens still in the mix, Canadian television will want to be all over that story, and a great one it is for a franchise steeped in history. On the other side of the border, Chicago is the largest market in play, so—obviously depending on how the Blackhawks fare against San Jose—you might see them featured in multiple appearances after Sunday’s nationally televised Game 1 at 2 pm CT.

The possibility of an all-Original Six Stanley Cup final between the Blackhawks and Canadiens is, to say the least, intriguing. The Blackhawks would settle for a berth in the finals against Montreal, Boston or Philadelphia. So would San Jose.

Hawks-Sharks connections are several. One involves a family tree. Mike Aldrich is a veteran equipment manager for the Sharks; his son Brad is the Blackhawks’ video coach. They were both assigned to similar duties with the U.S. Olympic team in Vancouver and roomed together in the Olympic village. “We’re very close,” said Brad. “But it’s no contest for my mother, Susie. She’s all San Jose in this series.”

Stan Bowman cannot remember the last Montreal-Chicago Stanley Cup final, although he has been made aware that his birth certificate has something to do with it. Stan’s mother, Suella, was quite pregnant with him in June of 1973 when the Blackhawks, despite having lost Bobby Hull to the Winnipeg Jets of the World Hockey Association, went all the way to the big dance. Stan’s dad, Scotty, was coaching the Canadiens.

“I remember being told,” Stan said, “that if Montreal won the Cup, I would be named for it.”

The Canadiens, indeed, won the Stanley Cup, 4 games to 2. Stan and Scotty and the rest of the Blackhawks dearly would like to avenge that result this June, but the Sharks are mighty and rolling with seven victories in their last eight playoff games. The Nashville Predators were competitive; the Vancouver Canucks were dangerous. But the Sharks, who finished first in the conference, come first before the Blackhawks dare think about a final foe in this year of upward mobility.

A week in San Jose will be no days at the beach.

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