Blackhawks radio broadcaster John Wiedeman will check in periodically with his reflections on the season. Check back later this week for Part II of Wiedeman's Travels.
Long before I aged anywhere near the half-century mark that I'm currently closing in on, I discovered that one of my passions in life is writing. Whether it be writing a letter to a friend by hand, jotting a personal salutation on a card, writing term papers (OK, I never actually liked doing those) or writing about experiences and thoughts, I could literally sit for hours and hours and write, especially when the subject is hockey.
Having discovered this, Adam Kempenaar from the Blackhawks front office was kind enough to offer me a few column inches of website space and asked me to share some experiences from the road with Blackhawks fans world wide -- to take you along with us when we go on the road.
For some, road trips are loathed and the end can't come quickly enough. But for others (like me), the prospect of going on the road with the Blackhawks is something I look forward to, even though leaving my wife and children behind makes my heart ache.
But during the All Star Break I had the opportunity to spend time with my family and reflect on some of the more memorable times we've had the good fortune to experience on the road so far this season. As a rule, some of what happens on the road -- as the old expression goes -- stays on the road. But what I'm sharing with all of you are some times from a regular season that has already been memorable, even though it still has over 30 games left in it. So please read on and hopefully you'll enjoy what I've written.
The Blackhawks 2006-07 season began October 5 down in Nashville where after several seasons of struggles, the Predators had become a respected and winning hockey team. My senses told me that although Predator fans knew the Blackhawks were an improved team with the additions of Martin Havlat, Michal Handzus, Bryan Smolinski and healthy returns of veterans Adrian Aucoin and Nikolia Khabibulin, somehow, none of it was enough to beat their club.
So that evening, when the Hawks went down to Nashville 2-0 with less than five minutes gone in the game, Predator fans celebrated the lead with what must have been a secure feeling of superiority. Their euphoria lasted only seconds as the Blackhawks roared back with three straight goals in the span of 5:09 to take a 3-2 lead to end the 1st period.
The Hawks' 1st period comeback was probably passed off as nothing more than beginners luck and the Predators would re-establish control of the hockey game in the next period. The Predators did just that by scoring two 2nd period goals to take a 4-3 lead halfway through the frame. But the Hawks' Martin Lapointe scored his first power play goal of the season at 14:24 of the stanza to tie the score at 4 as the teams went to the 2nd intermission.
Martin Havlat's highlight reel goal into an empty Predator net with under a minute to play in the contest put the game away and as the final seconds of the Hawks' season-opening 8-6 victory ticked off the clock, I panned the Gaylord Entertainment Center crowd to see a look of stunned disbelief. It was a look of,"you gotta be kidding me," and it wouldn't be the last time I saw that look.
Nearly two months later, the Hawks were in Nashville again and the stars must have been aligned perfectly that evening for winger Jeff Hamilton, as he had the game of his career. Hamilton scored the first goal of the game only 30 seconds into the contest, assisted on the Hawks next goal by Tony Salmaleinen in the 2nd period, then scored his 2nd goal of the game with only 33 seconds left in regulation to tie the score at 3-3.
As the teams entered overtime, Hawks head coach Denis Savard knew that Hamilton had the hot hand, so after a brief rest, Savard sent Hamilton out early in overtime. 59 seconds into the extra frame, Hamilton scored the game winning goal off a Patrick Sharp setup from in front of the Nashville net to complete his first NHL hat trick and win the game for the Blackhawks 4-3. That same stunned look of disbelief on the faces of the Nashville crowd from the season opener had returned and the Hawks were 2-0-0 in Nashville at that point in the season.
In early October the Hawks took their first road trip to St. Louis to play the Blues. Troy Murray and I set up shop to conduct our broadcast from the Dan Kelly press box at the Scottrade Center and as we did, I knocked on the pane of glass that separated our booth from the one to my right. On the other side was Dan Kelly junior, Blackhawks TV play-by-play announcer and son of Hockey Hall of Fame broadcaster Dan senior.
Dan Kelly senior used to call Blues games for decades, after getting his start with the Canadian based crew of Hockey Night in Canada before moving on to do network broadcasts in the 1960's with CBS and NBC. After tapping the glass to get Dan's attention, I pointed at the video board suspended over center ice showing a clip of Dan's father talking up a game from the 1980's between the Blues and Blackhawks at the old Chicago Stadium.
Dan took a moment, absorbed some of his father's banter then grinned, gave me a wave and proceeded to set up for his own TV broadcast on Comcast SportsNet with former Blackhawk great Eddie Olczyk. Afterwards, Dan related to me that his dad loved calling games from Chicago Stadium, often referring to it as his favorite road arena.
Dan went on to tell me that even in the last days of his father's life, while battling lung cancer, Dan Kelly senior didn't even mind climbing the steps to the press box that was suspended high above the Stadium ice surface. His great body of broadcast work aside, the aforementioned ascension of the Stadium steps AND press box steps at the top while battling lung cancer stands as a level of dedication worthy of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Hawks first game in Denver against the Avalanche was a Monday night affair in mid-October, and by coincidence, the Super Bowl bound Chicago Bears had a game that same night in Arizona against the Cardinals. During the Hawks win over the Avs, we continually checked the TV monitors in our broadcast booth only to see that the Bears looked as though they would suffer their first loss of the season to the fired up Cardinals.
After the Hawks' win over the Avs, we finished our broadcast, packed our bags and headed for the tunnel where we met the team bus to the charter. While I waited for the staff, players and crew to make their way to the bus, I peered upwards at a TV that was mounted over the Zamboni tunnel at the Pepsi Center. The Bears were battling Arizona in the latter stages of the game, but the Cardinals still had a sizeable lead.
Then the improbable happened as the Bears mounted possibly the best comeback in team history with a punt return for a touchdown, a defensive turnover that led to another score and more points after that. At one point during the proceedings, I turned and looked over my shoulder, only to notice that several of the Blackhawk players had gathered around me to watch as well.
Ultimately, the Bears completed their comeback victory and all at once our group now numbering about 15 turned and headed for the bus. I remember thinking at that point in the season that if the Bears could pull off a comeback of that nature, they were a safe bet to get to the Super Bowl in February. I hoped that the young Blackhawk players watching learned a good lesson about playing right to the end, regardless of the score.