After lying dormant for decades, the rivalry has grown, as the Blackhawks continue to grow into Stanley Cup contenders. Years of high draft choices are starting to pay off, and free-agent signings have filled in other gaps in the roster. A team that once posed no threat to the Red Wings now makes the Central Division possibly the best in hockey.
But the Wings reminded the Blackhawks of their youth last season, as they had success when it mattered most. The Red Wings spoiled the party at Wrigley Field last New Year’s Day, winning the 2009 Winter Classic 6-4. Then, they made short work of the Blackhawks in the postseason, securing Detroit’s return appearance to the Stanley Cup finals with a 4-1 series win.
But in the off-season, Chicago added more fuel to the fire, as they lured Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky from the Wings. It was the second summer of Hockeytown robbery; last year, the Hawks convinced Scotty Bowman to join his son in the Windy City.
Now, as the Wings host Chicago for this season’s home opener, they face a youthful squad hungry for revenge.
Coach Mike Babcock expects the rivalry to continue when the puck drops tonight, comparing the situation to how the Wings felt about the Anaheim Ducks a few seasons ago.
“Every time you play someone in the playoffs, especially when it’s deeper in the playoffs … for example we have a real good rivalry with Anaheim, they beat us, and we want to respond. (Chicago’s) going to be no different.
“Plus they’ve got kids, and they’re trying to take a step. I think everything in their franchise is going the right direction right now. We’ve been a road block for a lot of teams, now we’re hoping to be a road block again, but we’ve got to get playing ourselves.”
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall
echoed Babcock’s statements after this morning’s practice.
“I think it’s great for hockey,” Kronwall said of the rivalry. “Chicago’s been doing a lot of good things here the last few years, getting their draft picks into the organization. Kane, Toews, Keith, Seabrook, Sharp, you can go down the list, they’ve been doing some really good things, and their team is just getting better and better by the year. It should be a good match-up all year.”
The Blackhawks have made one of the most dramatic turnarounds in hockey history. After spending season-after-season in the standings cellar, captain Jonathan Toews and forward Patrick Kane led them to the Western Conference finals last spring.
“It was a huge step,” Toews said. “Not a lot of people expected us to go that far. They knew we had a lot of potential to be something special down the road. Everyone makes excuses for you when you’re a young team, you’re allowed to make mistakes, but we didn’t have that last year. We went down four games to one last year against Detroit, but sometimes when you lose like that you learn a lot.”
Kane, the No. 1overall pick in 2007, said he’s enjoyed being a part of the rivalry’s return.
“It’s exciting,” Kane said. “Obviously, it’s developed into a great rivalry, for a long time now, but especially for the last couple years, and especially last year. To us, they’re still a team to beat, so we have to prove ourselves today.”
The Blackhawks (1-0-1) hope to start chipping away at the Wings’ firm control of the Central Division. Detroit (0-2-0) has won eight consecutive division crowns, and 12 of the last 15.
“We’re excited to get back here in the regular-season, another opportunity to get off to a great start,” Toews said. “We’re a few points ahead of the team we’ve got tonight, hopefully we can distance ourselves a little.”
But Kronwall said the Blackhawks rivalry serves as a constant reminder for the Wings to stay focused.
“I think that’s just good for hockey,” he said. “Any time you have two teams really going at it, it just helps hockey. And for us as a club too, it helps us stay even more focused, and on our game and on our toes. So I think it’s good for hockey and good for us, too.”
As for the first meeting of the new season, Kronwall said the deciding factor won’t be skill, but who wants it more.
“I think whoever is going to work the hardest is going to come out on the winning side,” he said. “I think it’s just as easy as that. We both have really talented and skilled teams, and a lot of it is going to come down to will.”