The Team, the Trophy, the Belt, the Banner, the Parade, the Redemption ... but never the Red Light -- One year later, here's what I recall about the Blackhawks' first title in ages
Breathe in slowly, breathe out quickly -- it's been exactly 365 days since the Blackhawks captured Chicago's first Stanley Cup since 1961.
This year was a lot different from last year. There was a lot more hardship: the multitude of salary cap casualties, the regular season underachieving and, of absolutely course, the "3-0 but then 3-3 but then 4-3" Blackhawks-Canucks first round super series which likely caused thousands of broken remotes and hearts across the city. While the memories of this year's Game 7 against the 'Nucks may still leave that bad Sedin stink in your mouth, rest assured, last year's memories will endure like the best wedding of your life and make the 2010-11 season look like a lousy first date by comparison.
Reflecting on the greatness of the last year's title, I started to wonder about some of my prevailing memories. Sure, there was the "What the hell, did we just win?!?" Patrick Kane goal to seal the deal, Big Buff being a total menace to Roberto Luongo, sweepin' the Sharks, Toews taking home the Conn Smythe and the massive partying over the summer. Oh, the massive partying over the summer. But those are all general memories. What hit deeper?
Growing up a Blackhawks fan with completely unacceptable bandwagon ties to the Colorado Avalanche, their dominant goalie Patrick Roy was always my favorite hockey player. In those darker days, I used to fantasize about the Blackhawks one day being good enough to win the Stanley Cup. I figured when it happened, I'd attach myself to whatever netminder they had at the time, and, after watching miraculous performance after miraculous performance, Mysterious Future Goalie X would supplant Roy on my list due to such a strong connection that built during the hypothetical playoff run. But with all due props and respect to Antti Niemi, who was unarguably dominant at times in those playoffs, it didn't exactly happen the way I'd imagined. Instead, I found myself completely enamored in the redemption storyline of one Marian Hossa.
With a much higher Redwings tolerance than the average Blackhawks fan, I found myself totally in Hossa's corner when Penguins fans turned on him after he decided to take his talents to Detroit Rock City in pursuit of a Stanley Cup for the 2008-09 season. When 'Wings fans did the exact same thing just one year later, I was about ready to roll with Hossa forever. I figured I might even have to regardless, as the Blackhawks signed him to a contract that was about 40 years long.
While Hossa wasn't an MVP like Toews or a lockdown goalie like Roy, he did provide two really solid mega-memories. The first: Game 5 of the Predators series when he scored the game-winner coming out of the penalty box. It might be my favorite hockey goal of all-time. I remember listening to this game on the radio as I was driving, and I found it so intense, I almost had to pull the car over out of sheer fear. Elementary concentration was next to impossible. Look at the Kane goal that preceded it. Now look at this:
That goal swung the series, the momentum and quite possibly, the season. It was a forever goal.
The second major memory: when Toews, after raising the Stanley Cup for the first time himself, gave it to Hossa to hoist second. It was chilling, deserving and it fit the celebration perfectly.
Watch the clip. Toews has the Cup in his hand and says in an almost threatening, professional wrestler-esque tone, "Where's Hoss?!" while other Blackhawks tell Hossa forcefully "Take it, Hoss! Take it, Hoss!"
No. 81 then raises the Cup, looking like a little kid while the NBC announcer poignantly says "you knew he was next" before he bows out and lets the moment carry itself. It was like Hossa was so happy, he didn't even realize he was about to hold the trophy until the second it touched his hands. He looks so completely surprised even though he knew he was about to have it handed to him. Hockey's just great for moments like that. They provide connection, and that's why Marian Hossa resonated.
Whatever your favorite moment may be, here are some additional leftovers -- both fun and factual -- that we as Blackhawks fans must remember, if only for posterity's sake. Some of these you may recall like yesterday, some you may have never known to begin with. We'll do 8.1 total, in honor of my dude.
1) First thing's first: Jeremy Roenick totally cried after the game that night. Seeing the 'Hawks celebrate took him back to his days in Chicago, and then things got a little dusty. His justification? "Chicago Blackhawks, man."
2) Time machine: Before hiring Blackhawks president John McDonough going into the 2007 season, Rocky Wirtz took him out for a 'get acquainted' lunch that ended up turning into a five hour meeting. About an hour in, Wirtz showed all of his cards in a very big way:
"He said something that changed my life," McDonough said. "'I'm going to lose all my leverage when I say this, but I want you to run the Blackhawks.' Not only did he not lose any leverage, he gained all of my respect." (via "One Goal Achieved")
After re-forging bonds with former players, landing the Chicago the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field in 2009, tripling the base of season ticket holders and creating a streak of 100+ United Center sell outs, it's probably safe to say McDonough eventually gained all of Wirtz's respect, too.
5) Speaking of Kane's game-winning goal... while many of us were confused as to what, exactly, happened, the Philadelphia Flyers' goal operator did Chicagoans no favors (emphasis mine, via "One Goal Achieved"):
The red light never did make an appearance, but the Blackhawks gave a green light to an alternative for Game 7 on June 11: a parade in Chicago for the best team in hockey.
Seriously, the damn thing never went off. Can we all say we feel a little less stupid? Because I say we can.
6) Still staying on Kane... he got drunk at the parade and then professed his love for his teammates, the fans and the cab drivers of the world. Big Buff then took to the podium, gave Kane a title belt and even had a veiled threat toward the aforementioned cabbies. Just a summer earlier, the cabbie incident threatened to disrupt and distract Kane's career. A year later, with the Stanley Cup as a de facto invincibility shield, both Kane and Buff talked about it openly and even arrogantly.
Those two together were the best.
7) Bucket List: Forget Alice, if you're a 25-year-old (or younger) Chicago sports fan with ties to the White Sox, the Blackhawks victory put you one Bears title away from seeing all four of your favorite teams win championships in your lifetime. If you're in the Chicago/ties to the White Sox/late-20s-or-above zone, the Stanley Cup gave you a memorable 'Hawks, Bulls, Bears and White Sox championship in your lifetime. It essentially completed your Chicago fandom. Four-for-four.
I'm not even going to take a predictable pot shot at Cubs fans. Because even if you're a Cubs fan, the 'Hawks victory still put you halfway there if you're early-20s or younger and 3/4ths of the way there if you're any older. It's really not that bad, dudes.
8) The Blackhawks parade had confetti, sponsors, title belts, drunk athletes, team employees, family members and a nice little stampede at the end, which I caught on video.
Months later, we raised the damn banner* at the United Center in a celebration so stellar, it totally negated a loss to the Redwings that night. It was Winter Classic-esque in that way.
.1) We'll end this in the only way I truly know how: with the transcription of the Versteeg rap I linked in the No. 2 spot.
Every time I dive in my pool, it's hard to be humble
While I do a breaststroke through an underground tunnel
And come up on the other side, in a jacuzzi
Being greeted by two girls that are wearing my jersey
They give me lots of hugs and kisses
And they ask me what my wish is
I say "Go and get your friends, 'cause there's gonna be a party"
And in the end, the Stanley Cup is a dream
And I'm like "Yes, [unintelligible, /walks away]"
If you want my analysis of his influences, I'd say I hear a little bit of that hard 2Pac energy in the way Versteeg says "dream!" toward the end of the song. But, uh, that's kinda where it starts and stops.