Blackhawks

A beautiful day for a parade

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A beautiful day for a parade

Friday, June 11, 2010
7:30 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

Almost five years ago, the Chicago White Sox threw a chilly World Series celebration party for their fans that qualified as the largest outdoor gathering in Chicago history. Today's Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup parade might not quite have matched the Pale Hose in sheer mass, but it certainly did for joy -- and far surpassed it in sweat, sunburn and empty water bottles.

Five years ago, I was just another fan taking it all in and recording with a video camera. Today, I was lucky enough to ride on top of one of the parade buses, shooting video, snapping photos, and waving like a Kennedy. Here's a notebook of vignettes straight from the parade, some you may have seen, and some that eluded the cameras.
Patrick Kane's stubborn mane

Stanley Cup clincher hero Patrick Kane was the rock star of the entire affair. He sat in the last seat of the last bus alongside Conn Smythe winner and Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, and was the last to leave the parade bus when the caravan came to a stop on Michigan Avenue. Clearly Kane is taking it all in, and after Wednesday's heroics, why shouldn't he? But surprisingly, someone else accompanied him to the parade: his unruly, hilarious mane of playoff hair.

We could have seen this coming. First, he walked into a barber shop knowing just what to ask for (a Billy Ray Cyrus 'do with a side of Vanilla Ice). Then he added side flair in order to make it clear everyone knew his mullet "was a joke." Then he got the entire affair "touched up" for the Stanley Cup Finals. And now, while teammates from Andrew Ladd to Patrick Sharp had seized the first opportunity to de-caveman their faces, Kane's mane remained.

As you could tell from the parade podium, Kane was really happy today. So happy, he might not have heard my question clearly as he walked toward the podium. But when asked why he remained so dedicated to the particular 'bouf, Kane said, "I don't think I'm ready to give it up yet. We've been through a lot."
Getting out of the garage

Punctual Scandinavians all, the Hjalmarsson family was the first out to the buses after the team photos inside the United Center. Brent Sopel, with collar popped, and his wife and children were next. Fair-skinned Brian Campbell hit the top of a double-decker bus, prepping for sun exposure by getting sunscreen slathered on him and having an umbrella at the ready. Then things got rowdy, with the Adam Burish's and Dustin Byfuglien's ransacking the grounds.

Big Buff was as animated as ever, toting a cooler full of beer, cans which he happily dispersed to teammates on other buses. He also sported the team's title belt, which seemed curious given he surely could not have won the prize for his Game 6 performance, overshadowed by the likes of Kane, Brent Seabrook and Antti Niemi, among others. Buff also had dipped into the box of megaphones the team had provided so players could interact with fans along the parade route. Byfuglien's didn't come with a beep censor.
Curiosity

Oddest sign seen along the parade route: "Bring Back the Winnipeg Jets!"
Finnish line

Minor-league goalie Hannu Toivonen, acquired with Danny Richmond from the St. Louis Blues for Joe Fallon at the beginning of March, was on hand for the rally. Toivonen hails from the former Kalvola, Finland, a bit north of Niemi's hometown of Vantaa, and upon meeting him I mentioned it was a pretty good trade for him. Hannu smiled and gestured at the huge crowd: "For sure. Otherwise, I'd be back home by now." Niemi was walking just ahead of us, and I speculated that now, the two Finnish backstops might hop the same plane home. "Maybe," Toivonen said. "Antti has some good stories, I bet."
Seizing up to Boston?
I spent the Blackhawks rally next to the United Center's "Shipping Up to Boston" jigger, Chris Pisani, who posed for as many pictures with fans as several of the Blackhawks players did. Pisani, in his customary Toews jersey, was unsure whether he'd be called on to dance the rally crowd into a frenzy, but was at the ready. However, the heat was taking a toll on him: "I'm afraid I'll cramp up."
Reach the beach

Did anyone else worry that Blackhawks prospect Kyle Beach would cross-check a Chicago assistant coach or front-office exec once he hit the podium? Even in a jersey and jeans, he looks tough. Hide the women and children when that kid gets called up.

Be honest

Choose or perish: Kris Versteeg's word jazz or Kane's shirtlesscabbie cracks?
Be honest, again

Was that brief introduction of Kane by Byfuglien, awarding him the title belt for the summer, the longest and loudest stretch you've ever heard Big Buff speak?
The legends

All five of the Blackhawks' good-luck superstars of years past were on hand for the rally on Friday, sweating out decades of frustration over Cups unwon. Four of them all feel like family members: Tony Esposito, kindly and soft-spoken, always with a good word or a funny story; Stan Mikita is the one who still wants to head out to the driveway and put a puck past you; Pierre Pilote, as gracious a man you will encounter, and one who lives to surprise you; and Bobby Hull, who holds court and commands a room just by showing up.

But if there's one "cool" legend, it has to be the man they call Savy. He really does have that savoir faire, evident every time he steps out with Blackhawks fans. It's a hot day, he's with his family celebrating emeritus a title he could never win in Chicago, and he's working the walk from bus to podium like a star: bumping knuckles with fans, slipping skin to cops riding police horses, giving the horses themselves some love taps. Forgotten in the hullabaloo over former GM Dale Tallon's role in building the champion Blackhawks is the fact that the first coach for Toews and Kane was Denis Savard. And it was Savy -- cool always but not in this moment -- who angrily called out his team and challenged them to Commit to the Indian three seasons ago. Arguably, that was the moment this group of Blackhawks took its first step toward the Cup.

Being there

OK, so Niemi perhaps isn't as misplaced a sensation as the central character in the Peter Sellers movie, but is there a more unlikely hockey superstar than the big-hearted rookie? He's rocking the Norse god look with the bushy beard and staunch countenance, but deep down, he's still a little kid, new to all the trappings of stardom. That's why it seemed perfectly placed that he walked from bus to podium a pied piper, young fans begging for a photo or an autograph all along the way.

I asked him if all of this would ever sink in for him, and he didn't even seem to realize what "all of this" was. So, short answer, no. But then, Antti did something I wasn't anticipating; he put his arm around me and gave me a hug. True, I had written some of the earliest articles endorsing him as a legitimate permanent starter for the Blackhawks, back when such thoughts were dismissed as needless wailing over the plight of Cristobal Huet. While it's certain Niemi hadn't read nor cared much about such articles, he and I had spent a lot of accumulated time together in the dressing room, me asking questions the goalie might not entirely grasp, and sometimes he responding with his own questions, delicious non-sequiturs as they usually were. Always, the big fella packed a lot of meaning into his words. Today, it was a simple statement that spoke volumes to me: "Thank you. I had fun."

That's the sort of stuff that makes all of us happy to be able to hang with this team, at whatever proximity.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 overtime loss to Oilers: Connor McDavid adds to highlight reel

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USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 overtime loss to Oilers: Connor McDavid adds to highlight reel

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 2-1 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night:
 
1. Shake-up on power play doesn't work.

Joel Quenneville spruced up his power play units before Wednesday's game in an effort to snap a dry spell, but the Blackhawks had no luck in that department in the second of a back-to-back.

The Blackhawks went 0-for-5 on the man advantage against an Oilers team that was ranked dead last in penalty kill percentage going into the contest, and failed to capitalize on a 5-on-3 opportunity for 56 seconds in the opening minutes of the season period.

They're getting off a fair amount of shots, but the quality of them isn't there.

2. Ryan Hartman fine after brief exit due to illegal hit.

It was a physical game between the Blackhawks-Oilers, but a line was crossed at the 4:59 mark into the second period when Zack Kassian delivered a huge hit on Hartman, who went face-first into the boards.

Kassian was given a two-minute minor penalty for boarding, a call that didn't sit well with the sold-out United Center crowd of 21,444. Hartman went to the locker room to be checked out after the hit despite getting up quickly and showing no visible signs of distress, but he fortunately returned a few shifts later.

It was a dangerous hit by Kassian, and an avoidable one too. 

Quenneville admitted Hartman getting up quickly perhaps may have "helped" keep it a minor penalty and not a five-minute major, but the Blackhawks coach wasn't focused on that after seeing the result unfold.

"I saw how hard it looked," Quenneville said. "But Hartzy getting up right away, that helped. You don't even measure it anymore after that. That's the one thing you're hopeful for right off the bat."
 
3. Connor McDavid adds another play to highlight reel.

We're only two weeks into the season, but the 20-year-old reigning Hart Trophy winner submitted an early entry for Assist of the Year.

Late in the first period, McDavid flew from his own end into the offensive zone, made a spin-o-rama move on two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith and backhanded a perfect pass to Patrick Maroon, who tapped in a goal at the doorstep.

It looks impossible to defend from anyone watching, and Keith pretty much felt the same way.

"When he gets the speed in the other end there and he's able to skate all the way down, it's tough to stop a guy especially when he's that fast," Keith said. "He's just flying through the middle. I'm just a sitting duck there at the other end of the ice waiting for him to come full speed. It's a hard play to defend against."
 
4. Anton Forsberg sharp again.

It's a small sample size, but the Blackhawks' backup goaltender has looked really sharp in practically every start he's had in a Chicago uniform, including preseason.

He deserved a better fate in his regular season debut last week in Toronto when he stopped 39 of 43 shots in an overtime loss, and the same applied here.

Forsberg tied a career-high with 40 saves, and seemingly got better as the game went on.

"I for sure felt more comfortable, felt like I was more used to the speed," Forsberg said. "It's tough again to lose in overtime, obviously I wanted a win and that's kind of frustrating."

"Excellent games, both games," Quenneville said of his goaltender. "Would've been nice to get him a win tonight."
 
5. Jordan Oesterle keeps it simple in debut.

The Blackhawks' crowded blue line has made it difficult for Quenneville to give all eight defensemen a fair amount of playing time, but Oesterle took advantage of his season debut.

He logged 15:01 of ice time, registered three shot attempts (two on goal), and blocked two shots.

"I liked him," Quenneville said. "Moves the puck."

Said Keith: "I thought he was good. Tough situation for him, he hasn't played all year in a game but I thought he played good. He's got good poise, he's smart back there."

Power play woes continue for Blackhawks in OT loss to Oilers

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USA TODAY

Power play woes continue for Blackhawks in OT loss to Oilers

Mark Letestu raised his arms in celebration, his 4-on-3 power-play goal giving the Edmonton Oilers an overtime victory over the Blackhawks. The home team could only look on in frustration, knowing that if it could have just converted one power play on Thursday it may have been a different result.

Five more power plays, five more opportunities that yielded nothing for the Blackhawks, who are now 6-for-39 (15.4 percent) in that department on the season. The 5-on-4 chances were tough enough but coach Joel Quenneville and several Blackhawks pointed specifically to the 5-on-3 the Blackhawks had for 56 seconds.

“The 5-on-3, we had some great looks around the net,” Quenneville said. “A lot of loose pucks that we just didn’t find the handle [on], we’re not anticipating or sniffing them out around the net. Some close looks but no finish.”

It’s been a recurring theme for the Blackhawks on the power play, and not just this year. Again, in the past the Blackhawks didn’t sweat any power-play issues much; their 5-on-5 scoring was usually strong. This early season, however, things have quieted on that front. On Thursday the Blackhawks cleaned up a lot of the mistakes they made against the St. Louis Blues the previous night. Anton Forsberg was terrific. The Blackhawks’ second line of Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane was looking like it did prior to Schmaltz’s injury. But the power play remained the same.

“Yeah, we had a lot of chances, we made plays to the net. We just didn’t capitalize on the power play which would’ve been the difference,” Ryan Hartman said. “We have a chance on the 5-on-3, which would’ve been nice. Just some chances all around, like [Jonathan] Toews’ shot that just squeaked by. Just some missed opportunities.”

The Blackhawks have looked at ways to get their power play going. They’ve tinkered with personnel – the latest was keeping the top two lines together for their respective power-play shifts. Usually it’s come down to the problems that have hampered them before: not enough movement, not enough shots, not enough hunger around the net for loose pucks. The final issue was especially prevalent on Thursday.

The chances were there on the power play. The home team had the bulk of the opportunities. The visiting one had the finish.

“The 5-on-3 we had some decent looks but that was a chance to get a huge goal for us,” Quenneville said. “The power play late in the second was decent, the third was ordinary, but we’ve been moving personnel around. We have the ingredients to make it work but a lot of loose pucks we didn’t get in our 5-on-5 game comparable around the net on the power play as well. We didn’t smell anything out around there.”