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.

Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Charlie Roumeliotis and Slavko Bekovic provide their thoughts on the Blackhawks’ 3-0-2 start.

They also discuss Brandon Saad’s demotion and whether it could serve as a wake-up call, Corey Crawford’s potential return on Thursday vs. Arizona and what could happen with Anton Forsberg because of it, and address the power play concerns.

The guys wrap up the podcast by making a few bold predictions going forward.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!

10 years with 'Coach Q' anything but ordinary

10 years with 'Coach Q' anything but ordinary

Over the last 10 years, the words “ordinary” and "OK" have taken on a new meaning to Blackhawks players and fans alike. 

That’s “Coach Q” speak. 

A language where “ordinary” means awful and “just OK” means you were a non-factor. The good news is the last 10 seasons under Joel Quenneville have been anything but ordinary at the United Center. 

On Oct. 16th, 2008, the Blackhawks let go of fan-favorite Denis Savard after a 1-2-1 start to the season and named Quenneville as head coach in his place. Quenneville coached the Colorado Avalanche the previous season, but after another disappointing exit in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the two mutually parted ways. He had originally planned to stay away from the bench for at least a season, but the Blackhawks triumvirate of Rocky Wirtz, John McDonough and then-GM Dale Tallon brought Quenneville on as a scout and then handed him the keys to the car shortly after.

“Dale’s obligation is to put together a winning team,” said McDonough at Quenneville’s introductory press conference. “At this point, Joel is the coach of that team.”

It was an emotional day at the Blackhawks offices. Savard – a Blackhawks legend on the ice and a coach the players held in high regard – was let go just as things started to turn upwards for the organization. The end of the 2007-2008 season saw the Blackhawks once again miss out on the playoffs, but the fans began to flock to the United Center once more, and the hype train around the young team built around Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane was gaining steam.

“Moving forward, if we want to be a championship-caliber organization, we have to make tough decisions,” said Tallon. “This was the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make.” 

Savard was 65-66-16 in parts of three seasons as head coach of the Blackhawks. Meanwhile, Quenneville had compiled eight 95+ point seasons behind the bench for the Blues and Avalanche in his 11 years as a head coach.

“We felt the experience and the track record of Joel would be a balance that we needed with a young, inexperienced team,” said Tallon. "Joel brings us a wealth of experience and a winning track record that will have an immediate and lasting impact."

The gamble paid off for the Blackhawks in a major way. Once Quenneville took over, the team got to the sought-after next level. 

They finished the 08-09 season with 104 points, third-most in the NHL’s Western Conference, had a franchise-record setting 9-game win streak in the month of December and returned to the playoffs for the first time since the 2001-2002 season. The “young and inexperienced” Blackhawks took the league by storm, dropping the Calgary Flames in the first round of the playoffs in six games before taking down the rival Canucks in the next round.

They ultimately lost out to the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Finals, but the bar was now set for the organization. From then on, the Blackhawks were Stanley Cup contenders. 

Quenneville currently ranks 2nd in franchise history with 449 wins, trailing only Billy Reay’s 516. 

But most importantly, Quenneville’s 76 playoff wins rank at the top in the organization’s long and storied history, and those three Stanley Cups that he’s raised over his head were anything but “ordinary.”