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.

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

The Blackhawks made sports history on Saturday after they appeared in their fifth straight overtime game to start the season.

No NHL team has done that since the league introduced a regular-season overtime period in 1983-84, per the Elias Sports Bureau. It also has never happened in the history of MLB, NBA or NFL, showing just how crazy this early season run has been for the Blackhawks, who have rallied from all five games and have come away with wins in three of them.

"We’ve had five games, every one of them have been extremely intense and the game’s been on the line from start to finish," coach Joel Quenneville said following a 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues. "Our group’s been competitive this year, the guys have been working hard for one another. I don’t know how many games we’ve been down in the third period, and coming back to win is special."

The Blackhawks appeared in 17 overtime/shootout games last season and won seven of them. They are one of six teams this season that have yet to pick up a regulation win.

On a separate note, Saturday marked the eighth time in Blackhawks history that one player scored a tying goal in the third period and scored in overtime (Alex DeBrincat), according to the NHL's PR department. It's the second time it's happened this year for the Blackhawks, with Jonathan Toews the other on Oct. 6 against St. Louis.

Four takeaways: Alex DeBrincat salvages divisional game for Blackhawks in overtime on Duncan Keith’s special night

Four takeaways: Alex DeBrincat salvages divisional game for Blackhawks in overtime on Duncan Keith’s special night

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues at the United Center on Saturday night:

1. Special night for Duncan Keith — and Brent Seabrook

The Blackhawks celebrated Keith's 1,000-game milestone in the perfect way. Every player wore a No. 2 jersey during warmups, his family was on the ice for the pregame ceremony, and Patrick Sharp made an appearance to present Keith with a silver stick. Seabrook was also paired with Keith among the starters, a great touch by Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff.

But it was also a historic day for Keith's partner and close friend Seabrook, who became the franchise leader in games played by a defenseman, surpassing Bob Murray who previously held that mark at 1,008. It's only fitting Keith and Seabrook shared that moment together.

"We've been riding shotgun together for our whole careers," Keith said. "I couldn't imagine my career, my 1,000 games without him and all the experiences and memories that I've had winning and even losing, and the fun times we've had off the ice. I owe a lot of my success, and I think the team does as well, to Brent and what he means to the team and what he brings to our friendship and as a teammate."

To put a bow on the game, Keith had a vintage Keith moment on the game-tying goal in the third period when he intercepted a pass in the neutral zone on his backhand, then fed Toews a dart leading him into the offensive zone that set up DeBrincat's goal. 

2. Alex DeBrincat's torrid start

The Blackhawks continued to get contributions from their top players such as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, both of whom extended their point streaks to five games to open the season. But DeBrincat has propelled himself into that conversation as a top player on this team.

He had a multi-goal effort for the second straight game, upping his goal total on the season to a team-leading six. His overtime winner is the first of his NHL career in that fashion.

DeBrincat didn't score his sixth goal until Nov. 12 last season, which was the 18th game. And he still finished with 28. While it's hard to envision him continuing to score at more than a goal-per-game pace, it's not hard to see him continuing to be one of the best players on the ice and generating offense and scoring chances on a nightly basis.

"I think I'm getting pretty lucky right now," DeBrincat said. "I'm playing with [Toews] and [Dominik] Kahun, they're making great plays and getting me the puck. It's pretty easy when you have those guys as your linemates. Even on that last goal, [Erik Gustafsson] made a great pass backdoor to me. Pretty easy tap in."

3. Squandering another two-goal lead

The Blackhawks took a 2-0 lead for the third straight game. And they squandered it for the third straight game, in large part because they committed five straight penalties in the second and third periods.

It's no longer a blip at this point and is becoming an alarming trend, even though the Blackhawks have come back to force overtime in each of those three games. That will be something the Blackhawks work on all season long.

But Quenneville would have liked to have seen the Blackhawks keep their foot on the gas pedal and cash in on their opportunities to make it a 3-0 game.

"Score the third goal," he said. "I loved the way we were playing. We had a lot of good things going. Eventually they’re going to get chances, get opportunities. But we had some great chances to get it to three. It was one of those nights, every game is kind of different how the leads changed."

4. Brotherly love

For the first time in the NHL, the Schmaltz brothers finally got their chance to go up against each other at the highest level. There had been a handful of other opportunities in the past, but it never lined up for a variety of reasons. 

They didn't see much of each other while on the ice — they were on together for only 1:30 of the game — but Nick did commit a penalty that led to Jordan assisting on the Blues' first goal on a delayed call. 

The best battles between Jordan, who turned 25 on Oct. 8, and Nick, 22, came when they were kids.

"We had a little roller rink downstairs in our house growing up," Nick said. "It would be me vs. my sister (Kylie) and my brother. Those were probably the best battles. Someone would usually come up crying or high-stick or puck to the face or something like that. A lot of good memories. Looking back at it, it was awesome to have that and work on each other’s game and push each other to get better."