CALGARY, Alberta – The Circus Trip. It’s garnered a name and presence all its own in its years of existence.
A staple of the Blackhawks’ season (and the Bulls’ too), it’s as synonymous with them as their raucous national anthem at the United Center. Regardless of their record at the end of this trip this season, the Blackhawks will likely remember it for a long time. Because it’s their last.
As Chris Kuc reported in Monday’s Chicago Tribune, this is the final Circus Trip for the Blackhawks and Bulls. No more two-week absences from the United Center every November. There will no longer be that lengthy trek through Western Canada and California. From now on, the Blackhawks (we figure, anyway) will have a more normal travel schedule.
Still, we’ll never forget this trip. As coach Joel Quenneville said on Tuesday, “it’s worked out pretty well.” Well, at least the last few years it has. So before we get into the heart of the final one, let’s look back at some of the Blackhawks’ good and bad Circus Trip moments.
1. Welcome to the Blackhawks, Marian Hossa. As we talk of Hossa’s resurgence this season let’s go back to his first game with the Blackhawks, Nov. 25, 2009. On that night Hossa was part of a special game, as the Blackhawks tied a franchise record with three short-handed goals in a 7-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks. Hossa had one of those short-handed efforts (Troy Brouwer and Patrick Sharp had the other two).
2. A line is born. The 2014-15 Blackhawks were so-so to start the season and struggling to find balanced lines. On this trip they struck gold when they formed the second line of Kris Versteeg, Brad Richards and Patrick Kane. The trio paced the Blackhawks, who went 5-1-0 on that trip.
3. One streak ends, another continues. When the Los Angeles Kings came back to beat the Blackhawks 3-2 in overtime last Nov. 28, it was the first time the Blackhawks lost a regular-season game after leading through the first 40 minutes since April 12, 2014. But, it was a good night individually for Kane, who recorded a point in his 19th consecutive game. That eclipsed the record for a U.S.-born player, which was shared by Eddie Olczyk and Phil Kessel at the time. Kane’s streak would reach 26 consecutive games.
4. A rough night vs. their rivals. Those of us who cover the Circus Trip now have seen the Blackhawks have a ton of success on it. But back in the late 1990s/early 2000s, not so much. The Blackhawks-St. Louis Blues game on Nov. 27, 1999 was particularly painful for several reasons. First, Jocelyn Thibault left the game early after an Al MacInnis slap shot broke his left ring finger. Then Marc Lamothe, making his NHL debut, allowed seven more goals en route to the Blues’ 8-3 victory over the Blackhawks. Double ouch, indeed.
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5. Home cooking. In the Blackhawks’ first trip to Winnipeg in 2013, Jonathan Toews’ five-game point streak was snapped. When the Blackhawks returned on Nov. 21 of that year Toews was stellar, recording a four-point game (a goal, three assists) in the Blackhawks’ 6-3 victory over the Jets. This game jump-started the Blackhawks, coming off a 5-1 loss to Colorado the previous game, to finish this Circus Trip with five consecutive victories.
6. A bad penalty kill night. The Blackhawks had their rough moments earlier this season on the kill but they didn’t have a game like they did against the New York Rangers on Dec. 6, 1995. That night the Blackhawks played the Rangers to a 5-5 tie but all of the Rangers’ goals were power-play goals, the fourth time the Blackhawks had allowed that many to an opponent in a game in franchise history.
7. A lopsided one in Edmonton. The Blackhawks’ games against the Oilers on their long trips are either really good or really terrible. The one we’re discussing here, from Nov. 19, 2011, was the latter. Then-Oilers forward Taylor Hall recorded his second career hat trick as Edmonton pummeled the Blackhawks 9-2. The Blackhawks had a quick trip to Las Vegas planned following this game, and we wondered if they’d go after that drubbing. They did.
8. A plucky comeback. Entering their game against the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 25, 2011, the Blackhawks had lost three in a row on their Circus Trip (including the previously mentioned game vs. Edmonton). After the first 40 minutes of this one, they trailed the Ducks 4-2. But when the third period started, the Blackhawks’ offense woke up. Toews and Sharp each scored twice in the first 9:22 of the third period as the Blackhawks came back to win 6-5.