Now that the "real" season for the survivors is underway, the question for Blackhawks fans is: What's it going to take to repeat?
Since the hard salary cap went into effect in 2005, no one has repeated; Detroit was the last team to accomplish that feat, winning back to back in 1997 and 1998.
The beginning of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs signals the start of the Blackhawks' championship defense, and fans might remember the full array of beards during the 2013 title run—from scraggly, to sideburn-heavy, to healthy, flourishing bushes. This year, Bryan Bickell, Brandon Bollig, Nick Leddy, Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw and Ben Smith are participating in the Beard-A-Thon to raise money for Chicago Blackhawks Charities. Fans are also invited to grow one for the team, or pledge money in support of other beard-growers. As the team embarks on their long, hairy odyssey, they might look to historical figures and pop culture for inspiration:
Grizzly Bicks: As the Blackhawks' resident fisherman, Bryan Bickell is undoubtedly at one with mother nature. The untamed waves on top may not be his style, but growing a full-fledged Grizzly Adams beard shouldn't pose too much of a challenge for a weathered outdoorsman like Bicks.
Hossa the White: Much like Gandalf the White, Marian Hossa is no stranger to playing the hero, as he did against Nashville in the 2010 Stanley Cup run. And honestly, at times it seems like the combination of strength, power and hockey sense that Hossa showcases every game can be explained only by sorcery. What we're trying to say is, Marian Hossa is probably a wizard.
Rubeus Seabsgrid: Hogwarts' beloved gameskeeper in the Harry Potter series had a beard that could be intimidating or inviting, depending on the situation. Like Hagrid, Brent Seabrook is always there to lend help, and he's prone to showing up and making a huge impact at the most opportune times—for instance, in overtime of Game 7.
Captain Jack Serious: The captain has owned the mutton-chopped Wolverine look the last few years, so taking on a grubby pirate look may be a bit of a departure for Jonathan Toews. But what better way to shed his "Captain Serious" label than to take a page from Jack Sparrow, who isn't afraid to swashbuckle his way through life.
Brandon Bunyan: Brandon Bollig may have a natural beard-growing advantage over his teammates come playoff time, as he's an old hand at follicle maintenance. And what better beard guide for a blue-collar player than Paul Bunyan, legendary lumberjack of American folklore?
Uncle Smith: Speaking of American icons, all-American boy Ben Smith WANTS YOU! to join the Blackhawks in their march to the postseason.
Honest Nik: On the surface, there's nothing in common between Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, and Niklas Hjalmarsson, Swedish defenseman for the Blackhawks. But both found success on the back of hard work—Lincoln was a self-educated lawyer, Hjalmarsson a shot-blocking machine—and adopting this iconic beard would certainly be a statement in the Land of Lincoln.
King Leoneddy: The soft-spoken Nick Leddy won't be mistaken for a brash warrior like King Leonidas anytime soon. But his dark, full beard has the potential to live up to the legend of the man who led Sparta into fearless battle time and time again.
Michal Hand-Zeus: The 1981 version of Clash of the Titans hasn't aged well, but Laurence Olivier's performance as Zeus is timeless. As one of the Blackhawks' elder statesmen, Michal Handzus can set the tone with a dignified, well-trimmed beard like the one Olivier sported as the ultimate Greek god.
Shaw-li: With his aggressive, stubborn style of playing belying his small stature, Andrew Shaw belongs among the mightiest warriors of Middle Earth. Gimli's fiery braided beard is one of the most impressive out there, a worthy goal for a goal-oriented player like Shaw to strive for.
MacSaad: Brandon Saad proved last year that he could grow a beard as robust as anybody on the Blackhawks, but this year's unending winter might require a bit more head protection. Saad's opponents may not be the extraterrestrial kind that Kurt Russell battled in the 1981 cult film The Thing, but he might considering growing a similar head of hair to help stay warm.
|(Photo courtesy Texas Stars)|
1st Star: D Adam Clendening, Rockford (AHL)
The Line: 4GP, 3A
On Thursday, Clendening was named to the American Hockey League's First All-Star Team, becoming the first player to earn an All-Star Team nod in each of his first two seasons since Dan Boyle in 1999 and 2000. Over the weekend, the 2011 second-round draft pick picked up three assists in two games for Rockford. Clendening continues to lead the IceHogs offensively, posting a career-high 59 points (12G, 47A) in 73 regular-season games so far this season.
Minnesota defenseman Justin Holl hadn’t scored a goal all season, partly due to his role as a shutdown blueliner for the nation’s top-ranked team. And there he was in Thursday’s Frozen Four semifinal game, killing a penalty against North Dakota’s most dangerous players, with regulation time winding down in a 1-1 tie. After Minnesota center Kyle Rau (a 2011 draft pick by Florida) won a defensive-zone draw, the puck was cleared quickly, and the Golden Gophers headed up the ice on an odd-man rush with 6 seconds left in the third period. Holl passed to Rau, whose shot was blocked, the puck ricocheting off Holl’s skate to his stick. With less than a second left, Holl quickly launched a seeing-eye shot from just inside the left faceoff dot, which beat UND netminder Zane Gothberg (2010, BOS) at the far post.
|Senior defensemen Justin Holl (left) has been an integral part of top-ranked Minnesota's run to the Frozen Four, while senior forward Kevin Hayes has put up 63 points so far this season, second-most in the nation. (Photos courtesy of University of Minnesota Athletics and John Quackenbos/Boston College)|
Five Blackhawks prospects will vie for college hockey’s ultimate prize—the NCAA championship—at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on April 10 and 12. Here’s a look at who’s involved and their road to Philly:
(1) Minnesota vs. (14) North Dakota
How they got there: Minnesota trounced Robert Morris 7-1 in the first round, then blanked St. Cloud State 4-0 to emerge from the West Region. North Dakota upset BIG10 champion Wisconsin 5-2 in the first round before squeaking past Ferris State 2-1 in double overtime to book their berth to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2008.
History: Minnesota and North Dakota will rekindle one of college hockey’s best rivalries from the old WCHA, although the two teams have moved on through realignment, joining the BIG10 and NCHC, respectively. The Golden Gophers ended UND’s title hopes two years in a row (2011, 2012), and they hold a 138-130-15 edge in the all-time series. North Dakota began the season with a 4-7-2 record with just one win on home ice, but finished with a 21-6-1 run, including a 10-game streak without a loss from Nov. 30-Jan. 24. These two teams also feature two of the top six goalies in the nation: Minnesota’s Adam Wilcox (25-5-6 with a 1.88 goals-against average and .934 save percentage) and North Dakota’s Zane Gothberg (20-9-3 with a 1.99 GAA and .926 SV%).
Holl has played a vital role on Minnesota’s blue line in his senior season, going back to his natural position after splitting his junior campaign between defense and forward. Holl has 12 assists in 37 games so far for the Gophers and ranks second among active roster players with 140 games played over four seasons. UND freshman Johnson has impressed in his first campaign, posting 21 points (8G, 13A) in 41 games so far; his 103 shots on net rank second on the team. Mattson recorded career highs in assists (18) and points (22) this season, sharing second among team defensemen. Additionally, the junior blueliner earned the NCAA Elite 89 Award, which honors the championship competitor with the highest level of academic achievement (Mattson has a 3.966 cumulative GPA).
Game broadcast: April 10, 7:30 p.m. CDT, ESPN2
(2) Boston College vs. (3) Union
How they got there: Union cruised past the University of Vermont 5-2 in the first round and defeated Providence 3-1 to reach the Frozen Four for just the second time in school history. Boston College posted a 6-2 win over Denver in the first round of the Northeast bracket, then defeated Hockey East foe UMass-Lowell 4-3 in the regional final.
History: Union’s 5-1 win over BC in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament might still be fresh in the Eagles’ memories; the two teams didn’t play during the 2013-14 regular season, so Thursday afternoon’s semifinal will serve as a revenge match. The Dutchmen enter the contest with a 15-game unbeaten streak and boast one of the nation’s stingiest defenses, anchored by defenseman Shayne Gotisbehere and netminder Colin Stevens, who ranks second in the nation with 26 wins and six shutouts. They’ll be thoroughly challenged by the seemingly unstoppable BC offense, keyed by the most prolific line in college hockey (192 points combined), which features two of this year’s Hobey Baker finalists, among them Chicago prospect Kevin Hayes.
Hayes’ senior season has been eye-opening, as Chicago’s 2010 first-round pick has compiled 63 points (27G, 36A) in 39 games so far this season, including seven points (3G, 4A) in the first two games of the NCAA tournament. Moving from center to wing has helped his game, as he’s been a beast along the walls and behind the opponent’s net, creating space for linemates Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold. Calnan was eased into his first season with the Eagles, playing a depth role and compiling 12 points (4G, 8A) in 36 games, fifth-best among team freshmen.
Broadcast: April 10, 4 p.m. CDT, ESPN2
|Hayden, from Naperville, Ill., watches the Blackhawks game in his goalie pads.|
After running some errands on Friday, Blackhawks fan Melissa from Naperville, Ill., came home to quite the scene: her 8-year-old son Hayden in his goalie gear, watching the Blackhawks face off against the Columbus Blue Jackets. She captured the moment and posted it on her personal Instagram account.
|(Greg Hamil/Rockford IceHogs)|
1st Star: D Adam Clendening, Rockford (AHL)
The Line: 2GP, 2G
Clendening extended his point streak to three games with two goals in Rockford’s weekend set at Abbotsford last week. Clendening netted his 11th of the season in Friday’s 6-3 loss, then scored again on Saturday in a 5-3 loss. Clendening continues to lead the IceHogs with 44 assists and 56 points in his second AHL campaign.
|(John Quackenbos/Boston College)|
1st Star: C/RW Kevin Hayes, Boston College (H-EAST)
The Line: 2GP, 3G, 4A, +7 plus/minus rating
Hayes helped key Boston College’s dominant run through the Northeast regional bracket last weekend, tallying three goals and four assists as the Eagles outscored their opponents 10-5. Chicago’s 2010 first-round pick scored twice and added two helpers in a 6-2 win over Denver on Saturday, then posted a team-high three points (1G, 2A) the next night in a 4-3 win over Hockey East rival UMass-Lowell. BC will face ECAC champion Union in the Frozen Four semifinal on April 10 in Philadelphia.
|(Photo courtesy Miami University Athletics)|
1st Star: C Anthony Louis, Miami University of Ohio (NCHC)
The Line: 2GP, 3G
In an underdog surprise, the eight-seeded Miami RedHawks eliminated North Dakota with a 3-0 win to reach the first-ever NCHC title game, then put up a good fight against Denver before losing 4-3 in the tournament final. Louis tallied in Friday’s 3-0 blanking over UND, then netted two more goals the next night in a losing effort. The Winfield, Ill., native ended his freshman campaign with 25 points (12G, 13A) in 36 games, ranking fifth on the team.
|(John Mersits/University of Notre Dame)|
1st Star: D Stephen Johns, Notre Dame (H-EAST)
The Line: 3GP, 3G, 1A
Johns’ offensive explosion paced Notre Dame’s upset of top-seeded Boston College in the quarterfinals of the Hockey East tournament, as the Irish emerged victorious from the three-game set in Boston last weekend. The 2010 second-round pick posted a season high with two goals and an assist in a 7-2 win in Game 1 on Friday, then opened the scoring for Notre Dame in Sunday’s 4-2 victory that clinched a spot in the tournament final.