|The Blackhawks honored the memory of Clint Reif, an integral part of the dressing room, after his passing on Dec. 21.|
While Blackhawks stars such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith tend to draw the attention and cheers from the fans, the hard work and effort put in behind the scenes came into focus recently, as the tragic passing of Assistant Equipment Manager Clint Reif deeply impacted the Blackhawks family.
Game in and game out, behind the bench and in the locker room, these staff members don't receive the same amount of praise—except from the players and coaching staff who appreciate their work.
When the Blackhawks begin their 88th NHL season in Dallas on Oct. 9, is there any indicator of a successful season? Naturally, there is a lot that can happen between the opener and the schedule's finale in Colorado on April 11.
In 87 seasons, the Hawks have won 66 season openers and qualified for the playoffs 64 times. There's no doubt that the 2013 Stanley Cup champions set the tone, setting a league mark by tallying points in their first 24 games (21-0-3). That campaign began with the Hawks ruining the banner-raising ceremonies for the 2012 champion Kings in Los Angeles. Last year, the Hawks opened at home with a 6-4 victory over Washington.
Recalling the 2013 championship, the playoff comeback against Detroit on Brent Seabrook's overtime goal in Game 7 was only overshadowed by the infamous "17 seconds" triumph in Game 6 in Boston in the last 77 seconds of the game.
While the 2010 season opened on "neutral ice" in Finland with a 4-3 shootout loss to Florida, the championship run the following spring also unfolded in dramatic fashion. Coach Joel Quenneville called Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals at the UC against Nashville the turning point—when Patrick Kane scored shorthanded in the closing seconds of regulation to tie the game against the Predators. Then Marian Hossa came out of the penalty box in overtime to score the winner. Kane repeated his heroics in the clinching Game 6 in Philadelphia with his OT goal.
The 1961 champions opened the campaign in a 1-1 tie with Detroit, but with the likes of eventual Hall of Famers Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, Glenn Hall and Pierre Pilote. they conquered Montreal and Detroit in the playoffs.
The Cinderella 1938 champions barely made the playoffs and had a losing season record, which included being shut out 3-0 in the opener. However, with a rare roster of predominantly American-born players, they knocked off the favored Toronto Maple Leafs in a Final that required them to dress a minor-league goalie in the series opener.
Chicago's first Stanley Cup in 1934 came behind the brilliant goaltending of Charlie Gardiner and a goal in the second overtime by Hal "Mush" March in the clinching game against Detroit. So while winning the season opener is no guarantee of re-capturing the Stanley Cup, I feel that the current Blackhawks roster is very capable of bringing back another championship to Chicago's fans!
Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman and his staff have done a great job in building the team into a Stanley Cup champion twice and a perennial playoff contender since he took over in 2009. Bowman's task today is even more daunting due to the hard salary cap, which affects his ability to make deals to build up young talent through trades and key draft selections.
Back in 1952, when Arthur Wirtz and Jim Norris bought the floundering Blackhawks, there were rumors that the Chicago franchise might be moved to St. Louis. On July 8, 1954, the owners lured one of the league's most successful coaches away from Detroit—Tommy Ivan. Although he never played in the NHL and was only 5 feet 5 inches, he coached the Red Wings to three Stanley Cups over seven seasons and six first-place finishes.
|(Photo by Mackenzie McCluer/Chicago Blackhawks)|
Back on June 1, there were players from 27 NHL teams that wished they had their feet in the Blackhawks' skates when they battled the Los Angeles Kings in that fateful Game 7 at the United Center. While Chicago fans are disappointed in not returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight season, it was a good run that came up only one shot or one goal short.
What makes hockey a great sport for fans is the fact that the game can change in a second—or, as Blackhawks fans remember from last year, the 17-second turnaround in Boston that clinched their second Stanley Cup in four seasons.
There was little doubt all season that being the defending champs, especially against Central Division rivals, the Blackhawks had a target on their backs. The Western Conference has proven to be more than extremely tough, with four teams having a better regular-season record than Chicago.
Not trying to make any excuses, but when you add the short turnaround from last year, plus having 10 players in the Olympics, there were no easy games. Just ask Nashville, who took the season series after winning four of five against Chicago, but didn't make the playoffs and fired longtime coach Barry Trotz.
After winning a physical series with St.Louis, a hungry Minnesota team battled the Blackhawks after upsetting division winner Colorado. Wild Coach Mike Yeo said after losing in six games that Chicago had a greater resolve.
That resolve carried the Blackhawks as they came back from a 3-1 deficit against a resilent L.A. team, which managed to get that last lucky goal off a deflected shot in overtime. So, Blackhawks fans, don't despair, because next season the team's "One Goal" remains—to bring another Cup back to Chicago!
|ST PAUL, MN - MAY 13: Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks makes a glove save of a shot by Justin Fontaine #14 of the Minnesota Wild as Duncan Keith #2 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks on during the second period in Game Six of the Second Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 13, 2014 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)|
Hockey players—and most fans—know that when it comes to the playoffs, you can throw the regular-season records out the window, and thus far, the current situation certainly reflects that fact. In the East, Montreal is the fourth seed and New York is fifth. Both teams did not fare well in games against the West during the regular campaign; the Canadiens were 14-12-2, and the Rangers were 14-13-1.
On the other hand, our defending champion Blackhawks had the least amount of regulation losses to Eastern Conference foes, going 19-7-6. Anaheim was the Western Conference point leader with 116, only one behind the now vanquished Boston Bruins. The Ducks went 19-8-5 vs. the East, while Los Angeles had the most wins against teams on the other side of the Mississippi, going 21-8-3.
During the regular schedule, our Blackhawks had the most trouble within its division, as opponents stepped up their game against the champions. Chicago was 1-3-1 against Colorado; 2-1-2 in matches against St. Louis and 2-3-0 against Minnesota—both of whom were knocked out of postseason contention by the Blackhawks. Against the non-playoff squads in the division, Chicago was just 1-4-0 against Nashville, but held a 4-1-0 edge over Dallas and a 3-1-0 record against Winnipeg.
Even though the Blackhawks won all three regular-season meetings with the Kings, the L.A. squad—similar to when they won the Cup in 2012—has shown their toughness in the playoffs. The Kings became only the fourth team in NHL history to rally after being down 3-0, beating San Jose to win a series. They won Game 7 on the road and again knocked off Anaheim on the road in another grueling seven-game series. With the series tied 1-1, the Blackhawks are not taking the Kings lightly, not when they have former Chicago captain and coach, Darryl Sutter, behind the bench.
The current hard salary cap has made it difficult for any team to repeat since 1998, but Chicago hopes to break that drought this year. After winning last year, the Blackhawks became the first team since 2008 to win the Cup after posting the best regular-season record. In 2010, the Hawks were third overall, and they defeated the Philadelphia Flyers—who actually shared 18th in total points. Los Angeles was ranked 13th overall in 2012 as a No. 8 seed, becoming the lowest-ranked playoff team to capture Lord Stanley's Cup.
As Head Coach Joel Quennville and others have stated, regarding the playoffs, "You win when your best players play their best!" So far that has been the case for the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks' trio of Winnipeg-born Olympians—captain Jonathan Toews, along with alternate captains Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp—made Chicago fans happy last Sunday by helping the team blow St. Louis' playoff hopes away in the crucial third period of Game 6 at the United Center.
Bolstering the solid goaltending of Corey Crawford, especially his play in the second period when the Blackhawks had to kill four consecutive minor penalties, the three Winnipeg natives contributed to the four-goal offensive explosion in the third period that broke open a 1-1 game.
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.
When Blackhawks Head Coach Joel Quenneville registered his 693rd NHL win on Jan. 29 against Vancouver, he moved up to third on the NHL's list of winningest coaches.
In the top six throughout NHL history, five have Chicago connections:
Atop the list is Scotty Bowman, who in 30 seasons saw his teams emerge victorious 1,244 times in regular-season play, in a career capped off with nine Stanley Cups. Scotty coached five different teams and celebrated the Cup five times with Montreal, three with Detroit and once with Pittsburgh. Now with the Blackhawks as a Senior Advisor, you can add two more rings to that haul—plus his son, Stan, is the current GM.
Al Arbour ranks second on the NHL coaching wins list with 782 victories, 740 of which came with the New York Islanders, as he won four straight Stanley Cups (1979-83). Arbour, a defenseman and the only NHL player I know that ever wore glasses, played for the Blackhawks for three seasons, including the 1961 Cup-winning campaign.
As of the Olympic break, Coach Q has registered 695 wins with the Blackhawks, Colorado and St. Louis; he has two Cup titles here, and he was an assistant for the 1996 Colorado title team. Also, Quenneville ranks second in franchise history with 257 victories behind the Blackhawks bench, trailing Billy Reay, who had 516.
To reach third place, Coach Q passed up Hall-of-Famer Dick Irvin, Sr., who had 692 wins and four Stanley Cups—three with Montreal and one in Toronto. Irvin was named the first-ever Blackhawks captain in 1926 and served for three seasons before moving behind the Chicago bench for two years. However, Irvin clashed with GM Bill Tobin five games into the 1931 season and was fired. Irvin was hired shortly after by Toronto and led the Maple Leafs to the 1932 Stanley Cup. The organization brought Irvin back as Chicago's coach for the 1955-56 campaign, but he was in failing health.
The controversial Mike Keenan ranks sixth among the NHL's winningest coaches with 672 victories and one cup with the Rangers. "Iron Mike" is fifth on the Blackhawks coaching list, accruing 153 wins in four campaigns (1988-92) and serving one year as GM.
The only non-Hawks connection in the top six is Pat Quinn, with 684 triumphs in 21 years with five different teams.
While Quenneville is in his 17th season as a coach and his sixth in Chicago, he says he really doesn't keep track of the numbers, but is more interested in bringing home another Stanley Cup to the Blackhawk fans!
|Glenn Hall, whose No. 1 jersey was retired by the Blackhawks in 1988, backstopped Chicago to the 1961 Stanley Cup, and just as impressively, played 503 consecutive games without wearing a mask.|
In hockey, few would argue that to be successful, everything starts from your goalie on out. In December, with the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup-winning goalie Corey Crawford sidelined and backup Nikolai Khabibulin also injured, Chicago turned to rookie netminder Antti Raanta. The 24-year-old acquitted himself very well in the early going, and was named the NHL's Co-Rookie of the Month for his efforts.
Now into the second half of the schedule, the defending champion Blackhawks currently have 63 points and are on a pace to set a team-record regular season point total—with a shot at several others.
Outside of last season's NHL record total for a 48-game slate with 77 points, as well as 68 points through 41 games (half of a full slate), that start featured 24 games without a regulation defeat (21-0-3). If that pace had continued for 82 games, it would have meant a new NHL mark of 136 points.