The following excerpt is taken from the new book, "One Goal II: The Inside Story of the 2013 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks." For more information on "One Goal II," as well as the championship movie "17 Seconds," visit chicagoblackhawks.com.
Jonathan Toews wanted to have a word with Michal Handzus. It was a sultry 96-degree Monday, and the Blackhawks were conducting their morning skate at TD Garden before Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. They led the Boston Bruins 3-2 in a scintillating series, so one more victory would mean a second National Hockey League championship within four years for a Chicago franchise that had been given professional sports’ version of last rites only a decade earlier.
Toews, a born leader, might have bowed to superstition. Indeed, the Blackhawks had won two Clarence Campbell Bowls during their revival. But if he had yet touched the reward for earning a Western Conference title, only he knew. Still, great captains possess the ability not just to focus on the immediate, but to compartmentalize toward the future.
Which is why Toews, who probably was filling out a to-do checklist while still in his crib, wanted to have a word with a teammate.
“He told me, if we won that night, he would take the Cup first, as captains do on the ice when it is over,” Handzus recalled. “Then he said he would give it to me next. I’m thinking, ‘This is something.’ I’ve been in the league for a long time, and the farthest I ever got was the conference final, which is not that far, really. Not this far, for sure. Then, when Jonny told me that, I got nervous. I’m thinking, ‘We better win tonight.’”
The Blackhawks won 3-2, registering an unforgettable burst of two goals in 17 seconds within the closing 1:16 of the third period. And, as Captain Serious had arranged, he raised the most storied trophy in athletics above his head, then handed it to Handzus, a venerable 36-year-old who had joined the Blackhawks at the trade deadline on April 1. He recorded three goals and eight assists during the playoffs, but Toews’ gesture was not about numbers: It was about respect.
“That’s a big reason why we won,” Handzus went on. “Starting right with him, this team has guys who care about each other. We had players who did a lot more than I did, players who had won it before. But this Cup, this wasn’t only about them. It was about guys who had never won it before.”
Like Jamal Mayers, 38. After that morning skate, Toews also had a word with him.
“He told me I would get the Cup after Zus,” Mayers said. “I heard that, and I had to skate away from him. I got goosebumps. I was really choked up. Almost 20 years ago, to the date, I got drafted by St. Louis. In 1993. I didn’t play one playoff game this year, I wasn’t going to play that night, and I wasn’t figuring I would play if there was a Game 7. But Jonny thought enough to do that. What a leader, at that age. It reminded me of Mark Messier, what you heard about him. What is Jonny, 25? To have that perspective, that conscience.”
Next in line was Michal Rozsival, 34, a grizzled defenseman for whom being relayed the 35-pound silver chalice was a welcome surprise.
“No, Tazer never talked to me about it,” said Rozsival. “Which is just as well, probably. As it was, I tried to take a nap before that game and wound up just staring at the ceiling. I tried to calm myself down, to not think too much about the game that night. When we won it, I don’t know, guys were yelling on the ice. I thought they planned it right there. I had been near the Cup before. I’d had a chance to touch it, but never did. You know how it is. You figure if your time comes, then you enjoy it. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. To know about the plan before, that would have been more pressure. When I got it after Jamal, my goodness. What a moment.”
On this Blackhawks team, singling out individuals is non-negotiable. The guys couldn’t be closer if they were glued together. Except when it is time to praise. Then the process becomes somewhat muddled, and there is rampant finger-pointing. Toews, for instance, dismissed the theory that he had exercised a noble act of generalship. He said, in fact, that a lot of input came from Patrick Sharp, another rock in the team foundation. But Sharp, when approached, developed selective amnesia.
“Oh, we might have discussed something like what happened,” he said. “But I don’t remember deciding on exactly what the order of guys getting the Cup would be.”
Sharp even seemed nonplussed by the proposition that he and Toews exemplified administrative acumen.
“Those vets,” he said. “They established a tone in the room themselves. They’re leaders.”
So it goes with the Blackhawks. On that triumphant evening of June 24, they might have broken the indoor record for man hugs. But to reach that juncture, while the vanquished are waiting limply to shake your hand, requires a certain spirit that cannot be taught.
“That game in early February at San Jose,” mused Mayers. “Andrew Desjardins drilled me. He got a match penalty. I didn’t think it deserved a suspension. Whatever, the first guy to go after him was Duncan Keith. Not our biggest guy. Stuff like that, it goes a long way in the locker room. What a great thing, what’s happened to this team.”
While with the St. Louis Blues in 2002, Mayers faced the Blackhawks in the playoffs — Chicago’s first postseason appearance since 1997 and last until 2009.
“We beat them in five games, and there wasn’t much excitement in the United Center,” he recalled. “Even though it was the playoffs, a lot of empty seats. Hard to believe, considering what hockey means to Chicago now. After we won the Cup in Boston, the guys who were here in 2010 told me, ‘Wait until you see the parade… You won’t believe it.’ They were right on.”
Handzus, traded to the Blackhawks from Philadelphia for Kyle Calder in the summer of 2006, started that season well, but tore his ACL after only eight games. He missed the rest of the year, then signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Kings in July 2007. As a member of the San Jose Sharks, Handzus was acquired by the Blackhawks for a fourth-round draft choice. Alas, fact can be stranger than fiction. He played in Chicago once, and wanted to play in Chicago again.
“But, big difference between my first time and second time,” said Handzus. “My first time, it was depressing in the building. Sad. Maybe 10,000 people for games in the United Center. Such a great city, Chicago, and such a wonderful market for other sports. But not hockey.
“This organization, though, this new organization is a big change. You could see that, even playing in San Jose. The whole league could see that. With the Sharks, I did not play the last six games. I was scratched before the deadline. I was not happy. We have a young son, and moving was not easy for my wife. But she was happy that I could go someplace where I wanted to go. Doug Wilson did me a great favor. He could have gotten more for me from another team, but I told him I would like to go to Chicago, and he made a deal with Chicago.”
Wilson, a superstar defenseman with the Blackhawks from 1977 to 1991, is the general manager of the Sharks. He declined to provide details about the transaction, but was more than willing to discuss the man.
“When Michal won the Stanley Cup with Chicago, I texted him congratulations,” Wilson recalled. “He texted me back that he was disappointed he couldn’t have played better for us in San Jose. That’s the kind of person he is. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Wilson related another story. Just before Handzus was to join the Sharks as a free agent in 2011, he lost a dear friend and best man at his wedding, Pavol Demitra, who was among 44 casualties of a tragic plane crash that wiped out the Lokomotiv team of the Kontinental Hockey League. Like Handzus, Blackhawks star Marian Hossa attended Demitra’s funeral and was permitted to report late to training camp.
“Michal was crushed,” Wilson went on. “I told him to take some more time off. Come to training camp whenever you’re ready. But he insisted on showing up right away, sooner than he could have, despite a heavy heart. I should have insisted that Michal stay away for a while. A real prince.”
With the Blackhawks, Handzus settled into a lofty role — centering the second line. He scored a huge goal at Detroit in Game 6. The team trailed 2-1 and were 20 minutes from elimination, but 51 seconds into the third period, off a splendid feed from Niklas Hjalmarsson, Handzus patiently found an opening to beat Jimmy Howard. The Blackhawks won 4-3. In Game 4 of the Final at Boston, Handzus ignited a gripping 6-5 overtime conquest with a shorthanded goal while tumbling to the ice in the first period.
“Great play by Brandon Saad,” said Handzus. “To win a Cup, you have to face adversity. We did in that Red Wings series, having to win three in a row to advance. That’s when you see what your team is made of. You either pull together or you crumble. Sometimes, teams might have more talent, but they fall apart. One bad night, guys turn against each other. Not here. Guys help each other, pull for each other. Everybody cares for everybody.”
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