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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why I Love the Hawks: A Tale of Two Teams

For a year now I have been harassed and berated for my affection towards the Chicago Blackhawks. It is the burden I must endure due to the relatively new rivalry between this team and my first love, the Vancouver Canucks. In order to fully lay out the reasons why I admire the hawks and see no, real issue with doing so, I must first explain that picking favourites for me involves a combination of positive feelings towards current players, respect for coaches and management and an understanding of team history. The Blackhawks are an exciting hockey club and an original six team; they are great for the NHL and very fun to watch on the ice. The Bowman Eventuality
During one of the Canucks vs. Blackhawks playoff games in 2008-2009 the camera panned up to the Blackhawks box and who should I see sitting there but Scotty Bowman. Bowman's son, Stan, would eventually become Chicago's GM but at the time was not, nor was Bowman in any official capacity aiding the Blackhawks. A short while later, after the Blackhawks had been ousted by their rivals the Detroit Red Wings, Bowman's former team, Scotty accepted a position as Sr Advisor of Hockey Operations with the Blackhawks. This detail is significant because my entire hockey loving life I have revered Scotty Bowman. Any team he is affiliated with I automatically adore, simply for their proximity to what I view as greatness. The Toews Factor
My appreciation for the Blackhawks, like their rivalry with the Canucks, is young. It began one late June day in 2006 when then Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon selected Jonathan Toews as the 3rd pick of the NHL entry draft. Toews, had caught my eye during the 2006 U-20 World Junior Championships as Team Canada's youngest player. Toews did not enter the NHL the year after his selection in the entry draft and my next encounter with him was at the 2007 World Junior Championships where he earned the hearts of all Canadians as well as myself for his three shootout goals to help Canada defeat the USA in the semi-finals. His stellar play at this tournament earned him a spot on the all-star team and Canada the gold. I don't need to continue to list Toews' accomplishments (they include a 2007 World Championship Gold Medal, a 2010 Olympic Gold Medal-as well as being named as Best Forward for the tournament, a 2010 Conn Smythe Trophy and 2010 Stanley Cup), nor do I need to wax lyrical about his work ethic and humble demeanor. Suffice to say that he is an amazing player and that he shares the honour of my favourite current NHLer.


Aside from Toews the Blackhawks roster boasts an impressive list of players whose on-ice play and off-ice persona are worth considerable respect and admiration; Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are one of the most formidable defensive pairings in the NHL. Patrick Sharp is a versatile player with a sense of humor. Brian Campbell, is an excellent, smooth-skating, play-making veteran NHL defenceman. Then there is Patrick Kane, love him or hate him you have to admit his ability to dangle and create something with the puck is mesmerizing. No one knows this better than the Vancouver Canucks and their supporters. To hate this kind of talent is to exhibit pure bitterness and jealousy.


Rivalry, what rivalry?

Bitterness, jealousy and being a jerk come naturally to most Canuck fans. People who claim that liking both the Blackhawks and the Canucks is utter lunacy confuse me. I mean, it's not like I'm claiming to be a Flames and a Canucks fan, or a Red Wing and a Blackhawks fan. I fully admit that if Jonathan Toews left the Blackhawks I would have to think long and hard about continuing to support the team. When did the Blackhawks becomes such a bitter rival to the Canucks anyways? The two teams are not historical rivals. During the '81-'82 season the Blackhawks lost to the Canucks in the Conference Final, 1–4 but the teams didn't meet up again in the post season until '94-'95 in the Conference Semi-Finals (won by the hawks) this was followed by another lengthy hiatus of well over a decade as it would not be until the 2008-2009 season that these two teams would meet again in the post season. By comparison the Blackhawks faced the now defunct Minnesota North Stars six times and the St Louis Blues eight times over the same period of time (less in the case of the North Stars who were moved to Dallas in 1993). The Cancuks faced the Calgary Flames six times and the LA Kings four times.


So I ask again, where did this rivalry begin? It certainly wasn't during the 2006-2007 season, the year after the Blackhawks drafted Jonathan Toews (and the year my attachment to the team began to bud). It wasn't during 2007-2008 the year Toews and Patrick Kane joined the team, the Blackhawks didn't even make the playoffs that year. I contend that this rivalry really started at the conclusion of the 2008-2009 season during the playoffs (1st picture above) when the heavily favoured Canucks met the young, upstart Blackhawks in Western Conference semi-final. This was a hard fought series, one that saw the Canucks implode during the sixth game of the series and blow three leads, including two third period leads. The Canucks defense crumbled and as a fan this was a tough, crushing loss.


The rivalry was pushed further during the 2009-2010 season when Canucks assistant captain Ryan Kesler called then Blackhawks forward Andrew Ladd a coward. The teams met again in the Conference semi-finals with the same results, only this time the loss wasn't as tough or as crushing. If you are an actual hockey fan you have to admit that that series was an utter disappointment and never for an entire game did either team play to their potential at the same time. I couldn't hate the Blackhawks after yet another defeat at their hands in the 2nd round; I was too busy hating Andrew Albert and Kevin Bieksa, wondering what had happened to Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler and daydreaming about what might have been had the Canucks managed to keep their composure and their defense healthy.


Enlightenment

I hid my feelings for the Blackhawks, keeping them safely stored behind an outward and very vocal loathing of Dustin Byfuglien. It wasn't until the 2010 Vancouver Olympics that my fondness for Toews and also Keith and Seabrook came spilling out. I could no longer contain it. I worried about the repercussions and the idea that after such vocal declarations I would no longer be able to keep secret my admiration of the team Toews captained. Then it dawned on me, liking the Blackhawks doesn't make me a bad Canucks fan, it makes me a better hockey fan. No hawks player had ever offended me or my fandom sensibilities. The hawks only crime was simply being a better team, playing a better game and winning when the Canucks could not. If anything I view this as a challenge to the Canucks to step up their game, to play solid defense, to never give up and to beat the Blackhawks every chance they get.



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