Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Our Cup Runneth Over, Again: A Self-Centered Appreciation of the Chicago Blackhawks

Congratulations to the Chicago Blackhawks.

And thank you.

Not just for beating the Tampa Bay Lightning to win the 2015 Stanley Cup, or for giving Chicago its third hockey championship in six seasons.

Certainly, I applaud, admire and appreciate the Hawks' players, coaches and front office for an accomplishment Deadspin notes is ever more amazing in the days of the NHL salary cap.

That the team has been able to retain 7 key players from the 2010 Cup champions--Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson--and augment them with a mostly revolving cast of players that helped to deliver two more titles is far more impressive than it may initially seem.

And now, at least one of the magnificent "Hat Trick Seven"--which doesn't include role player Bryan Bickell or star goalie Corey Crawford, who played just 1 game with the team in 2009-10--will supposedly be gone before next season, possibly along with other fan favorites. 

So I tip my own hat to the new, old and future constitution of a roster that has given Chicago sports bragging rights in a way not seen since the Michael Jordan Bulls (with due respect to the 2005 White Sox).

While also saying thank you to the Blackhawks for saving me from one moral dilemma and exonerating me from another.

See, I have tickets to a concert on Wednesday night--same as the potential Game 7--by Paul Weller, an artist I've long enjoyed and who doesn't tour America all that often.

I'm honestly not sure what I would have decided up against it on Wednesday--and imagine many of the 35,000 Chicagoans with Mumford & Sons tickets may have faced a similar dilemma--but appreciate the Hawks taking the quandary off my hands.

Especially as I theoretically would have chosen the concert.

After having missed the entire 2013 Stanley Cup Finals due to a trip to Europe.

At this point, I will defer to anyone who claims to be a more avid Blackhawks fan than me, and won't even deny being a bit of a bandwagon jumper. Still, I consider myself a pretty fervent follower rather than someone who only kind of cares.

I never played hockey, and as a fan it was definitely 4th among the major sports for me growing up. Unlike the Bulls, I never attended any Hawks games in the old Chicago Stadium.

Yet I'll never forget being in the 4th row of the United Center for a 1995 Conference Finals game against the Red Wings--the Hawks lost in double overtime--and averaged 2 regular season home games annually during the 1999-2008 span when the team generally sucked.

So I cared enough about the Blackhawks to get myself a ticket to their first playoff game in 2009--just their second postseason appearance in 11 years--and will never forget not seeing Martin Havlat's game-winner just seconds into overtime due to a woman next to me fiddling about in handing me back my binoculars.

And I was lucky enough to buy--through Ticketmaster for $105 + fees--a ticket to Game 1 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals, in which the Hawks beat the Flyers 6-5 en route to a 4 games to 2 win.

Face value for the same seat in 2015 was $335, so I've been priced out of the Finals, but I have a nice setup at home that allows me to watch television projected across the entirety of a living room wall. During this run, my mom and sister Allison have joined me for most games, with other friends for a few, for action truly larger than life.

While I've admittedly not watched all that many regular season games, I'd estimate having seen every Blackhawks playoff game of the 7-years-running "Toews-Kane-Q Era" not precluded by a pre-existing conflict.

Such as going to Europe in 2013, centered around seeing Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band at Wembley Stadium in London on June 15--while also getting to Krakow, Vienna, Budapest and Paris--so rescheduling the trip wasn't really an option I ever considered.

I was back in London on June 24, 2013, and upon checking out of my hotel in the wee hours of the next morning to head home, checked the Chicago Tribune website to learn of the Hawks' miraculous 2-goals-in-17-seconds Game 6 Cup-clinching win, which probably happened less than an hour earlier.

On one hand, I obviously wished I could have seen this--and technically, had I searched for the right London pub and stayed up all night, possibly could have--but in addition to being thrilled for the Blackhawks rather than wishing for a watchable Game 7, I felt quite content with the choice I had made.

Yet something--relatively minor, but undeniably present--stuck in my craw about that, convinced that my Hawks cred was forever tarnished.

So, while delighted to take in the entire Blackhawks playoff run of 2015--with a Game 4 of the Finals conflict divinely intervened on my behalf when Robert Plant got laryngitis and postponed his June 10 concert--I was acutely aware that my Paul Weller ticket (purchased long before the Finals schedule was determined, let alone the Hawks qualifying) fell on June 17, as would (if necessary) Game 7.

Forget that I've seen Weller four times, including just last September at Riot Fest, and that his setlists now seemingly only include one song--at best--from The Jam, his great band of yore that I truly love, more than his stellar solo oeuvre.

He's a cherished favorite, I have tickets with a friend and I would have rued missing the show.

So I'm not sure I would have.

Though as much as hating myself for missing the game, the thought of being at Belmont & Sheffield--location of the Vic Theatre--after a Hawks victory may have kept me home.

But now I don't have to decide.

So as much as I'm happy that the Hawks came through--for themselves, for Chicago, for fans everywhere and for history--I appreciate them coming through for me.

And if you think about it, the Blackhawks ability to "come through" when things looked iffy is the most astonishing aspect of their phenomenal accomplishment.

History will forever note the 3 Cups in 6 years and--with hopes for more to come--reference this Hawks era as a dynasty.

Yet as the fans can tell you, their dominance hasn't always been so obvious from game to game or series to series.

Dating back to 2009, the Hawks have found themselves trailing playoff series 2 games to 1 nine times--including the 2015 Finals--and have now won six of those series, all in 6 games. That's pretty amazing.

En route to the 2013 Cup, they were down 3-1 in a series against the Red Wings before winning 3 straight. And in that Finals against the Boston Bruins--matching this year's sequence--they won Game 1, then lost the next 2 before winning the following 3, the last game in about the most dramatic comeback imaginable. (Yes, I've long since seen it on YouTube.)

So as much as it might seem the Blackhawks have the best players, the best collection of great, cohesive players and the best coach--plus, of course, the best fans--their Hat Trick sure hasn't come easy.

Just a few days ago, when the Blackhawks trailed the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1, I told a friend who inquired about their chances that their recent history suggests that anything is possible--and that their players are steadfastly, even heroically, resilient--but that the Lightning had just looked better through 3 games.

And here I am toasting their 3rd title in 6 seasons.


And after seeing Paul Weller on Wednesday night, I think I might go to the Blackhawks parade and rally on Thursday, which I didn't do in 2010 or 2013.

Though I'm certainly not oblivious to the Hawks' vast support across Chicago, among fans of all ages, races (see this video) and demographics, I've always been a bit leery of ascribing too much communal importance to a sports team's success.

I think far too much was made of how the New Orleans Saints revitalized that city with their 2009 Super Bowl win.

One can tour large parts of New Orleans today, 10 years after Hurricane Katrina and its bungled aftermath, and see the city still decimated, with numerous residents remaining displaced if not devastated, and know the Saints didn't really change reality.

Neither will the Blackhawks in Chicago, where virtually ever day sees terrible news of killings in the streets.

Here in the suburbs, I don't have too many personal complaints, beyond not being able to attain steady employment, but the past 10 days have been rather grim, as I learned of one friend taking her life, another being in the hospital following a heart attack, a third struggling to regain footing through some tough times and a fourth who learned a close relative had cancer, then almost immediately that another had died suddenly.

This, unfortunately, helps me keep the Blackhawks victory in perspective.

I'm absolutely delighted for what I witnessed--and though they'll never let me hear the end of it, glad I shared it with Mom and Allison--but cognizant of sports for what it is.

A diversion.

And if I had to divert from watching Game 7 to attend the Paul Weller concert, I don't think I would have despised or deplored myself too much for it.

But I'm glad I don't have to find out.

As Weller sang years ago with the Jam: 

"I could go on for hours and I probably will 

But I'd sooner put some joy back in this town called Malice

Ooh, yeah"

So once again, thanks Hawks.

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