Look out for Sidney’s weekly dispatches from the front lines of Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season.
As the 2013-14 regular season begins for the Chicago Blackhawks, this marks the 20th season that I’ve watched the team that was once referred to as Cold Steel On Ice.
This run of 20 years has run me through the gamut of emotions as a fan — of course there has been the unadulterated joy of two Stanley Cup Championships but there has also been ownership changes, losing seasons, unpopular trades, the dark days of not being able to catch home games consistently on television and quite a few playoff disappointments. Regardless, I’ve seen some players that captured the imagination and made me say WOW!
Through the dark days to the Stanley Cup titles, here is the second half of my top ten Chicago Blackhawks. Check here for the first half of my list.
5) Tony Amonte
Tony Amonte was traded to the Blackhawks in 1994 from the New York Rangers and he would make a big impact right away. On April 23, 1994 in Game 3 of the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs versus the Toronto Maple Leafs, Amonte became the second Blackhawk in franchise history to score four goals in one playoff game (Denis Savard, 1986).
The Hawks lost that series but Amonte went on to produce many more great moments in Chicago. In 1995, Amonte netted five goals along with 20 assists in the postseason run that got the Hawks to the Western Conference Finals. Soon after Amonte stood as the only draw for Hawks fans after the franchise failed to win a cup and it began a period of rebuilding.
In 1997, Amonte totaled 77 points (41 goals, 36 assists) and in 1999 he scored a career-high 44 goals along with 31 assists, the next season he scored a career-high 84 total points (43 goals, 41 asssists). Amonte left for Phoenix via free agency in 2002 but he’s remained a beloved Hawk due to his scoring ability and speed, which made him the best scorer in a Hawk uniform during his era.
Today, Amonte works as a Boston Bruins analyst for Comcast Sportsnet New England and it was nice to watch him on television discussing one of his former teams during the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals.
4) Patrick Kane
Drafted No. 1 overall in 2007, expectations were always high for the then 18-year-old Buffalo native who was tabbed to save a struggling franchise — good thing he didn’t disappoint.
Starting in 2008, when Kane won the Calder Trophy (Rookie Of The Year) with a 20 goal and 51 assist regular season, he proved that the best was yet to come, making milestones every year since. In the 2009 postseason, Kane tallied 14 points (nine goals, five assists) and scored his first career playoff hat trick in Game 6 in the second round series against the Vancouver Canucks.
In 2010, Kane set career highs in goals (30) and assists (58) and in the playoffs he firmly established that he was one of the best young players in the NHL. The 2010 postseason saw Kane score 28 total points, including 18 assists but his biggest highlight came in delivering the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 6 versus the Philadelphia Flyers to bring the Stanley Cup to the Blackhawks for the first time in 49 years.
Kane has dedicated himself to improving his overall game since first coming into the league, his passing ability along with his electrifying speed make him one of the most exciting players to watch in the NHL. In 2013, Kane tied for the team lead in goals with 23 and also netted 32 assists while helping lead the Hawks to a historic unbeaten streak of 21-0-3 to start the season.
The 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs was an absolute showcase for Kane with his team-high 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) and for his work he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for Playoff MVP as the Hawks won their second Stanley Cup in four years. Highlighting that playoff run, Kane delivered his second career playoff hat trick in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals versus the LA Kings, clinching a spot in the Cup Finals. With a talent like Kane’s leading the way, the future is as bright for the Hawks as its present.
3) Ed Belfour
Following in the tradition of great Blackhawk goalies Glen Hall and Tony Esposito, Belfour established himself as one of the best goalies in the NHL in the 1990’s. Known as “The Eagle,” Belfour was razor sharp as he made countless big saves and kept the Hawks in many close games.
Signed as a free agent in 1987 after being undrafted, Belfour got his first shot in 1990 and never looked back. In 1991, Belfour led the league in wins (43) with a save percentage of .910 and a goals against average of 2.47. The next year Belfour continued his dominance, posting a 41-18-11 record (.894 save percentage, 2.70 GAA) and leading the NHL with five shutouts. That same year in the playoffs, Belfour led the Hawks to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance while posting a 12-4 record with a .902 save percentage and a league-leading 2.47 goals against average during the run.
More of the same came in 1993 as Belfour led the lead in shutouts with seven and he put up .906 save percentage with a 2.67 GAA. In the 1995 playoffs — while leading the Hawks to the Western Conference Finals — Belfour’s 2.19 GAA and his .923 save percentage told the true story of his dominance in spite of a 9-7 record.
Belfour was another casualty of the team’s late ’90s rebuilding and he was traded to San Jose in 1997, he would finally win a Stanley Cup in 1999 as a member of the Dallas Stars. Belfour’s numerous awards included winning the Calder Trophy in 1991, the Jennings Trophy (best goals against average) in 1991, 1993, 1995 and 1999 and two Vezina Trophies (best goalie) in 1991 and 1993. Belfour was elected to the Hockey Hall Of Fame in 2011 and was honored by the Blackhawks on March 25, 2012.
2) Jonathan Toews
Known as “Captain Serious,” Toews was drafted No. 3 overall in the first round of the 2006 draft. Along with 2007 selection Kane, Toews was seen as one of the cornerstones that would bring the Hawks back to prominence.
In 2009, Toews posted 69 points with a still career-high 34 goals along with 35 assists. The next year, Toews continued his improvement with 25 goals and 43 assists. In the ’10 playoffs, Toews tied a franchise mark in playoff scoring with 29 points while leading the Hawks to the Cup and himself to a Conn Smythe Trophy.
In 2011, Toews posted his career high in total scoring with 76 points (32 goals, 44 assists). After suffering through an injury-filled 2012, Toews seemed to focus more than ever on improvement, tying for the team lead in goals (23) and dishing out 25 assists in 2013. In the 2013 playoffs, Toews totaled 14 points, including 11 assists, further showing himself as willing to do whatever to better his teammates when they need him.
Toews is recognized as one of the best leaders in the game and his demeanor along with his tendency to lead by example with his play makes him one of the best young stars in the NHL. At the tender age of 25, this young veteran seems wise beyond his years and with a lot of years ahead of him still, Toews is the perfect face for the Hawks and the NHL.
1) Jeremy Roenick
When I first started watching hockey there was one thing I knew for sure — the object of the game was to score goals. Seems pretty simple, but not everyone can do it with consistency.
Roenick, also known as “JR,” made me want to watch hockey and he helped define hockey in Chicago in the early 1990’s. Drafted by the Hawks in the first round — No. 8 overall — in 1988, Roenick was known as a goal scorer early on and it didn’t take him long to make his mark in the NHL. As a 22 year old in 1992, Roenick posted the first of three 100-point seasons (53 goals, 50 assists) and in the playoffs that season, he collected 22 points (12 goals, 10 assists) while helping lead the Hawks to the Stanley Cup Finals. In 1993, Roenick dominated the stat sheet again with a total of 107 points (50 goals, 57 assists).
In 1994, Roenick posted one more 100 point season with 46 goals along with 61 assists. At this point in his run, injuries began to slow Roenick down but he put up some of his most memorable playoff performances. Playing like a warrior in the 1996 postseason, JR tallied five goals with seven assists to get the Hawks to the second round. After the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche eliminated the Hawks from that round, Roenick skated around the ice giving thanks to the fans. In the moment, it felt like a goodbye kiss to Chicago and that nightmare came true that summer when Roenick was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes, ending his Hawks career.
Roenick retired in 2009 and now works for NBC Sports as a NHL analyst. Memorably, during NBC’s coverage of the Hawks’ Cup clincher in 2010, Roenick was very emotional during the post-game coverage, feeling regret for not winning in 1992 and pride in seeing the Hawks of 2010 finally win a cup, it was pretty unbelievable.
Roenick was honored by the Blackhawks during the 2009-10 season and I believe that his number should be the next one retired by this franchise. JR made an big impact on the Hawks franchise, on the sports landscape of Chicago and on the game of hockey in the United States. Roenick is only the third American-born NHL player to score 500 goals.
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