Sidney Brown brings his weekly dispatches from the front lines of Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season.
In any championship season, it helps in appreciating that championship to look back and see what obstacles a team overcame to win the ultimate prize.
We all know the story of last year’s Chicago Blackhawks and their route to the 2013 Stanley Cup. That team had to deal with the sky-high expectations laid out for them in the wake of their record-setting points streak to begin the season. Once they shook off the possibility of a latter season let-down, the Hawks had to overcome motivated opponents in the playoffs (Red Wings, Kings and Bruins) who each took them deep in series in order to hoist the Cup.
This season hasn’t seen any record-breaking runs so far, mostly its been about maintaining consistency in defense of the championship while trying to measure up up-and-comers in St. Louis, Colorado, San Jose and Anaheim, each team playing as if they are confident that they are to claim the throne in the Western Conference.
Last Wednesday, this season took it first strange turn when superstar Patrick Kane suffered a lower body injury in a victory over divisional rival St. Louis. Kane was placed on IR for the remainder of the regular season, which he’ll finish with 29 goals and 40 assists in 69 games played. An all-around offensive talent, one of the best in the NHL, Kane’s presence will certainly be missed as he sits.
Here’s a list of players who will be expected to step up and shoulder the load in his absence.
1) Ben Smith – Right Winger
Smith, a fourth liner, has responded well when called on and has been given quality time in the power play unit. In his last five games, Smith has scored three goals along with an assist. Look for Smith to get more playing time in Kane’s absence, possibly being paired up with Sharp and Hossa, which should increase his scoring chances.
2) Andrew Shaw – Center
Shaw is known as an agitator who causes problems for the opposition but in his last five games, Shaw has posted three points including two goals and for the month of March he has four goals and four assists. Shaw needs to stop taking dumb penalties and keep continuing to contribute offensively if the Hawks are going to be successful heading into the postseason.
3) Jonathan Toews – Center
Still Chicago’s most important player and its best all-around, the captain has been on a scoring tear since the Olympic break. For the month of March, Toews has scored 11 goals and two assists including the game-winning goal (short handed) against Carolina on Friday.
I’ll keep pushing this as long as it needs to be pushed — besides Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby there should be no competition for the Hart Trophy for regular season MVP beyond Toews and with more room to score sans Kane, there is a clear opportunity for him to make his case in the final 10 games of the season. For the year, Toews has 28 goals along with 38 assists for a total of 66 points.
The Savior is Here!?
With Kane on the shelf indefinitely, the Hawks called up 2012 1st round draft pick Teuvo Teravainen. The 5’11, 169-pound phenom from Finland will be asked to fit in and contribute quickly on a roster already loaded with talent. His skill set has been compared to teammate Patrick Kane as displayed during the preseason and professionally in Finland the past two-plus seasons.
I know that expectations are high for this 19-year old, especially after Kane’s injury, but don’t expect a lot right away.
Teravainen has to learn the NHL game and become acclaimmated with his new teammates before anything else. Yes, he can make plays and has world-class speed, but the Hawks do not need him to be the savior that some think that he is, not at this point.
Live from the UC
I had the privilege to attend Sunday’s Hawks game against the Nashville Predators at the United Center and it was a fulfilling experience, except for the final score.
Even though it was 27 degrees outside, many fans happily approached the stadium wearing their favorite Hawks jerseys with no other protection from the elements. To me, the parade of jerseys is one the main attractions in attending a Hawks game, I joined in with my white Brent Seabrook jersey from last year’s Stanley Cup Finals.
Once inside, the excitement rarely lets up at any moment — from the Hawks’ pre-game skate to singer Jim Cornelison belting the National Anthem — everything has a sense of electricity to it. Watching the Anthem on television doesn’t do justice to being there live among the roaring fans with the feeling of not being able to hear your own roar.
The Blackhawks organization is doing all they can to make it the best experience of your life when you come out to the UC. As an avid attendee of about three games a year, it is significant to be a part of what this franchise has built since 2007, an almost complete revitalization after Rocky Wirtz took over in the wake of the passing of his father, William Wirtz. Yes, tickets are high-priced (and they won’t let up in the playoffs), but if you ever get a chance to experience Blackhawks Hockey at the UC, I assure you it will be something that you will never forget.
The Week Ahead
Tonight — vs. Dallas, 7 PM; Thur., Mar. 27 — at Boston, 6 PM; Fri., Mar. 14 — at Ottawa, 6:30 PM; Sun., Mar. 30 — at Pittsburgh, 6:30 PM. (All times Central)
Team Leaders: Goals — Patrick Sharp (30); Assists — Duncan Keith (50); Points — Sharp (69); Goals Against Average — Corey Crawford (2.21); Penalty Minutes — Brandon Bollig (73).
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