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The Essentials: Chicago Blackhawks Edition

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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(This month, Puck Daddy asked bloggers for every NHL team to tell us The Essentials for their franchises — everything from the defining player and trade, to the indispensable fan traditions. Here is Sam Fels, Matt McClure and Matt Killion from Second City Hockey, giving us The Essentials for the Chicago Blackhawks.)

By Second City Hockey

Player: Stan Mikita

As an Original Six franchise, the options for the essential Blackhawks player increase out of sheer longevity. But for all practical purposes, the choice very quickly boils down to two options: Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.

And though Hull was the flashier player in his time and frequently inspires more emotion from fans be it either resentment or adoration, it is Mikita, the franchise fixture with more substance to his game, who is the most essential Blackhawk.

The man affectionately known as Stosh is still the Blackhawks' record holder to this day in games played and points with 1,394 and 1,467 respectively, both of which stand 32 years after his retirement and are unlikely ever to be broken. At a league level, he is a repeat winner of every major NHL award aside from the Conn Smythe (which he could have very well won were it not for the dynastic '70s Canadiens) and is the only player ever to have won the Art Ross, Hart, and Lady Byng trophies in a single season - which he did it twice consecutively in 1967 and 1968. And a young Mikita played a pivotal part of the 1961 Stanley Cup champion squad that stood as the pinnacle of Blackhawk achievement for nearly 50 years.

But aside from the well-known stats and performance, it was Mikita's quiet dignity in the Hawks' lean years (which lasted far, far too long) that has set him apart from all others including Hull, whose acrimonious (to say the least) split with the organ-I-zation and repeated off-ice issues have now only recently been rinsed from many fans' memories with the team's resurgence. Though Mikita was on record as being displeased with the way things were run during those years, his words were never as spiteful or booze soaked as Hull's.

Stan Mikita is not only the essential Blackhawk, but the eternal Blackhawk, having outlasting two generations of Wirtzes, with very few Hawk fans remaining that can even remember a time when he wasn't around.

And on top of all of it, the man makes killer Sugar Pucks and Five Holes. —McClure

Season: 2009-2010

This one's pretty easy. We don't even have to risk being called bandwagoners even though we're under 35. When a season ends 49 years of pain, decades of being whipped upside the skull with a marital aid by ownership, watching the organization come as close to death as possible and then watching it rebound, capped by Kane's goal in Philly, it will define every Hawk's fan's memories. And it was the way they did it too. From the five-goal comeback in the fourth game of the season, to the 7-2 mauling of the Sharks in San Jose (where they'd lost something like four games the previous season and a quarter), a furious close to the regular season, always getting the goal they needed in the spring, it was almost never in doubt. But it was a dream we kept trying to wake up from, and now we don't ever have to.  —Fels

Game: Conference Quarter Finals Game 5 vs. Nashville — 4/24/10

Many people may have been surprised by Nashville's run in the playoffs last year. To anyone outside of the Central division they seem to be a small-market team with two big name defensemen. (… oops. I guess just one really rich one now).  But the Predators have long been a thorn in the side of Blackhawks fans. They're extremely disciplined well coached team that doesn't play flashy but always plays hard and it's their exact style that always seems to give the Blackhawks fits.

We knew we had a special team in 09-10 but we knew the Predators were going to be perhaps the toughest challenge of the playoffs (suck it Vancouver).  So when the two teams traded victories in the first four games, we knew game 5 would be crucial. The difficulty of going back to Nashville down 3-2 wouldn't have been impossible to overcome but the future would have been cloudy at best.

The game itself was a tense affair with the Predators opening the scoring only for the Hawks to score 3 in a row. It was a Joel Ward shortie and two goals from the always annoying Martin Erat to tie then take the lead that made all Hawks fans nervous. With just over a minute left in the game Marian Hossa gets called for boarding Dan Hamhuis, leaving the Hawks down both a goal and a skater with the playoffs on the line…

But that's when the hockey magic kicks in and makes this game one that we'll never forget.  Erat makes a blind pass behind the Hawks net that's intercepted and brought into the Nashville zone for some quick chances while Niemi was pulled from the net and with 13.6 seconds left the puck gets behind Rinne and finds the back of the net of Patrick Kane's stick.

The three of us all had the pleasure of being in that arena that day and you've never heard a louder or more joyous noise that all 20,000-plus people in their lose their minds all at the same time.  Not to be forgotten though, Hossa's penalty was a major meaning the Hawks still had about four minutes of power play to kill at the start of overtime. They were able to pull it off and Hossa went from the box to the side of the net and put in the winner to send the series back to Nashville with the Hawks up a game.

This is more than just a magical hockey game though — this was the true moment that all of us Hawks fans knew we really had something special. After gutting out this victory (and getting a little lucky) we as fans felt that nothing could stop this team. In an amazing season, this is the one game you'll hear us talk about more than any other. It was a defining moment for an incredible year. - Killion

Goal: Patrick Kane, Stanley Cup Final Game 6 vs. Philadelphia — Overtime

OK — so are you sick of hearing us talk about the 09-10 season yet? Well bear with us a little longer. Is this perhaps the least satisfying overtime game-winning goal in NHL history? Yes but only if you're not a Blackhawks fan. When Kane put the puck on net there were only about three people in the world who knew it went in — Kane himself, Patrick Sharp and our one friend at the bar who started screaming "It's in!" a full 5 seconds before the rest of us exploded into mass hysteria. The goal did more than just win the series though — it erased years, decades and in most cases lifetimes of pain and suffering for Hawks fans.  -Killion

Trade: Jeremy Roenick to Phoenix for Alex Zhamnov

Nothing signifies the beginning of the Hawks' descent into hell like JR's trade to Phoenix (it also basically signaled the end of his true stardom as well). Before that, the Hawks had been Conference Finalists' and giving eventual champs Colorado everything they could handle the previous two seasons. They were aging but still quite competitive. And JR wasn't the first star to be shipped out by the Old Man when he wanted to get paid like the star he was. But after his trade, the Hawks slipped into irrelevancy, while Zhamnov kept drunkenly slipping his car off of suburban roads. Not only that, but JR was beloved by the fans like few others in town, and his deal was a true stomach punch. Two playoff appearances in 12 seasons followed, as well as every other player who could do more than just barely stand on skates taking JR's path out of town. It's these demons that have been buried recently. But they always lurk. -Fels

Unsung Hero: Steve Larmer

Larmer is the perfect embodiment of a whole era of Hawks hockey. While appreciated greatly here in town, he was on teams that never quite got their due as they were blocked by the 80's Oilers and Flames, and never got the attention in town they should have as Wirtz's non-marketing marketing policies allowed the Hawks to be completely covered up by the Bears and Michael Jordan. But Gramps was the complete player. Defensively sound, energetic, and always coming up with the big goals his team needed. Five 40-goal seasons, a Calder Trophy when he was a silly plus-44, 11 straight with more than 80 games played, or better said 884 straight games. A streak that sadly came to an end when he held out for a trade to the Rangers when he "needed a new drive to work"  which for Hawks fans was code for yet another great player wanting greener pastures somewhere else. -Fels

Villain: Bill Wirtz

For all of the various blood rivalries that the Hawks have found themselves in throughout their history for various reasons (Red Wings, North Stars, Blues, Oilers, Canucks), the franchise faced no greater nemesis than its own owner and Chairman for four decades, the man known as Dollar Bill, William Wadsworth Wirtz.

To those that knew him personally, Bill Wirtz was a generous and fiercely loyal man. However, that loyalty led to one of the most spectacular disintegrations of a sports franchise even imaginable. In keeping a deathbed promise to his father Arthur to keep the games off television and always place his precious "season reservation holders" and their money above all, Wirtz alienated nearly three generations of fans, countless players seeking to be compensated properly for their services, and others around the Chicago business community with his tactics.  He inspired such vitriol that an entire book was written for the sole purpose of blasting him, and was booed during his own memorial service in a building he owned. So while there have been and will always be major on-ice irritants for the Blackhawks, none of their actions had or will have the scope and longevity of those of Bill Wirtz. —McClure

Fight: Dave Manson vs. Scott Stevens (The St. Patrick's Day Massacre)

While the 80's Hawks couldn't ever get over that Alberta-shaped mountain in the 80's, that crumbled in 1991. Gretzky was California dreamin', Calgary and fallen off, and the Hawks were there to fill the void. Everything looked like it was coming together in that President's Trophy winning 1990-1991 season. Roenick had filled Denis Savard's shoes at center, while Chelios was assaulting everyone from the blueline allowing Doug Wilson to skate by everyone. Belfour was impenetrable. And nothing stamped the Hawks authority and status as favorite then this night in March when Dave Manson fustigated Scott Stevens at center ice.

After this game, the thought of biffing it in the first round to John Bleepin' Casey was as far from anyone's mind as you can get. The best part about the video of this fight? The fact that you can hear the Old Stadium crowd about to melt in frenzy. - Fels

Coach: Billy Reay

Though there are other Blackhawk coaches who have brought the Cup to West Madison St., including the one behind the bench currently, it was one who was not able to who is the most essential coach in the franchise's history.

Billy Reay and his trademark fedora coached and won more games for the Blackhawks than anyone else before or since, and took them to three Stanley Cup Finals in 1965, 1971, and 1973, felled all three times by the Montreal Canadiens. But it was Reay's ouster in 1977 that still resonates throughout all of sports as one of the most ruthless acts ever by even a front office known for their ruthlessness, as Reay was dismissed with a note under his hotel room door shortly before Christmas after 14 years of service. — McClure

Broadcaster: Pat Foley

From 1981 to 2006, Pat Foley truly was the voice of the Blackhawks. He was a local boy calling games for his favorite team and we loved him for it. He called the games through the height of the early 90's to the depths on the early 2000's. His dismissal in 2006 for still unknown "personal" reasons was yet another gutpunch from the front office in their insane attempt to get rid of everything we as Blackhawks fans loved.  It quite literally drove a few of us away from the team and we feared it could have been for good.  The decision to bring him back in 2008 was one of the first of many signs that showed us things were changing for the Hawks.

Unfortunately, we have to add a bit of an asterisk to this. While we loved the decision to bring him back, things haven't been the same. It's a bit like going on a date with the girl you broke up with 3 years ago — things are comfortable but awkward all at the same time.  The Blackhawks made the decision to end the simulcasts when they dropped Foley and kept it up when they brought him back. Not calling the games for radio allows Foley and frequent co-host Eddie Olczyk to go off on tangents that lead to giggle-fits while the play is going on and can be distracting at best and infuriating at worst.  So while he may drive us mad when he calls just about everyone on the ice "Dave Bolland" he's still the man that gave us this and we'll never forget it — Killion

Tradition: The Anthem

The easiest choice for us on here. This isn't just the best tradition for Blackhawks fans… this is one of the best traditions in all of sport.  While the singing of the National Anthem in most cities gives you an extra few minutes to load up on hot dogs and beer or a chance to stand around awkwardly pretending to sing along to a song that's near impossible to actually sing — the Anthem in Chicago is not to be missed.  Starting in 1985 during a playoff game against the Oilers, the crowd at the old Chicago Stadium began cheering and yelling for the team before the Anthem began, they continued to yell and clap as the songs began and it's a tradition that stuck.

Sure, some may write it off as being disrespectful but they miss the point. Watch this clip and tell me this isn't a group expressing patriotism in a unique way. While it may have started off as a way to get a team pumped up for a playoff game, it has morphed into a way to be actively involved during one of the moments that's usually the more passive moments in a game.  The recent addition of bringing both active and retired members of the military on the ice for the singing of the Anthem just makes the experience all the more enthralling.  Come for an Anthem in Chicago and not get goosebumps and I'll question if you even have a pulse. —Killion

Arena Food: Beer

We're going to say beer here, but not for the same reasons that the stepchildren in St. Louis predictably cited. If your city's version of fine dining was Jack in The Box, Imo's Pizza, or toasted ravioli, you'd want to be gassed on Bud Diesel to eat that stuff as well. Unlike St. Louis, we've got plenty of world-class restaurants in our city, some walking distance from the arena with Publican or The Girl & The Goat.

Nothing at the UC is worth the cost, and the UC admits as much by selling the same warmed over DiGiorno's pizza on the concourse that you can get at the supermarket. Spend your money on beer. -Killion

Swag: The Best Jersey in Sports

Red or white, it doesn't matter, any fan or player will look fantastic in it regardless of the occasion, so long as the temptation to get a little too cute with the name and number is resisted.

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Even a Jeff Shantz or Reto Von Arx sweater is preferable to this.

And if you're looking for a less obvious and more economical choice, the Blackhawks have a storied history of self-published alternative gameday programs, starting with Mark Weinberg's The Blueline in the 90s, and continuing today with The Committed Indian, sold outside the United Center every home game. -McClure

Previously On Puck Daddy

The Essentials: New York Islanders edition

The Essentials: Boston Bruins edition

The Essentials: Colorado Avalanche Edition

The Essentials: Dallas Stars Edition

The Essentials: Washington Capitals Edition

The Essentials: Anaheim Ducks Edition

The Essentials: Montreal Canadiens Edition

The Essentials: Detroit Red Wings Edition

The Essentials: Ottawa Senators Edition

The Essentials: New Jersey Devils Edition

The Essentials: Phoenix Coyotes Edition

The Essentials: Florida Panthers Edition

The Essentials: Los Angeles Kings Edition

The Essentials: Carolina Hurricanes

The Essentials: Pittsburgh Penguins

The Essentials: San Jose Sharks

The Essentials: New York Rangers

The Essentials: Edmonton Oilers Edition

The Essentials: Tampa Bay Lightning Edition

The Essentials: Columbus Blue Jackets Edition

The Essentials: St. Louis Blues Edition

The Essentials: Buffalo Sabres Edition

The Essentials: Philadelphia Flyers Edition

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