August 10, 2010
(Ed. Note: Welcome to Puck Daddy's August series, "Mount Puckmore" which will feature fans, bloggers and various media personalities of all 30 teams choosing the four defining faces of their franchise. These four people are who you remember most when you think of these teams -- whether they be players, coaches or executives. We'll be running these daily for the rest of the month. Today, representing the Chicago Blackhawks, Sam Fels of Second City Hockey.)
By Sam Fels
Although a monument such as this is supposed to be a celebration of what an organization/country/brewery is supposed to be, one cannot ignore reality.
After all, though Jefferson is on our Mt. Rushmore, we know he was a slave-owning/diddling gun nut who basically wanted to shoot every member of government every couple of years. And Washington spent most of his adulthood bathed in wine. Heroes they may be, but flawed ones at that.
So it is with the Chicago Blackhawks. We cannot examine the people who represent them best and simply glorify them and gloss over what they actually did. It has been a flawed organ-i-zation for generations that only recently emerged into something resembling the 21st century. So it is through those lenses that I present the Chicago Blackhawks M ount Puckmore.
1. William W. Wirtz, Owner
It would not be just to ignore the hell the Hawks flung themselves into, and the man most responsible for it. Bill Wirtz, or Old Man Wirtz, or F****in' Wirtz as he was known by those wading through the two inches of "water" in Chicago Stadium bathrooms, represented the Old School/Backward fashion the Hawks were run before his long overdue death (although the man was so well preserved he was probably pickled) in 2007.
While it can't be ignored that Wirtz was a pillar of the Original 6 and dictated a lot of ways the NHL was run for a very long time, it is he who is most responsible for the just-ended 49-year drought.
Wirtz chased away every talented player the Hawks ever had. Even Bobby Hull finished his career elsewhere. Worst, they were replaced by aging veterans who came cheap and could no longer play. Bobby Orr had knees of blue cheese when he showed up here, and that was meant to pacify Hawks fans. Doug Gilmour played as if he just awoke from a coma. Theo Fleury(notes) destroyed the club for a couple years after getting in a fight at a Columbus strip club. Wendel Clark, Phil Housley and various others were brought in to run out the clock on their careers simply because that's all that Bill would pay for.
But worse yet, Wirtz let the team become irrelevant in acity that simply laps up sports. Marketing was an alien concept. Jeremy Roenick(notes), maybe the most charismatic player in the league in the 90's, could have walked down Michigan Ave. naked during his time with the Hawks and no one would have known who he was (there is only slight truth to the rumor that Patrick Kane(notes) tried this last week).
Home games weren't on TV, players were unidentifiable. he team eventually fell into disrepair when free agents didn't want to come here and the local talent didn't want to stay. You cannot define the Hawks by ignoring how an Original 6 Franchise became an afterthought. And the Old Man is most responsible for that.
2. Bobby Hull, LW
No person embodies the first Golden Age of the Hawks, their subsequent mismanagement into oblivion, and their rebirth better than the Golden Jet.
In the 60's, the Hawks owned Chicago,and Hull was No. 1 on that list. No player more defines the atmosphere in an arena as Hull does of The Old Stadium in the 60's. Sure, only 3 percent of Hawks fans these days ever saw him play; but to hear them tell it, seeing Hull fly down the ice and bury a slapper at 1800 W. Madison was akin to seeing Motorhead in the front row.
The franchise's all-time leader in goals, second in points was the team's, and city's, first true sports-rock star.
But Hull also represents the team's demise. He was allowed to walk to the WHA over money, and had nothing to do with the Hawks for decades. Our all-time great wanted nothing to do with us. This happened far too often.
And when Hull was welcomed back into the fold, it signaled part of the Hawks rebirth. Suddenly, anyone who wore the Indian Head was proud to say they did. Our history wasn't wiped from the books, and the Hawks once again meant something. Bobby Hull spans all of these changes and eras.
(You could also make some joke about Hull also represents the Party Boy aspect that these Hawks have taken on, and anyone who's seen him stumble in to glad-hand the skybox occupants on game night will attest).
3. Rocky Wirtz, Owner
There may be no owner more loved in this city than Rocky Wirtz, and yet all of his changes were so simple, a drunk helper monkey probably could have worked it out (which is what some people have called Patrick Kane, but I can't keep going to this joke-well).
Rocky took all of seven minutes to get the home games back on TV, send Bob Pulford out to pasture, bring in John McDonough to actually promote the team and make them relevant again. He put the focus back on the ice and built and paid for a winner (something we're seeing the bad side of now). But someone had to come in and save this franchise, and Rocky is the man who did it. The Hawks went from an afterthought to adorning the city in black and red in a mere three years; and though nothing he did will ever be categorized as "genius," he's the man who'll receive all the plaudits.
Though it is probably odd to select a player who has all of three years experience onto your team's monument, Tazer is the symbol of what the Hawks are and what they will be.
The Hawks simply hit the jackpot when he fell to them in the No. 3 slot; after all, you don't get to draft a Mark Messier incarnate every year. It is Toews who sets the tone every game, every practice. The next shift he takes off will be the first. Every player knows if he doesn't bust his ass, he has Captain Marvel to answer to -- and we can't think of any Hawks who have tested that yet.
There are nights when Toews wills the Hawks to victory -- ask Vancouver fans about it. And he's 22. Those that think Toews has lifted his last Cup should know that you doubt him at your peril. He went from barely 4th-line contributor to best and most important forward on Team Canada (perhaps the most talented team ever assembled) in about five periods. On a higher level, he is the personification of the attitude of the entire Hawks outfit these days. Driven, successful, and always hungry for more.
Jonathan Toews will eat your baby if it means two points. And he's 22. No other Hawk will ever wear No. 19 again, and we know this already.
Mount Puckmore photo by B.D. Gallof of Hockey Independent