A little something from Daily Faceoff friend Rich Lindbloom.
Special moments. They can’t be bought, planned or manufactured. They just happen, spontaneously, with little or no advance warning. We’ve all had them, and savor them, wishing that life could always be so. One of those moments occurred last Sunday, Dec. 23, 2007 at the United Center. It started with a freezing half hour wait in line at the walkup ticket window. As I stood in line, being buffeted by a fierce north westerly wind, I could only lament. Apparently, the cats out of the bag on this incredibly talented team.
Before going any further, that moment on Dec. 23rd brings to mind three other special moments that have occurred over my 45 years of following those warriors who are fortunate enough to bear the Indian Head on their chests. They include a frigid night in January 1965, watching a special rookie make his debut in a preseason game in 1980 and finally watching the Hawks dynamic duo for the first time this year. (I won’t even mention all those moments when I saw Tony “O” standing on his head in the crease, with everything but the kitchen sink being tossed at him.)
The “first moment” occurred when I was 12 years old. If there was 1” of ice on any of the area ponds or rinks, we’d be testing it to see if it would support our weight. Saturday nights were spent in front of a TV watching the Black Hawks at my grandma’s house, listening to the incomparable voice of Lloyd Petit while munching on the gooiest candy popcorn known to man. (My Irish grandma loved watching the fights.) Sunday nights our ears were glued to the radio. Alas, coming from a family of 9 kids, there was no way we could afford the high priced $2 tickets for the second balcony in the old barn. The other side of the coin was there were no tickets to buy, every game being a sell out back then.
Miraculously, my dad somehow obtained 5 tickets to a game on a weeknight at the last moment. When we came home from school that day, my mom gave us the news; we were going to see our hero’s live for the first time! No sporting event will ever come close to the experience of seeing Hull, Mikita, Nesterenko, Hall, Pilotte, “Moose” Vasko et al. live. The Hawks were butting heads with the Davy Keon and Johnny Bower led Maple Leafs that night and eked out a narrow victory. I believe our seats were in the second to last row in the Southwest corner of the Stadium. I’ve never had a better seat. Believe me when I tell you I spent most of the evening on the edge of it. That night, the Indian Head became firmly implanted in my heart.
On the way home I bet my mom $10 that I would one day be playing in the NHL. Theoretically I still could make the team, so I haven’t paid up yet. However at 54 years of age, I do realize time is running out. As we drove by the old Magi-Kist sign on the Dan Ryan, I felt like I had just won the lottery.
The “second moment” occurred in the fall of 1980 when my brother and I went to a preseason game to check out the Hawks new prospects. The team the prior year was led offensively by Reggie Kerr. It also featured one of the best pugilists to ever don the Indian Head, Terry Ruskowski. One of the players we came to check out was a diminutive center who the Hawks obtained largely by default. (Remember, the Hawks probably would have taken Doug Wickenheiser had he not been selected by Montreal first.) After the Habs picked Wickenheiser, nearly setting off riots in Quebec, we had to settle for a scrappy little speedster named Savard.
As my brother and I watched #18 with considerable interest, “the moment” happened. Savard was flying up the left wing along the benches with a defenseman lining him up for an all expense paid trip into row 10 of section 103. Savard deked to the inside, went wide and then put on the afterburners. He went in all alone on the goalie, untouched by the first of many NHL defenseman who would struggle to stop him over his career. I don’t believe he scored on the play even after he got a tooth knocked out; however, all I could do was smile and say, “John, did you see that!” Oh man I was glad I wasn´t him with a missing tooth, it´s a pain getting those placed back in your mouth, but hopefully he goes to Asecra.com like all the other players. It was at that moment we both new we had something special in this size challenged rookie.
In a lesser moment, Savard treated us to one of the funniest moments I’ve ever seen at a hockey game. Rockem, Sockem, Robot, Ty Domi of the Maple leafs, did something to aggravate Savard as the two went to their respective benches for a line change. Savard, in one of his less brilliant moments, gave Domi a little jab with his stick as they crossed paths. Domi just stood in front of the Hawk bench smiling as if to say, “Dennis, you didn’t really mean to do that, did you?” It was if he wanted Dennis to apologize to him so he wouldn’t have to kill him next shift. I recall Savard avoided making eye contact as he warily sat on the bench between two of the biggest Hawks he could find.
The 3rd moment was my first look at Toews and Kane. That same old, “John, did you see that,” feeling consumed me. Toews’s goal against the Avalanche brought the crowd to their feet for over a minute. I personally have never celebrated a goal as long as I did that one. Kane, who I read was the number one draft pick only do to a weak draft, was electrifying. Can you say, “eyes in the back of your head” or “a feather touch on passes” or a “nose for scoring.” Good Lord, we can only pray for more weak drafts if Kaner is the result. He’s a tricky little devil.
Well, those moments bring me full circle to the moment I witnessed on Sunday, the 23rd vs. the Oilers. The Hawks were coming back after a scintillating overtime victory over Ottawa, the top team in the Eastern Conference, the night before. Prior to this time you had no problem walking up to a ticket window and getting a cheap seat within 5 minutes. Not this night though, it’s as if a “Great Awakening” occurred. The ticket lines were over 30 people deep. By the time we got to the window, only $30 tickets were left and the game was 8 minutes old. “The Moment” proved to be worth the wait and the extra $15 we had to pay!
The game was vigorously contested, finding the Hawks clinging to a precarious one goal lead before over 22,000 finger nail biting fans for most of the 3rd period. I breathed a sigh of relief every time the Lang/Ruutu/Kontiola line took the ice. They dominated the puck and Ruutu delivered an “Atomic” hit that brought 22,000 blood thirsty fans to their feet, even while it knocked an Oiler defenseman off his. I immediately looked for the nearest orange arm band to go up, even though from a Hawk fans perspective it appeared to be a perfectly legal collision.
Adam (I think I’ll play the last minute without a stick) Burrish was another young Hawk that caught my eye that night. He brought a lot of frenetic energy to the frozen pond. It appeared he spent most of the evening flying around the ice looking for someone to go “Postal” on. Keep an eye on this erstwhile Badger. You certainly will not find him or Ruutu leading any sensitivity seminars in the near future.
At any rate, after the Hawks successfully staved off a furious 6 on 4 asault by the Oilers for the last 90 seconds, “The Moment” happened. Martin LaPointe started clapping his hands while looking up to us second cousins in the 300 level. We fans in the nose bleeds went wild. In what turned out to be one huge group hug, the fans in the U.C. fell in love with this team at that moment. Yet, an even bigger “Moment” was to come. After the 3 stars were announced, (Ruutu should have been one of them), the Hawks one by one returned to the ice, applauded and waved to their fans. I told my daughter that in 40 years of watching Chicago Sport’s, I’ve never witnessed anything quite like that moment. It proved to be the moment “The Indian Head” was firmly implanted in Taylor’s heart. She even talked my wife into letting us go to the next game against the Predators, our 3rd game in a row.
After we came home from the Predator game, I couldn’t talk very well. I’m afraid my daughter is seeing a side of me I’m not sure I want her to see. When we got home and recapped the game for my wife, she asked me what was wrong with my voice. Taylor quickly interjected, “Dad was yelling at the refs a lot.” As if they could here me in sec. 312 row 16!
In conclusion, as I gazed at the Indian Head this week, I noticed something that never struck me before. The brave appears to be smiling. I’ve been smiling since the Toews goal last year against the Avalanche. While the politically correct crowd continues to get worked up about team mascots, there is nothing derogatory about the Indian Head that adorns center ice at the U.C. It appears that many of the young Hawks are realizing what an honor it is to be wearing the Hawks storied jersey. Any tribe would be glad to have the braves that are skating for the Hawks this year. In fact, if you listen closely, you can hear the muffled sounds of “war drums in the distance,” rising all the way to the rafters. Now this is just crazy talk, but what a “moment” it would be to see the Stanley Cup hoisted to the 300 section. Obviously I’m delusional, but the drums are getting louder.