I realize that I spend an awful lot of time talking about writing, publishing and various shades in between…so today, I thought I’d talk about something else that I love. Hockey…and sports in general! And share a little story about my life growing up in a sports crazed family!
So get ready for a healthy dose of MY take on the events of the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals, and how I came to be the sports crazed little sister so many years ago!
As many of you know, I grew up in Chicago and currently live in the Windy City, and if you haven’t been living under a rock, you probably also know that the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup for the second time in three years a few weeks back.
Are you wondering how I became a sports fan? Well, you can all blame my family for that. For starters, I come from a long line of Die Hard Cub fans, and in general all Chicago sports teams (Sorry White Sox, but anyone who says you can root for two teams and still be a die hard fan is kidding themselves…that means you, too dad!)
Having grown up in a house full of hockey players and athletes in general, I quickly learned the best way to get a word in edgewise at the dinner table was to understand sports. In fact, there was a time in my life when I desperately wanted to play hockey with my brothers. Of course, my mom was wholeheartedly against her daughter playing hockey, because it was too dangerous.
I quickly came up with a solution that was deemed much safer, by whom I am still not certain.
Today, my brothers will tell you that I ended up in the one sport that might just have been on equal footing in terms of the injuries that are endured and “played through”. The reality is, that with four brothers and one sister, I managed to have more ER visits, concussions, broken bones, scrapes, stitches, orthopedic surgeries and bruises than all of them put together and multiplied times five.
To this day, mom still wishes that she’d let me play hockey!
However, now that I have gone completely off topic I will attempt to right the ship.
For anyone who is a fan of hockey, or even a “hockey” fan who simply carries on a little fling with Lord Stanley every year (how could you!), there is no question that the match up between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins was one for the ages.
I have to tell you, when the Bruins were matched up against the Penguins, the vast majority of the Hockey nation felt that the B’s would keep up but ultimately the Pens would advance to meet the winner of the Hawks/Kings series. Naturally, in my mind there was no question that the Hawks were going to advance, in spite of all the hype that Jonathan Quick had going into the series. The main concern was who would come out of the other series.
I believed that the Pens would at the very least show up for any one of the scheduled 7 games against the Bruins (which they didn’t), but I had a thought that the Bruins physical game could ultimately wear down the smaller finesse style team the Pens rolled out all season and throughout the playoffs up to that point. Part of me wanted the Pens, because it would bring on a match up of finesse and speed across the board, but another part was really pulling for the bigger match up with the Bruins and the dominant force that is Tuukka Rask, arguably one of the best netminders in the league today. An original six match up, no less.
And boy was it ever a fun match up! Neither side disappointed. From the outset, you had hard hits, fast skates, loose jaws and two games for the price of one as the teams were deadlocked for three extra periods…even better, it ended on a deflection, a shin pad and an f-bomb. Andrew Shaw’s shin pad had the assist of the game and the kid known for riling up opponents instead lit YouTube on fire with a nationally televised F-Bomb and the immortal phrase, “I Love Shin Pads!” He has been a fan favorite since his arrival, and this series would win over anyone who had yet to see this kids charm, especially come game 6.
Game 2, apart from a flash of brilliance for Patrick Sharp was all Boston as they forced the Hawks into their Deck and Dive style of hockey, the gritty and gruesome game play that got them all the way into the Stanley Cup finals. They wore the heart of their great city on their jerseys the whole way, and valiantly carried the pride and bravery of the Boston Strong masses along for the ride. So, we left Chicago with the series tied…what started as a best of seven was now a best of five and Boston had deftly stolen the Home Ice advantage!
Game 3…slow ice, sluggish feet and still trying to beat the B’s at their game. A game that the Blackhawks rarely play.
The Hawks are know for speed, passing and a top line that boasts some of the flashiest highlight reel players in the game at the moment. However, on this night in Boston, and in the series thus far, our opening line was divided amongst the top two.
The logic, understood. Make them play either Kane or Toews by forcing them to play one line or the other with their top line of Krecji, Lucic and Horton. The problem is Kane and Toews are like Peanut Butter and Jelly…they just were not meant to be served separately. So now, the Hawks find themselves down 2 games to 1 in a seven game series and having to steal game 4 in Boston, which outside of Chicago is one of the “unfriendliest” arenas to play in for a visitor.
Game over, right? That’s what the Globe declared, and Boston fans…heck even those fans who romance Lord Stanley for two weeks out of the year had all but written the Hawks off. The Bruins had already beaten Toronto in the opening round after being down several goals in game 7, and their team had been largely untouched from their previous cup winner a few years prior, oh and did I mention how dominant Tuukka Rask had been all year?
What everyone neglected to mention was that the Blackhawks had come back from a 3 games to 1 deficit against the Red Wings. They had beaten last years cup winner and their impenetrable netminder, Jonathan Quick (even forcing them to resort to their backup goalie after scoring on Quick in rapid succession), and our own goalie Corey Crawford was quietly sitting on the best season of his career. And then came game 4.
Two Goalies who had the leagues best goals against averages had been solid through 3 games. Rask had allowed 5 goals total in 3 games, and Crow had allowed 7. Given that one of those games was triple OT and another was a single OT, I’d say Rask had a very slight edge, however he did allow 4 goals in game one.
Game 4 was when the whole series got turned upside down as Rask allowed 6 goals in the third OT game, where Crow allowed 5. However, at the end of the day both Chicago and Boston media were getting ready to hang Crawford out to dry for all of the glove side liability that he showed. No one was talking about the fact that the Great Wall of Rask had allowed 6 goals! More than he had allowed in the entire Pens series and one more than he’d allowed in the previous 3 games combined. Yet, no one seemed the least bit concerned about that stat, or the fact that a number of Boston’s dominant players had been virtually silent the entire series.
Known agitator Brad Marchand had only managed to scrum to the ice with Andrew Shaw once, Chara had been on the ice for an alarming percentage of the goals against and Lucic, Krecji and Horton had been a shadow of what Boston had seen from them throughout the season and deep into the playoffs. And yet, all anyone could seem to care about was a couple of glove side misses.
Yet, I am pretty sure the entire hockey population could be heard whining about glove side saves. Admittedly, it was a bit disconcerting for a moment, but then the true Chicago fans take a collective breath and wait for Crow to do what he has done so well after letting a puck float past him on the high glove side, or a greasy goal that barely snuck through the crease…Crow flicked the ice off his pads, splashed some water on his face, got a tap from Captain Serious and stepped onto the ice for game five in Chicago as if this were a brand new best of 3 series, and he commemorated it with (GASP) a brand new glove and blocker. Unheard of. Ridiculous. Game over….
Had he lost his mind, or was this just a stroke of brilliance? It wouldn’t take long to figure out that game 4 was buried in the vault, not to be dwelled on by anyone donning a red jersey on this day. Game 5 was a new day, and Crawford’s glove side was rarely even tested as the B’s spent more time chasing the newly reunited line of Kane, Bickell and Toews. Kane slipped two greasy goals past Rask, one on a blast from Oduya near the blue line…and a second on a slick pass that touched the sticks of Toews and Bickell before Kane knifed back around to Bickell’s deflected shot slipping it over the shoulder of Rask’s glove side. And they capped it off as Bolland threw an empty netter in the closing seconds winning 3-1. Of course, this win was costly for Toews who spent a good portion of the first two periods wearing Zdeno Chara before getting put down by Jonny Boychuk and sitting the remainder of the game.
And this was where you are reminded of the one constant in Hockey…These guys are TOUGH!
Patrice Beregeron, Boston’s top center was playing with a broken EVERYTHING and went to a local hospital before the night was out, Horton had a broken shoulder, and Marchand had a broken ego as he had been largely ineffective the entire series, Chara had maybe some broken ribs and I’m certain there was an assortment of unappealing ailments that could be assigned to every player in black and gold.
The Hawks were no different, Toews had his bell rung early, often though still
managed to sign his name to the stats sheet for an assist and a goal, Bickell had a torn MCL from the previous series, Handzus a broken wrist, Hossa had numbness in his leg from a back injury and the hits would keep on coming as both teams hobbled their way back into Beantown.
Keep in mind come the Stanley Cup Finals, injuries are par for the course. Everyone has a lower body injury, upper body injury or undisclosed injury which roughly translates into anything from a concussion to appendages that are practically frankenstein’ed on, but really if you could lace up your skates and lift your arms high enough to pull on a jersey…you’re game ready in the finals. Nothing or no one would keep their skates off the ice. That’s just hockey. And that’s why it is such a fun sport to watch whether you know your stuff or not.
When Game 6 rolled around. Both Centers were questionable at best. Of course, no one even knew what the injuries were as coaches, players and staff are well versed at skirting the issues regarding player health.
The game plan was simple. The Hawks wanted to party in the Garden like it was 2010, and the B’s mission was to send them home without the hardware and force a game 7 so THEY could party in the UC.
As you know, only one team would walk away with their desired outcome…and you better believe both teams were going to come out with all the artillery to make sure they came out on top.
Period one was all Boston. They made the stats sheet first, and all we had to show for it in the first was Andrew Shaw’s bloody face from a shot that coasted briskly up his stick and landed somewhere between the eye and the cheek leaving him with 20+ stitches and undoubtedly a headache…yet he was on the ice shortly afterwards war wounds and all.
In the second period…Captain Serious decided to make good on his statements (again) as he popped a loose puck past Chara, who looked a lot like Wile E. Coyote as he tried, and failed to catch that pesky road runner…Toews. Captain Serious as he is known, was all business as he let the air out of the building when he slotted the back of the net with Chara in his wake.
The celebration was short lived though, as Lucic opted to loft the puck into the net instead of shattering his stick as he had done in the previous loss, giving Boston the lead back. A lead they held onto going into the final two minutes, as their team plane was fueling up for a game 7.
Crawford charged for the bench and suddenly an extra attacker moved into position. A shot was fired, and it looked like the puck was about to turn back on Chicago’s empty cage…Too bad Kaner didn’t get the memo as he charged into the corner tapping the puck down and poking it loose before landing it on Toews’ stick.
The Captains’ split second decision sent the puck zipping between the legs of a Bruin and onto the stick of Bryan Bickell who deftly flipped the puck up and in tying the game and likely sending it to overtime with just over a minute in regulation.
The collective thought being, we’ve already played 3 overtime games in this series…so we’ll gear up and play one more. Fitting, really. Of course, the Hawks plan was to end the series in OT, while the B’s planned to extend the series.
And then, the play that will have hockey fans across the world talking for generations happened.
Jonny Oduya was camped out at the blue line, a spot he’d lingered at many times throughout the year and the series, when the puck landed on his stick. A quick release sent it speeding towards Rask before it flipped and dipped over the blade of Frolik’s stick and landing unceremoniously in front of Rask and two of his teammates.
Dave Bolland turned towards the puck and quietly slipped between the defender tipping the puck over Rask’s pad, that had already hit the ice in anticipation of the shot that started the play. As he watched the puck roll over the tape, Bolland pulled back to free his stick from beneath a defenders, but it just wouldn’t give. So, he did the only thing he could…let the gloves and stick drop to the ice as he skated to the corner to celebrate the second (and eventual game winning) goal in 17 seconds.
Moments later, Bolland’s line returned to the ice with Toews in his place because he simply couldn’t stop his hands from shaking. The puck made a trip up and down the ice and ended with an exclamation point as Toews fittingly capped it off diving to the ice and sending the puck safely down past the Bruins bench from the neutral zone as the time wound down, leaving the Bruins with no chance to earn the tie and send the series to a game 7 in Chicago.
The Bruins were forced to watch as white jerseys poured over the boards and mobbed an elated Crawford, who instantly sent his much maligned glove and blocker to the ice the second the puck left Toews’ stick. The Stanley Cup was headed back to Chicago, and the Hawks had topped off the storybook season the only way that seemed fitting. With a Stanley cup to add to their Presidents cup (Division title), Selke Trophy (Toews) and Conn Smythe (Kane).
At the end of the day, whether you were a Hawks fan, a Bruins fan, a Hockey fan or simply got suckered into watching the finals…it was impossible not to recognize the outstanding level of play from both teams. It will likely be a long time before a series such as this plays out again, and even longer before any team manages to score two goals closer together, or any later in a Stanley Cup clenching game.
Just over one minute to tie the game and 17 seconds later to win!
Sports fan or not, it would have been nearly impossible to tear your eyes from the screen in those final minutes.
So, while I may not have been allowed to play hockey, I have to thank my parents and my brothers for always talking sports at the dinner table and forcing me to recognize an icing call or be relegated to talk about shopping or worse, silence at the dinner table.
Today, I could comfortably (and quite happily, I might add) sit down and discuss sports with even the most die hard of fans and I have to tell you, it’s not always a bad thing to be one of few woman in the room who can do such a thing.