03/19/2008 1:45 PM
THE FAR SIDE OF THE POND
Using the Zamboni to do Some Spring Cleaning
By Chad Huebner
It’s time to do some spring cleaning, and get some tidbits out of the way before the playoffs begin. For those of you more interested in college basketball right now, shame on you, and take Illinois State to go all the way. It’s not like you’re going to listen to me much right now.
My Annual Pilgrimage to the United Center
I won’t go into massive details about my latest trip to a Chicago Blackhawks game. Those of you long-standing readers have probably already read my exploits from previous times. And there are those of you who’ve actually been to the UC and know what it’s like. For the rest of you, I’m sure you’re Internet-savvy enough to get a pretty good picture on what it’s like to see a ‘Hawks game in person.
I went on the Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day, and it was the largest crowd I’ve ever been apart of at a hockey game. The ‘Hawks make Sundays as their “buy two tickets, get two” program, so a game is an attractive selection for families looking to kill some time in the afternoon. But there were plenty of regular fans coming out to cheer their team back into the playoff hunt, including me. Basically, there were nearly 21,000 people for this event.
Food was good (I went with the Chicken Caesar Wrap which is served at any West Side Deli stand in the place, even though the selection on the ground level is probably better), beer was fine (Budweiser Select, though I should have gone with the Ironworks, on the 300 level, which in addition to having to best-smelling steak and chicken sandwiches on the planet, also serves off brand brews like Red Hook and Labatt’s) and the seats, though way waaay up, were for the most part good (though don’t take an aisle seat, because you’re looking directly down at the people who are walking up the steps, effectively blocking your view of the game). The 21,000 yelled and cheered through the National Anthems (Chicago played Calgary) and anytime the ‘Hawks scored a goal. . . which was far and few between. Everything was set for a perfect day at the rink. . . except for the part of the ‘Hawks losing 4-2. Boggles my mind. They’re still in the playoff hunt (albeit by the skin of their teeth, whatever that means), they played well in the previous game (a blowout of the Blue Jackets in Columbus) and they should’ve fed off of the fans’ electricity. Instead, they came out playing flat in the first and second periods, and that’s when the Flames scored all their goals. Oh, and Mikka Kiprusof is a really, really, really, REALLY good goalie to watch in person. That might’ve helped, too.
One thing the UC needs: CUP HOLDERS!!! I thought because we were in the “cheap seats” (if you call $36 a seat cheap, then you’re probably not living in this country) we didn’t have such a luxury. None of the seats have them! They have them at the Allstate Arena, home of the Chicago Wolves, and I’ll bet they them at the renovated MetroCentre where the Rockford IceHogs play. Why not at the “state of the art” United Center? Would it kill to sacrifice some seat space for a simple plastic holder? C’mon guys!
The Great White Northwest
Call it luck of the draw, but when the NHL formed the Northwest Division back in the early 00’s, it seemed like they knew what was going to happen.
All five clubs are in the playoff hunt in some way shape or form, with four of them-Minnesota, Calgary, Colorado and Vancouver-within two points of each other for the division title. One day, the Wild could be in the lead, and by the end of the night, they could drop from a 3 seed all the way to eighth, or even on the outside looking in.
Although this is the closest race in the Northwest Division’s history, it should be no surprise to anyone that it’ll take until the last game of the regular season to sort this whole mess out. Since the Wild came into the league during the 2000-01 season, the divisional race for the Northwest crown has come down to a single point three times (2002-03, 2003-04 and last year). While Colorado started out dominating the division to no one’s surprise with three straight division titles, the other clubs have gotten in on the action since the Avs started slipping (albeit slightly) after their last Cup title in 2001. The Northwest Division has sent at least 2-3 teams to the playoffs every year since the Wild’s inaugural season, with four clubs (Colorado 105 pts, Vancouver 104 pts, Minnesota 95 pts, Edmonton 92 pts) making the postseason in 2002-03. Should things hold for the rest of this season, we should see half of the Western Conference playoff bracket made up of teams from this division.
But numbers alone don’t account for the excitement each and every divisional game has generated this season. The few games Versus has shown have been close contests with phenomenal goaltending and excellent defense play. And how can you beat a division that has three Canadian teams (four if you count the state of Minnesota as a de facto Canadian province)?
Hopefully, only two of the four postseason teams will play against each other in the first round. They have a real challenge from Detroit (who looks to be the lone representative from the Central Division. . . surprise, surprise) and the Pacific Division (Defending champ Anaheim, Dallas and San Jose, need we say more?), but don’t be surprised if at least one of the Northwest Division side makes it at least to the Conference Finals. After all, two of the last three Cup Finals have featured teams (Calgary and Edmonton) from this division.
Hockey’s (and Sports’) Holy Grail
And finally, a Happy 115th Birthday to the most highly visible of all trophies on our side of the pond, the Stanley Cup. The Montreal Hockey Club (not related in any way to the modern-day Canadiens) of the Amateur Hockey Association was awarded the trophy on March 18. Lord Frederick Stanley wanted the Cup to be representative as the prime championship award in hockey on a yearly basis. He and his sons fell in love with the game in their stay in Canada, and though famously Lord Stanley never got to see the Cup awarded, he and his family brought the passion for the game with them back to England. There are stories of certain members of the Royal Family playing the game on a frozen pond on the grounds of Westminster Palace.
The original Stanley Cup (which is kept in a cool-looking bank vault at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto) was just that, a cup. The addition of the rings below the cup came later, as the NHL decided to start adding the names of the winning teams every year. This makes the Stanley Cup that much more different from the championship trophies given out in the other major sports: football, baseball and basketball. You fully understand that while individuals garner accolades and set records, teams are the ones that win it all. It’s all etched on a piece of metal that stands 35 inches tall and weighs 35 pounds, though I’ll bet it feels lighter to anyone hoisting the Cup in celebration.
Have I seen the Cup in person? Sorry, not yet. My beloved Blackhawks are improving, but it’ll be a few more years before they come within sight of the sacred trophy. I guess I’ll need to wait until it comes through my area on tour. I can see it now: the light (sunlight or artificial light, it doesn’t matter) reflects off its many surfaces with a prismatic effect. I hesitantly put my finger on its side: even though I’m not a player, I still feel like that touching the Cup before my team potentially wins it will jinx my team’s chances. I slide my finger down the side, going from the top, the earliest of names (Richard, Howe, Orr), all the way down to the bottom (Niedermayer, Pronger and Bryzgalov. . . yes, the names roll off of my tongue), which for now still has plenty of room for a couple of more clubs before the top ring is taken off and permanently retired in Toronto. I take a quick peek inside the bowl, to see some of the very first names to grace the trophy in there, and think that every player who has ever taken a sip from the Cup might see those names at the bottom of the seemingly endless supply of champagne that fills it. . .
And then somehow I hightail it outta there with the Cup. How much can 35 pounds way when you’re the happiest guy on Earth?
Remember; e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for anything on your mind, hopefully hockey related. Best responses and/or questions will be answered publicly.