LOOKING BACK: Where It All Began

One thing about Shakespearean times - they had it right. When Elizabeth was Queen of England, the era was called Elizabethan. When King James was running the empire it was Jacobian. Maybe if they had spent less time running empires and more time developing decent food, they'd still be running things, but I digress.

Fortunately for us as fans of the Chicago Blackhawks, the transition from Dark Days to the Golden Age took place on one night - October 6, 2007.

Dollar Bill died a mere 10 days earlier. In a little over a decade, the Hawks went from perennial playoff team skating in a packed Chicago Stadium to a team whose futility both on the ice and at the turnstiles gave them the dubious distinction (given by ESPN, back when they still gave half a shit about hockey, but again I digress) of being the worst franchise in all professional sports.

Nobody flew Blackhawks flags from their cars. Nobody ran out to buy Alex Zhamnov sweaters. Hell, even game-used equipment was sold at Hawkquarters, as if an NHL franchise saw Play It Again Sports as competition.

Of course, there were no home games to be seen on television. Wirtz felt televising home games would hurt attendance (although seeing one dude having an entire section in the 300 Level didn't indicate to him that attendance couldn't get any worse), and since there was no National television contract, Hawks fans were completely S.O.L.

So when the Hawks had their home opener on that Saturday night in October, the house still wasn't full. This despite the fact that the Hawks were playing Detroit. Also, the previous year the Hawks had drafted Jonathan Toews in the first round, but he was already hurt - nursing a broken finger. But hey - they had the first overall pick, and they took Patrick Kane. Those who paid attention knew Kane was a flashy player with huge talent, but it was crammed into a tiny body. Plus, they just got a talented runt in Sergei Samsonov, who had quickly worn out his welcome in Montreal.

So there wasn't a whole lot of optimism in Chicago, no matter how special we heard Kane and Toews were, and nobody was completely convinced that Duncan Keith or Brent Seabrook would ever figure it out. The previous year, only two guys broke the 20 goal mark - Martin Havlat (25) and Patrick Sharp (20). Nikolai Khabibulin and Patrick Lalime were the returning goaltending tandem. Blackhawks great Denis Savard took over as head coach from Trent Yawney the previous season - much to Barry Rozner's chagrin.

So the Hawks came home after being shut out 1-0 in Minnesota to around 19,000 people who were there half to watch the Hawks and half to have a cathartic moment regarding Bill Wirtz. And they got it.



What you're hearing is the sound of 19,000 spleens being vented. Then the game started.

The Hawks fell behind 2-0, then 3-1. But something happened in the game that made the score irrelevant-Patrick Kane. Not only did the fans quickly come to the realization that they were seeing something they hadn't seen wearing an Indian Head in a long time, but everyone on both sides of the puck saw it as well. Every time he was on the ice, there was a buzz in the United Center. More so than there is now, simply because we'd all forgotten what it was like back then. When he got the puck, every Blackhawk just went to the net, knowing this kid would find them. Every Red Wing suddenly knew they had someone in Chicago that would require extra effort.

Kane assisted on the first Chicago goal, and Blackhawks Legend Robert Lang tied the game with under four minutes to go. The rest of regulation came and went, as did overtime.

So now it came down to a shootout, with perennial Cup contenders Detroit against the Hawks. Savard, to his everlasting credit, knew what he had in Kane. Instead of playing it safe with Havlat, Sharp and maybe Lang, he sent Kane out there.

To make it even more dramatic, Kane was a Buffalo native who grew up loving the Sabres and Dominic Hasek. And there was Hasek between the pipes for Detroit. So here's a kid, not yet 19, playing his first NHL game in his own building. Going in for the shootout against the goalie he probably dreamed about playing in front of.



A legend was born that night.

Two nights later, another legend was born, with his first shot on goal in his NHL career.



The Blackhawks were on their way.

 

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  • 7/18/2013 7:32 PM Dave Morris wrote:
    Footnote to this Hockeenight History Lesson:

    How about the fact that Hasek had once been a Great Goalie Hope for the Hawks, only to be traded for a pack of chewing gum to Buffalo, where he took the Sabres to a Cup Final? Irony upon irony!
    Reply to this

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