Highway to Hell

Whatever happens the rest of this week, Blackhawk fans will have stories to tell for the rest of their lives.  It’s really amazing to think how far this organization has come in just three years.  It wasn’t so long ago that being a Blackhawk fan basically meant you were a masochistic bastard who got enjoyment out of being repeatedly kicked in the crotch. 

And did we ever get kicked in the crotch.

So with that, what better time than now to take a look back and re-live the five worst losses for the Blackhawks in the 21st century before Rocky Wirtz took over.  I mean, these have suddenly become the golden years.  I can just picture it now: Bob and I bouncing our grandchildren on our laps (we plan on adopting a few dozen children from the nether regions of the globe.  Think of us as the Brangelina of the Blackhawk blogosphere.) spinning yarns about the ABC line and how Tuomo Ruutu was once considered a cross between Scott Stevens and Peter Forsberg. 

In the following games I’m about to mention, one of them nearly pushed me to the brink of never watching, cheering, or caring about the Blackhawks ever again.  It won’t be hard to figure out which one.

5.  October 21, 2006- St. Louis Blues 4, Blackhawks 3— The Hawks score two goals within 13 seconds of each other in the first period from Rene Bourque and Radim Vrbata only to give up 3 unanswered goals to the Blues.  Of course, Michael Handzus ties it, then blows out his knee in the third period, effectively ending his season and the Blackhawks in the process.  For good measure, the Blues score three minutes into the third to win it.  Good God, Reed Low was a member of the Blackhawks just four years ago. 

The big one from this one, though, was losing Handzus.  For the first time in five years, the Hawks had a legitimate top line with Martin Havlat and Handzus.  That lasted a whole five games.  Trent Yawney destroyed Havlat by playing him well over 23 minutes in 5 of the first 6 games of the season. (!!)  Havlat predictably broke down by game seven of the season; Handzus was done at game eight, and so were the rest of the Hawks.

4.  December 29, 2006– Boston Bruins 5, Blackhawks 3–  Bob and I had the pleasure of attending this gem dandy of a game.  Nikolai Khabibulin didn’t make it out of the first period; Adrian Aucoin didn’t have a shift after the 10 minute mark of the second period, and the immortal Dennis Arkhipov was the Hawks number one center. 

Anyways, Boston scored three times in the first.  Twice because the Bulin Wall collapsed and once because Adrian Aucoin was completely pantsed at his own blue line by future Hall-of-Famer Mark Mowers .  By the way, they were also a combined $11 million (approximately) cap hit at the time.  Screw you, Brian Campbell!!!!

Patrice Bergeron scored in the second to extend the lead to four.

Just seconds into the third, Patrick Sharp fights Andrew Alberts, of all people.  You may remember Alberts skating for Vancouver this year.  Sharp fights the oversized Alberts to a draw even landing a few punches.  Anywho, this magically kicks Martin Havlat and company into gear.  Before Sharp gets out of the box, the score is 4-3.  With 14 minutes left, there is no doubt the Hawks are going to tie this game.

Silly us. 

The Hawks get a ridiculous amount of chances to tie the game but when the likes of Jeff Hamilton and Michael Holmqvist are shooting, your odds aren’t good.  Hamilton has the best chance to tie it late when he receives a sick pass from Havlat.  With the whole net to shoot at, Hamilton somehow hits Tim Thomas and the Bruins come down and score an empty netter to end it.

Game over.

3. April 23, 2002– St. Louis Blues 1, Blackhawks 0– Another game Bob and I were in attendance for.  This time it was Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.  Bob makes the drive up from Bloomington; I drive in from Champaign and on a school night no less. 

The Hawks stunned St. Louis in Game 1 when Alexander Karpovtsev scores with just over a minute left in regulation giving Hawk fans the false hope of, at the least, a genuine playoff series.  The vaunted Blackhawk attack, though, had no answer for Blues goalie Brent Johnson.  Johnson shut them out in Game 2 and Game 3.  With Game 4 a must-win for the Hawks on home-ice, they come out flying in the opening minutes.  The United Center crowd and Hawks thought Steve Sullivan finally solved Johnson at the end of the first but it was determined the puck never crossed the goal line.

After a less than inspiring Game 3 from Jocelyn Thibault, Brian Sutter turns to Steve Passmore in net.  He of the .895 career save percentage.  Passmore actually holds his own in net and gives the Hawks a fighting chance.  

Pavol Demitra snipes one past Passmore near the end of the second period to give the Blues all they’d need.  On the ice for the Hawks at the time of the goal, Steve Thomas and Tom Fitzgerald centered by Igor Korolev with Potsy and Steve Poapst on defense.  That makes Nick Boynton and Brent Sopel look like Nick Lidstrom and Jesus H. Christ in comparison.

The Hawks go three straight playoff games without scoring a goal and though they put up an admirable fight in Game 5, it was all in vain.    

Actually, the highlight of this game was a massive brawl that broke in the 300 section towards the end of the game that saw fans rolling down multiple rows and haymakers coming from every direction.

2. January 20, 2003– Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Blackhawks 1–  On January 18th, the Blachawks were 21-16-8-3 (remember those goofy record lines?) and looking to repeat on their playoff appearance from the previous season.  Then, Theoren Fleury and Phil Housley decide to check out a Columbus strip club the night before their game.  Fleury, under a watchful eye of the NHL’s Substance Abuse Program at the time, gets drunk, high and lord only knows what else before getting his ass beat by the bouncers of the club. 

Fleury somehow avoids suspension from the league, but the damage has already been done.  The Hawks find out about it, try covering it up from the media, and then get their asses handed to them by Columbus.  Meanwhile, everyone’s trying to figure out why Fleury has a black eye and skated with a protective visor. 

Brian Sutter pulls Michael Leighton after two periods because he gives up two goals.  (Who said the Sutters’ couldn’t develop young goalies???)  Thibault gets rocked in the third and the Hawks season is cooked.  They go 9-17-5-3 the rest of the season and somehow miss the playoffs.   

1.  December 23, 2005– Detroit Red Wings 3, Blackhawks 2 (OT)- This is the one.  Coming out of the year lockout, Dale Tallon built his team up to compete in the old NHL by acquiring Aucoin, Jassen Cullimore, Matthew Barnaby, and Curtis Brown.  Meanwhile, the rest of the league figures out the clutch-and-grab specialists are about to become dinosaurs. 

So the Hawks blow and blow pretty bad.  The Red Wings roll into town just before Christmas already 13 games over the .500 mark. 

Now, back in the old days, we Hawk fans weren’t privy to watching every home game on television but every once in a while, we got thrown a bone, and this was one of those special nights.

The Hawks play, by far, their best game of the year.  They outskate, outhit, and outplay the Red Wings for 59 minutes.  With a 2-0 lead and the UC faithful proudly bellowing, “DETROIT SUCKS!!”, it looks like- maybe- the Hawks might turn their season around. 

Oh cruel, cruel world. 

The Wings score twice in the final 45 seconds to send the game to overtime.

Then, for good measure, in the overtime, the Wings score, literally, in the final second to win the game.  I’ll never forget the sound of the 10,000 or so Red Wing fans in attendance that night.  It sounded like a mix of cheering and laughter.  It was one of the most awful sounds I’d ever heard and I very nearly gave it all up that night.

Thankfully, and probably mercifully, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane arrived in the next two seasons.  Rocky Wirtz took over, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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22 Responses to Highway to Hell

  1. Jeff says:

    “That makes Nick Boynton and Brent Sopel look like Nick Lidstrom and Jesus H. Christ in comparison.”

    HAHAHAHA! So damn true!

  2. HawkVision says:

    Oh jeeez, so many memories. Thank you? It’s like being told, “Hey, remembered that time you got so drunk you peed yourself on the couch in front of that chick you really liked?” You may laugh at the recollection, as long as it’s brought up with enough sufficient time after the event occured, and you’re now married to a super model. I think this blog entry is kinda like that.

    However, moments like these and the awful seasons we went through will probably be the main reason why I’ll tear up IF the Hawks take it all.

  3. Big Tony says:

    The polar opposite of those lows will be achieved with a glorious win tonight. I know I wont be the only one with tears of joy rolling onto my face with a win tonight. There’s nothing more to say at this point except this…thank you Blackhawks for giving us not only our team back, but a chance at glory and all the attendant memories that go with it. Go get what you’ve earned and deserve.

  4. daveanton says:

    I can’t remember the exact date/game (late in the year ’07) but my low point was watching Aucoin back-check into his own zone with a Hawk goalie pulled. He was skating to get the puck when he falls down, and not the forgiveable “skate-in-a-rut/diving-poke-check/turned-inside-out” reason. He fell like 2 year old climbing stairs.

    It was a “You knew he wouldn’t be back next year” kid of fall…

  5. Lou says:

    Big Tony. I couldn’t agree more. We went to games in the good era, games in the bad era and games in the ugly era and now games in the Rocky era. I watched Mario and hoist the cup in 92 and now I like the great tribe of Committed Indians look forward to Toews’ time.

    This is OUR TIME!!!!!!!!!

  6. daveanton says:

    …and yes, they did score on that play.

  7. Lee says:

    I am 71 years old and was at the 1961 cup winner. I was also at both Super Bowls the one we won and the one we lost. I cant wait for tonights game. If we win the cup this will be by far my most favorite sports memory.

  8. JM says:

    Its so bizarre looking back on the dark ages, its like they didn’t even exist. I mean, I still hit 3 or 4 games a year (8 dollar tickets, the one benefit of sucktitude), but even then, I could never really name more than the top lines.

    Those teams were just so awful, so forgettable. The United Center was like a graveyard, and even after a rare win, it was depressing to go to the games.

    For that reason, I don’t get on bandwagoners, when you realize that this is what the team was for most of a decade. The decade before that, when I fell in love with hockey, you had Jordan on NBC every weekend while hawks fans were asked to pay $200 for the pleasure of watching at home. Even now, its hard not to wonder what might have been, had Old Man Wirtz handed off the team in 91. Games on TV, all that money, keeping Roenick, maybe signing Hull, Tkachuk, etc.

    Oh well. I wouldn’t say experiencing how awful the team was has made me enjoy today more, but I definitely appreciate it more.

    Anyways, a nice look back. Bravo as always.

  9. John says:

    JM–There was absolutely nothing cool about being a Hawks fan four years ago. Why some people have flashed this long-time Hawk fan badge around and tried excommunicating bandwagoners is beside me. I’m almost ashamed to say I followed the team when they were a live horror show on skates.

  10. JM says:

    The interesting this is I tried back to think back of the results of some of those games I was at…and I’ve got nothing. I remember seeing the Hawks beat the Wings, maybe 2004 or 2005, and tell the Wings fans behind us that this would be the high point of the season.

    Other than that, all I can remember is how much it sucked sitting through the smattering of applause during the anthem. I guess I’ve sequestered the memories, much like war veterans or child abuse victims.

  11. JM says:

    Oh wait, I remember…these games were during my college/post-college years. I was just drunk.

  12. Otter says:

    I think the excommunicating bandwagoners comes from two things:
    1) There were a lot of Hawk fans that either did or pretty much did bail on the team from 2003-2009 (not many people jumped on board in the spring of 2008 all in all). But most of these fans did follow the team in the 90s (or before) and probably did get pumped about the Michael Handzus* trade. It’s one thing to see a 18 year old kid root for the Hawks these days, it’s another to see a 28/34 year old with his Kane jersey, flip flops, shorts, and sun glasses, which leads me to…

    2) The other issue with the bandwagoners seems to be the type of people they are… far too many douchebags. I have no clue why this is. The Sox and Bears runs of the mid-00s attracted bandwagoners (okay maybe not so many Sox fans since there is nothing cool about being a Sox fan still to this day for some reason) but that seemed to be ‘everyone’ as opposed to the Hawks bandwagoners who tend to be .

    * In retrospect, isn’t the Handzus’ injury like the best thing ever to happen to the Hakws since it netted them Kane or would the Hawks came together anyway since most of the current team was drafted by the time Handzus got hurt?

  13. John says:

    You try telling me that night Handzus getting hurt is the best thing to happen and I would’ve probably punched you in the face. They were so pathetic for so long that getting teased with a legit top line for 7 games just seemed like cruel punishment.

    But yes, looking back, it was a blessing in disguise.

  14. redstag78 says:

    Ahh yes the ABC line and Ruutu were going to be the rebirth of Hawks hockey,……. except on TV.

  15. Nick says:

    I didn’t really get into hockey/Blackhawks until 1994 when I was 11, and that was only because I was introduced to NHL 94 on super nintendo, my dad passed when I was a toddler so I didn’t really have anybody to introduce me to sports at all. I absolutely loved the hawks, but I just loved hockey in general.

    Things were going swimmingly. Then the Roenick trade happened, rendering my #27 sweater with the A useless. Alexei Zhamnov? This guy sucks and that’s all we got for Roenick? At the time, I wasn’t really aware of Dollar Bill or the politics of why the Hawks home games weren’t on TV, but I realized something was not right with how the team was run. Then Chelios gets traded to the damn Wings, and that was the moment I waved goodbye to this franchise. The Bears and Sox, my 1st sports loves, were busy breaking my heart year after year, I couldn’t take any more.

    I continued to follow hockey, not really rooting for anybody other than the teams that played against Detroit, occasionally checking the Hawks scores to see what they had done. Flash forward to 2007, word of mouth, “hey the Hawks drafted these kids Kane and Toews, they might be players”. Okay, I’ll check them out. Needless to say, I’m back in the fold, for good this time, so if that makes me a bandwagoner, then I’ll live with that.

  16. Lou says:

    We’ll take you Nick. Just stay Committed to the Indian until you get old and distingushed like Lee.

  17. CT says:

    Until I learn otherwise, I’m going to assume that Lee looks and talks (and possibly is) Sam Elliot.

  18. Lee says:

    i look and talk like John Wayne. I am in Columbus on a short business trip and the first person I see in the Columbus airport has a Toews jersey on, I get to the Marriot and walking out the front door is a guy with a Kane jersey. That is karma and we are going to win tonight

  19. CT says:

    Loved you in The Quiet Man.

  20. Rachel says:

    CONGRATULATIONS!!! I CAN’T BELIEVE IT ALL!!! EXCELLENT JOB ALL AROUND FOR THE HAWKS, IT TAKES ME BACK TO LAST YEAR WITH THE PENGUINS.

    THEY DESERVED IT. AND HOSSA (ALSO A FORMER PENGUIN) FINALLY DID IT. WOW. THAT WAS A GREAT, GREAT GAME. CONGRATULATIONS.

    RACHEL

  21. clincher says:

    Wow. HawkVision nails it way up in the second comment. I remember rationalizing the dark daze thinking that it was kind of nice not to have to deal with long lines for food and drinks, parking hassles and Wolves fans. But it sure doesn’t get any better than this. Thanks!

  22. Nick J says:

    We had Brian Boucher as well, HA! I remember a particular game where Hawksgot just raped by Dallas with Boucher in goal. I think it had to be 9-1 or somethin hell maybe 10-1. It was a dark day for me. The debut of the ‘Bulin wall was a big kick in the sack as well I recall. We really had Denis Arkhipov!?!?! Some guy named Dan Kelly was calling games as well, scary times. The rebirth of this franchise made this 23 year old very damn, I loved every second of this season. Enjoy reading the site, found you guys through SCH.

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