I do not consider myself to be a huge fan of hockey, but come playoff time, I watch most of the action (that could be attributed to the fact that the regular season is virtually meaningless). This post-season was an interesting one, as some of the top teams fell early. However, in the end, the NHL’s best team came out on top. After struggling in their first seven games, sporting a record of just four and three, the Chicago Blackhawks went on an absolute tear, winning twelve of their next fifteen games, including , at one point, seven in a row, and a sweep of the number one seeded Sharks. Chicago, led by an incredible combination of speed, youth, and experience, came out on top over the Flyers after a very competitive, exciting, goaltending-optional, 6 games.
For anyone who didn’t watch much of the Blackhawks this postseason, you missed out a treat. How can someone not like these guys? Their captain, Jonathan Toews and winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy, recently turned 22 years old, making him the second youngest captain to ever win the Stanley Cup. Then you have Patrick Kane, the 21 year old, who just scored the game-winning goal in overtime. The two young stars are many things, but similar is not really one of them. Toews is the leader of the squad and exhibits maturity, poise, and leadership that far exceed his age. In postgame interviews, he needed to excuse himself so he could find his family. Kane, on the other hand, is more wild and carefree. In his postgame interview, he was told to behave during the approaching festivities, to which Kane replied, “Not a chance!” He also told Barry Melrose that his biggest problem now is finding women. “That shouldn’t be a problem,” replied Melrose, between gasps of laughter.
Then there is the other collection of stars on the team. The toothless wonder Duncan Keith, at a seemingly elderly 26 years of age, is still yet to replace those 7 teeth that he lost earlier in the postseason. Only a hockey player would choose to gum at his food for a few weeks, rather than get some prostatic teeth put in. Could you imagine if Ron Artest got his front teeth wacked out? I don’t care how tough he is supposed to be; his mouth would have undergone rapid reconstruction immediately.
Marian Hossa, the right-winger, was maybe the happiest man of them all. For the third consecutive year, Hossa advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals, very interestingly with three different teams. He lost the first two, so essentially, he needed to win this year to avoid a Buffalo-Bills-like feeling of missed opportunities. He almost gave it away at the start of the second period, when he turned the puck over to Simon Gagne, who ended up on a breakaway. However, Gagne shot in a hurry and no goals were allowed because of Hossa’s mistake.
My favorite Blackhawk, though, has to be Dustin Byfuglien, whose ass I have already kissed in my recent article, “The New NFL Offseason.” I don’t care, I’m going to do it again. Just to recap, Byfuglien is enormous, standing at 6-3 and weighing 250 lbs. The guy used to be a defender, until Chicago realized he’s also fast enough to play the wing. I counted three pucks last night that Byfuglien was able to chase down, utilizing his tremendous closing speed. He had a goal in last night’s game, as well as some crunching hits. Overall, it’s just not fair that one person can get size, strength, and speed. What about the rest of us?
Antti Niemi, the 26-year-old Blackhawk goalie, was relatively inconsistent this postseason. There were six games in which Niemi posted a save percentage of 95% or better. However, only one of those games came in the finals. In the other 5 games, Niemi allowed a combined 21 goals, including some softies last night. Yet, the goaltending situation seems to be heading in the right direction for Chicago, since Niemi started every game this postseason, leading them to the championship.
On top of the guys mentioned above, Chicago is equipped with other talented young players, like defenders Niklas Hjalmarsson (23) and Brent Seabrook (25), and forwards such as Andrew Ladd (24) and Kris Versteeg (24). If Chicago can keep Toews, Kane, Byfuglien, and a core group of all the other guys mentioned in this article, I expect them to cruise to at least 3 more Stanley Cups over the next decade or so. The Blackhawks’ future is the most promising of any team in the NHL and perhaps in all of American Sports.
Say, that’s a great idea. Here is a list of the most up-and-coming teams in each of the four big sports. If the teams have not made the playoffs recently, expect them to make the playoffs within the next 2-3 years. If they already have made the playoffs, look for the teams to compete for championships within the same time frame.
Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadians
Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Memphis Grizzlies
Washington Nationals and Tampa Bay Rays
Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, and Houston Texans
Well, that just about does it for today and for Late Night Thoughts until the middle of August. Thanks to all my readers for the support and the feedback, positive and/or negative. I wrote on Tuesday that if you want to talk sports you should send me an email. That is still the case. Additionally, if you have any thoughts or ideas for future blogs, feel free to post them as comments to this article. Have the best summer of your lives. Between the LeBron sweepstakes, a highly competitive baseball season, and the World Cup, sports certainly have you covered. Keep reading and spreading the word. I’m out!