Monday, June 10, 2013

OK, I'm going to get nostalgic about Chicago for a minute

As I think I've made it abundantly clear over the years to those who don't know me, I am, first and foremost when it comes to hockey, a New Jersey Devils fan. I have written about them at length, been to more than my fair share of games, felt triumph and tragedy on behalf of their exploits and gotten extremely scruffy for their sake. Unfortunately, given the Devils' less than stellar performance this season, I had the opportunity to do none of that once the regular season was over, but such is my life sometimes.

The Devils are always going to be first in my heart, but for those who know me and my professional history -- or really anything I've written on this blog -- it should not be a surprise that I have a soft spot in my heart for the Chicago Blackhawks. And lucky me, unlike the New Jersey Devils this season, the Blackhawks actually did pretty well. Historically well, actually. And after looking like the best team in the NHL for most of the season, with the League's 30 teams boiled down to two the Blackhawks are one of those left standing, thanks in large part to a not-so-bad performance by Patrick Kane in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final Saturday night.

Their reward is a date with the Boston Bruins in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, a matchup of two teams that are simply rolling heading into the championship series and might just be the two most complete teams to face off for the Cup in quite some time. Of course to get on that kind of a roll teams have to have some impetus to spark the momentum. In the Blackhawks' case that came in a rally against Detroit after trailing three games to one in the second round, culminating in Brent Seabrook's overtime winner in Game 7.

In the Bruins' case, that impetus came from a stunning rally from three goals down in Game 7 of the opening round against Toronto, including a mind-boggling two goals to tie the game in the final 90 seconds before winning in overtime. Since that monster of a rally the Bruins have looked nigh unbeatable, including an absolutely stupifying domination in the Eastern Conference Final of the Pittsburgh Penguins, whom most of the world had preordained as the East's likely Cup Final representative due to their staggering offensive talent.


In fact, the Bruins have looked so good, that many are pegging them as the likely team to party with Lord Stanley in 4-7 games, and given how fluidly the team rolls four lines and holds down opponents with its gritty style, it's kind of hard to see how they wouldn't. But the Blackhawks are also one of the deepest teams to reach the Stanley Cup Final in years, and where they can't match the Bruins for grit -- though players like Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland provide some of that -- they can bring to the table an equally as competent and deep group of defensemen and a ton of potent offensive weapons.

So, basically, what you hear from most people in the hockey media is that when the Stanley Cup Final begins in Chicago on Wednesday night, we all know that... someone is going to win the Stanley Cup. And that's about it. The two teams are both so good, so deep, so evenly matched and carrying such momentum, that it's really difficult to see who has the edge and who is likely to win the whole thing. Were I just a casual fan looking for a good series, I would be pretty ecstatic at the matchup of two talented, tradition-rich franchises with a combined 176 years of history between them.

Oh, but I am not a casual fan this week.

These are not two teams with which I have a casual following or two teams I will watch simply because I love hockey and adore the pageantry of the best trophy in sports. Sure, this isn't like watching the Devils' run to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, but this is not Edmonton and Carolina facing off or Anaheim and Ottawa either. This is a team I once worked for in the city I called home for four years. The Blackhawks will never be my No. 1, but given the personal connections there is a reasonable argument that they should be. And regardless of whether or not they are, with the Devils out of the mix the Blackhawks are who my allegiance will fall with and I have more than one jersey to prove it.

So you'll have to excuse me if I spend the next two weeks getting wistful for jogs along Lake Michigan, cholesterol-rich slices of Giordano's pizza or my old, slow rush hour commute along Wacker and Lake Shore when I was a wee web intern for the Chicago Blackhawks. It's hard not to think about walking around the bowels of the United Center every time the Blackhawks play Chelsea Dagger over the loudspeakers.

With any luck, they'll be playing it more often than not for the next two weeks.

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