Hockey is nearing it’s end and thus, as a nice Canadian girl – I am enthralled. I was going to write about the Rangers/Habs series first, but instead I have chosen not to play favourites and write about teams I know a little less about – The LA Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks. The two teams have a lot in common. Mostly they have similar lineups, with both teams having a strong core of scorers who have been with the team for most, if not all of their careers. The two teams faced off last year in the same series with Chicago going forward to finals.
So let’s start with the underdog….
The Kings are a big, tough team with a few incredible players. They won their first and only Stanley Cup in 2012, with one of the most unlikely seasons the NHL has ever seen. Before that they were largely mediocre, with the exception of their Gretzky years. When they were first conceived, they wore gold and purple (which they call Forum Blue, though it is indeed purple) They still wear these uniforms for special games, but you will most likely recognize them as the white, black and silver team (which they call aluminium).
The Kings have a history of hiring GM’s with personality. Their original GM and team founder was a man by the name of Jack Kent Cooke. He was a huge advocate of hockey in LA. His thinking was that LA had a large Canadian Ex-Pat community, and Canadians love hockey. He built an arena for the team and had nicknames for all of the players like Bill ‘the cowboy’ Flett. He only lasted about 10 years after having trouble filling the stadium. The current GM is a man by the name of Dean Lombardi who took over in 2006 and is a huge part of their recent success. When he came in, he completely changed the line up from what it was. Instead of looking for players who would could create short term solutions (rental players) he invested in players who would stick around. He brought in young and talented franchise players who have grown up together and have given the team a strong, likeable personality.
Let’s start with their scorer.
The first ever Slovenian NHL player is a handsome fellow by the name of Anze Kopitar. Every year the Kings do team awards, and recently Anze won Most Valuable Player, Best Defensive Player, Leading Scorer and Most Popular Player – So he’s sort of a big deal. He also speaks 5 languages and is really very handsome when he’s not dripping sweat and pumped up with testosterone. His father was a professional hockey player as well, but due to the communist regime in Slovenia at the time, he was not able to leave the country to try out for the NHL. They got a chance to work together this year when Slovenia participated in Olympic hockey for the first time. Anze was captain and his father was Head coach, so that was pretty cute.
His partner is crime is the much gruffer team captain, Dustin Brown. Dustin like Anze, plays both offence and defence, something specific to the Kings starters, but their style of play is very different. While Anze is quick and smooth, Dustin is a bulldozer. He is known for being an incredibly aggressive player and is the best in the NHL at drawing penalties. This can mean two things. One, that when he is hit, he makes it look worse than it is so that the other team gets a penalty. The second is that he is very skilled indeed, in provoking the opposing team into doing things that cause penalties. It is hardly the most noble skill but every team needs one I suppose, and whenever I find myself hating Dustin Brown, I remind myself that he has a slight and endearing lisp, is heavily involved in the LA community, has 4 adorable children, and has been with his wife since he was 15 – then I like him again.
The scorers on the team are impressive but the same can certainly be said of Chicago. What sets the Kings apart in the series in Jonathon Quick. You may recognize his name from Sochi where he was Team America’s saving grace. He’s the goalie for the Kings and is really good – even Eddard Stark agrees.
The franchise is very interested in keeping Quick around, and last year he signed a 10 year contract extension. Quick’s one downfall may just be that he is a bit of a bore, he comes off as the perfect boy next door, but any guy that can split like this, just has be interesting. So I’m holding out for his autobiography.
But if you want heart, look no further than Drew Doughty. Doughty got a mini stick for his first birthday, started skating when he was two and played his first hockey game at four. When he was five he wrote to Wayne Gretzky and shortly after received a letter and jersey, which he hung on his wall. Since then, he has been a huge Kings fan.
When Dean Lombardi went to scout him, he was shown Drew’s bedroom, which by that time was filled to the brim with Kings memorabilia including a full bed set and a Kings themed phone. Dean was impressed, and Drew was drafted by the Kings. He has only ever played professional hockey for his absolute favourite team. He is a walking, talking dream fulfilled. Also, he’s named after former Dallas Cowboy Drew Pearson and according to Mike Babcock (Team Canada Head coach), he has ice in his veins. Making him the hockey equivalent of Iceman.
I should mention that nearly all the Kings know Ellen, and a few have made appearances on her show. Oh and watch out for Brad Richardson too. He looks like a backstreet boy.
The Kings coach is a man by the name of Derryl Sutter. He came in midway through the 2012 season and turned the team around, winning them their first ever Stanley Cup. Derryl comes from a big hockey family. He is one of 7 boys and 6 of them, including himself, went on to play in the NHL. When he became the head coach of the Calgary Flames, 4 of his brothers worked for the team in some capacity and it doesn’t stop there. His son is currently team captain of the Charlotte Checkers.
Deryl played his entire career with, none other than the Chicago Blackhawks. He even went on to be their head coach some time later, so there is a curious tension whenever the two teams meet. He is however widely hated by the press. He gives terse, mumbled answers to reporters after a barely veiled look of disgust upon hearing the question they have dared to ask. He has the perfect, vague, old school hockey coach response to nearly every question – something along the lines of – “Let’s let the boys answer that on the ice tomorrow night.”
Yet another wonderful thing about the Kings is their epic kissing cam. Celebrities, sick of all the hot, beautiful, LA sun seem to take turns appearing in the cold arena with their beautiful spouses, and kissing for the kissing cam. Naturally as the home to Hollywood, they also have their fair share of celebrity fans, most notably Matthew Perry who is so close to the team that he attended Anze’s wedding in Slovenia.
And now….The Blackhawks
The Blackhawks are an old and loved team. As a member of the original 6 their team history is richer and deeper than LA’s. My favourite part being one of the greatest sports curses of all time – The curse of Muldoon. After their first season, their team owner Frederic McLaughlin fired head coach, Pete Muldoon. When he did, Muldoon responded with “Fire me…and you’ll never finish first. I’ll put a curse on this team that will hoodoo it until the end of time.” Now years later, Globe and Mail reporter, Jim Coleman admitted to making it all up BUT from 1926-1961 the team did not finish first in the league, despite winning 3 Stanley Cups. So the Hoodoo worked.
Over all, the team has won 5 Stanley cups which sounds like a lot, but they went through a rather sad, mid century slump, not winning a cup for 49 years. Their slump ended in 2010, and then they won again last year, making them the reigning Stanley Cup champions.
It would be remiss when writing about the Blackhawks not to mention that their logo is an incredibly offensive Native American head. The franchise is named in honour of McLaughlin’s Machine Gun Battalion from the 1st world war. Blackhawk was a leader of the Sauk Tribe. He fought with the British in the War of 1812 and led the Blackhawk war in the 1830’s in an attempt to drive the Americans off his land. When he was captured he was taken on a grand tour of America with other war chiefs and is now bizarrely celebrated as an American Treasure. They should definitely get a new logo.
While the Kings had their shake up with Dean Lombardi in 2006, for the Blackhawks everything changed in 2007 when long time owner and most hated man in Chicago, Bill Wirtz died, leaving the team to his son Rocky Wirtz. Bill was a penny pincher. He built an incredible stadium for the team but seemed unwilling to spend money on players. He also refused to allow home games to be broadcast on television. A ploy aimed at creating greater attendance and honouring season ticket holders but it mostly just alienated fans. He once fired a head coach by slipping a pink slip under his door on Christmas eve.
When Rocky took over, the team was losing money. In 2004 ESPN gave the Blackhawks the title of ‘Worst Franchise in Professional Sports’ and his father was included in another article – ‘ The Top Ten Greediest Team Owners’. Rocky made the brave decision to spend much, more money and immediately started changing things. He finally allowed Chicago to televise the games, he brought back the teams longtime broadcaster who had been fired by his father, he reached out to popular players who had been alienated in contract disputes, and had them re-join the team in a variety of roles. He brought in a new coach and most importantly he started spending money on young, talented players. First he drafted Jonathan Toews, then he drafted Patrick Kane.
I spoke a little about Kane and Toews in my Olympic posts but all you really need to know is that they are best friends who were drafted in the same year and ARE the key to the Blackhawks success. They have more youtube fan videos than Noah and Allie in the Notebook. Toews is a nice boy, Kane is a wildcard. Picture Dawson and Pacey. Only Dawson is less sentimental and loves hockey and Pacey is prone to violent outbursts and occasionally sports a mullet. Both of them are very good and Kane is an ever entertaining character. Every time he scores a goal he makes an air heart and then punches it – Shot through the heart….get it? I love it!
Here they are having a dance off
and here they are just being bro’s
Also on the Blackhawk team is Chicago’s sexiest man (according to Victoria’s Secret) Patrick Sharp – or Sharpie as he’s known to fans. He was also on the cover of Chicago Magazine’s ’50 Most Beautiful Chicagoans’ issue. So if you had any doubt in your mind, rest assured, he’s pretty attractive. He also acts as a mentor for the younger players on the team, loves photo bombing, and playing mediocre pranks on his team mates. Video’s of course can be found on Youtube.
The Blackhawk team is filled with great players – Defensive star, Duncan Keith had 7 teeth knocked out in playoff game agains the Flyers. He returned minutes later to help them win the game and advance to the Stanley Cup finals. Both he and team mate Brent Seabrook made cameo appearances on ‘Chicago Fire’ this year.
Their GM is the son of coaching legend Scotty Bowman who serves in as a senior advisor for the team. Stanley Bowman is named after the Stanley Cup that his father won a month before his birth. So hockey seems rather pre-destined for him. The Blackhawk coach is a man named Joel Quenneville, affectionately known as Coach Q. He is the opposite of Deryl Sutter. Where Deryl is tight lipped, coach Q maybe says too much but it all comes out nicely because he has a great moustache. He has his own radio show – sponsored by Hooters!
I’m trying to be fair here but Chicago has a special song that makes me want to two step, has fan Zamboni rides and there is nothing cuter than the Blackhawks ‘Joey the Jr. Reporter’ segment.
So it’s round up time. What have we learned?
Underdog Assessment – The Kings win it here. They are the only team left in the final four who is not an original 6 team. So they are much younger. Also, the Blackhawks won the cup last year after beating them in this very series.
Team character – Here are two videos. They are very similar and have the team answering a very similar question. You decide.
Just kidding – The Blackhawks are sooo much more charming and the obvious charm winners.
City Assessment – I personally come out pretty strong for Chicago in this one. Look at what they did after they won the Cup in 2010. There are three buildings in this photo that lit up for the team. One has the Blackhawk logo, one says ‘Hawks Win’ and third says ‘Go Hawks’.
Fans – I found this excellent quote on a Reddit thread titled ‘What are the Stereotypes regarding all of the NHL teams?’ My wise friend ‘Zanchbot’ said that ‘every Kings fan is either a bandwagoner or a celebrity who thought they were attending a Lakers game.’ I don’t know how true this is but it sounds right.
Chicago fans are are notorious for their support in nearly every sport, and in hockey, it is no different. Since Rocky Wirtz took over they went from having the second worst attendance in the league to the best attendance in the league three years in a row. Chicagoans are fierce about their sports.
So who’s got heart? In my opinion it’s the Blackhawks. I tried so hard to root for LA and the Hawks absolutely do not need another Stanley Cup, but I’m just so darn charmed. They seem to be having such a good time so… Let their fall from grace happen some other year, this year, I hope they Hoodoo those LA Kings.