By Jack M Silverstein
3:15 PM CST, March 6, 2013
With 24 games in the books, the first half of the Blackhawks' 2013 season has been one for the ages. To mark the occasion, RedEye spoke with Blackhawks announcer Eddie Olczyk as well as fans about why they're so excited about this team.
What are the defining characteristics of why this team is so good?
Eddie Olczyk: I would say with this team, regardless of who comes out the door for a shift, forwards, defensemen, you've got two goaltenders, so whichever goaltender is playing—the interchangeable parts of this team is I think what separates them from a lot of teams. That's a great reason why they've been able to be on this historic start of an NHL season.
When you look at the way that they play, as far as a pace, Joel Quenneville likes to use that word a lot—the pace of the game—and they want to play a fast game where the puck isn't on a player's stick for a long period of time. They want to move the puck, move yourself, become an option regardless of what end of the rink that you might be in. It's a team that plays fast and certainly has the ability to be able to score.
Jonathan Cornier, 27, Logan Square, Piece Pizza: Their passing is always real crisp. We're spoiled by that, because a lot of NHL teams don't pass as well as the Hawks. Their goaltending is, for some reason, unbelievable this year, because last year it was horrendous. They just look like they want to win every time they go out there. You have Patrick Kane who went to Europe to play. I think that was a big help as well. It just seems like everybody is dedicated in a different way than the other teams are. They look like they go out there and pretty much the game's done as soon as they step on the ice.
Jordan Burstein, 28, Wicker Park, Wicker Park Tavern: Their skill. Their style of play. Their forecheck and backcheck are exquisite. Their effort is second to none. Everything seems to go their way. Pucks hit the pipe against them, and they get goals for them. Their goaltending has been great. Injuries haven't bothered them.
John Hurst, 32, Bucktown, Lottie's Pub: The Hawks have great chemistry. You can see that they've played together for a while. There seems to be a lot of communication that is just second nature to them. That comes with a team that has already won a Stanley Cup championship. You can tell they're a team that has a lot of heart. They play aggressively. They're not waiting for the puck to come to them. They go after it.
Jewlz Naselius, 31, Bucktown, Lottie's Pub: This is the best team they've had since they won the Stanley Cup. They have a very young, rock solid team. We haven't had players this good since the Stanley Cup team a few years ago. So we're very very lucky this season. Very lucky to have these players. We're going to go far. Kane's way better. 10 times better. He's way more aggressive. He goes for the goal. He takes the puck.
Eric Kalseth, 34, Roscoe Village, Lottie's Pub: I think they take risks that other teams wouldn't take. Simple things like passing the puck, getting into the zone, things like that. I think they do it more frequently and with more flamboyance than other teams do, and it sort of sets the tone, I believe, that they are superior to other teams.
What's your favorite memory of the first half of the season?
OLCZYK: The quick snapshot to me on this season was the overtime pass that Kane made to Hossa in Dallas to win the game. The patience of Kane—everybody waiting and anticipating and assuming he was going to shoot the puck when he had a chance, and he waited and he waited and it seemed like forever, and next thing you know—and he knew what he was doing—but he makes the no-look, behind-the-back pass a-la Jordan to Hossa, and he scores to win the game in overtime.
That to me in the first 23 games is probably the one thing that sticks out the most, because it had everything about this team and how well it's been playing. Your stars have stepped up, they make plays that you need when you're on a roll like this, and to be so creative and spectacular on making that play is what I remember.
CORNIER: The Kane shootout [goal Sunday against Detroit]. That move was just dirty. [Laughs.] So slow, and yet he always comes through. The guy always comes through.
BURSTEIN: Favorite Hawks memory would definitely be the fight against [Raffi Torres], the Coyotes player who knocked out Marian Hossa in the playoffs last year. Great, great redemption. That's the best memory of this season.
HURST: The overtime goal by Seabrook the other day [against Columbus]. Momentum was going against the Hawks the entire way, and he just seized the moment, which is what this team has been all about: clutch goals at the right time by the right player. Maybe not the player you expected, but good, hard work.
NASELIUS: The first goal! The first goal ever scored this season was probably the most rock star moment. And then they scored a second goal almost a minute later, which was another rock star moment. And then the second game where they scored over, and over again, and it just kept happening.
KALSETH: Last game against Detroit. Very late in the third period they were behind and were going to lose their streak, and they found a way to win. And you look back at that and they found a way to win the game before that, and the game before that, and the game before that. These have been very close games against teams that have been gunning for them, and they found a way to win.
If I had a time machine, and I went to June and returned with news that the Hawks did not win the Stanley Cup, what would be your best guess as to why that didn't happen?
OLCZYK: I think the politically correct way to say this would be the lack of execution, but I will say this from experience: the best teams don't always win championships. The team that gets on the best run and gets the most consistent goaltending usually wins the Stanley Cup.
BURSTEIN: Goaltending. Goaltending. Or injuries. One of the two.
HURST: Probably a lack of toughness. The team that won the Stanley Cup had the enforcers. They had the guys who were ready to fight if they needed it. And this team, other than Dan Carcillo, they really don't have the bruisers. They have a lot of really talented skaters, but in playoff hockey, you need somebody to go kick some butt every once in a while.
NASELIUS: Injuries. That's the only best guess I have. Somebody got an injury, tore a kneecap, threw an ACL out, couldn't play the game and they had to sub in for a weaker player. That's the only way I see them losing.
KALSETH: Probably they just ran out of gas. That's my fear. I'm projecting my fear into the future, but my fear at this point is that they are going to run out of gas too soon. So if they do not make the Stanley Cup, I'd say it's probably because of injuries or that they ran out of gas.
CORNIER: Maybe the pressure got to them and they're just burnt out. Right now they're playing well, but who's to say what they're going to do later on? Every team goes through a streak where they're not very good. No matter how good you are, it happens. So honestly, that wouldn't surprise me if you went over there and said they didn't win. I live in Chicago, man. [Laughs.] [Bleep] like that happens all the time.
Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor. Say hey @readjack.
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