The quest for the gold in men’s hockey has begun in Sochi, with ten of our beloved Chicago Blackhawks skating in the Olympics for their respective homelands (Team USA: Patrick Kane; Team Slovakia: Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus; Team Sweden: Marcus Kruger, Johnny Oduya, and Niklas Hjalmarsson; Team Canada: Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith; Team Czech Republic: Michal Rozsival) and as an avid Hawks fans with high aspirations for our boys in red, white, and black, I for one am biting my nails when I’m not wringing my hands in apprehension.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud so many Blackhawks made their respective Olympic teams; it is certainly quite an honor for any hockey player to achieve. Also as a former player and fan of hockey, I greatly enjoy cheering on my native U.S. of A team in hockey more than any other winter games event, but this time around there’s more at stake for our Blackhawks at the Olympics.
We all know the Olympics are familiar territory for most of the Hawks players that made the trip to Sochi (Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews all played for their respective countries in the 2010 Olympics). However, in 2010 in Vancouver, the Blackhawk Olympians were doughboys (World War I reference); the Stanley Cup drought was still parching Chicago and it had yet to be proven that the Hawks were a championship caliber team. However in 2014 in Sochi, things are different.
In 2014 the Blackhawks have two Stanley Cups under their belt in the past four years, the most recent having been raised just last season. This puts the Hawks on the doorstep of the opportunity to achieve something that hasn’t been accomplished in the NHL since the late nineties: back-to-back Stanley Cup wins. So far this season, the Blackhawks are looking primed to seize the opportunity, and you’d think mixing it up in the Olympics would only add to their character, but it’s also going to add some miles on each player’s respective odometers, and that’s a cause for concern.
The concern is the fact that practically the entire defensive core of the Blackhawks is skating in Sochi, which once again, is an honor, but puts a very essential component of the Hawks in jeopardy. In case you forgot, the Olympic hockey tournament is no walk in the park; players are out for glory and are willing to give blood, which in hockey obviously comes with the territory, but considering (with the exception of Hjalmarsson) all the Hawks defensemen Olympians are over thirty, their ability to recuperate quickly isn’t exactly what their known for at this point in their careers. This wouldn’t be so bad if the Hawks didn’t have such a brutal March ahead of them full of multiple match-ups against formidable opponents such as the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, and Pittsburgh Penguins, to name a few. Needless to say, the Hawks are going to need to stay in top form to maintain a top seed going into the playoffs.
However there is a silver lining amongst all my Olympic concerns. The one Blackhawk I feel will truly benefit from his Olympic experience is Nick Hjalmarsson. Hjalmarsson is a great defenseman, but his hockey IQ can leave a bit to be desired at times. Sweden is favored to make a deep run at the Olympics, so here’s hoping the experience broadens Hammer’s perspective. Also, not to wish ill will and bad karma, but if aging under achiever Michal Handzus burns himself out in Sochi, it would be more a blessing in disguise than a loss.
To sum it up, I wish all our respective Blackhawk Olympians the very best in bringing home the gold and doing Chi-town proud, but I’m wishing more that they come back home in one piece, because a shot at an Olympic gold medal may only come once every four years, but a shot at back-to-back Stanley Cup victories comes once in a lifetime.
FOR THE DAGGER AND FOR THE GOLD!