Last we talked Hawks 101, the team had missed the playoffs nine of the previous 10 years.
Things aren't so dire anymore.
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The Chicago Blackhawks are in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since being swept by Pittsburgh in 1992 (enough about that), and if they can beat the feisty Philadelphia Flyers they will win their first Stanley Cup in my lifetime. And I just turned 48.
The 49-year-drought, the longest in the NHL, has resulted in nearly Cubs-like suffering. But the Hawks have come close before, losing five times in the finals since beating Detroit in six games to sip from the Cup in 1961.
As a testament to the crowded nature of the Hawks Bandwagon these days, tickets for center ice glass seats for tonight's game were selling on StubHub earlier this week for $8,000 apiece. The crummiest nosebleed seats in the corner of the United Center were still in the range of $500 to $900.
If you decide to forgo trying to buy tickets to this championship series, why not drop $1,300 on a 73-inch HD television from Costco (along with enough snacks and drinks for an army) and enjoy the game from the comfort of your man cave?
A couple of years ago in order to better position myself in conversation with my hockey-loving friends, I started doing research. More recently I started going to rat hockey games at the Leafs Ice Centre in West Dundee at hours during which I'm usually snoring.
I have watched every playoff game I could thus far, most with my former semipro hockey player pal, Pete. I pepper him mercilessly with questions about rules, penalties and strategies.
I have pushed baseball out of my brain - I mean, it was only taking up valuable space there - to make room for hockey.
A year ago I wrote a primer on Hawks hockey for the unindoctrinated before the team tapped out in the third round of the playoffs. And I've included some new things I've learned since.
Welcome to my Hawks For Dummies v2.0.
Stanley Cup: The Holy Grail of hockey. It's a gigantic, barrel-shaped silver trophy with the names of all the NHL championship winners inscribed on it. And you don't get to keep it for more than a year, unless you win back-to-back championships. It's one of only two traveling trophies in pro sports. The last time the Hawks got to hoist the Cup was in 1961. It's been in Chicago since, but it was the '92 Penguins who hoisted it after taking Game 4 in Chicago Stadium. A dark day, indeed.
Sweater: Baseball, football and basketball players wear jerseys. Hockey players wear "sweaters." At least that's how the traditionalists play it. The genesis of that was that because it's cold on the rink they used to wear uniforms made of woven sweater fabric.
Periods: Don't be an idiot and call them quarters. Why? Because there are only three.
Spectator nets: Duncan Keith raised the bar in the final game of the Western Conference finals for manning up. Who believed they'd see him return so quickly after losing half his Chiclets from eating that puck? But there he was, all bloody and thputtering to finish the game - one more reason to make him defenseman of the year. No 15 days on the DL for a blister on your thumb for hockey players. OK, my point? You won't have to worry about suffering the same fate, since spectator netting was put up around the goals in all NHL rinks in recent years to prevent any more spectators from being killed.
Penalty box: Ever been to a confessional when you'd rather be out playing with your friends? Same idea; less conversation.
High-sticking: Raising your stick or doing a Kirk Gibson arm-pump is de rigueur when you're celebrating a goal. But you can't whack someone with your stick above shoulder height without visiting the penalty box.
Slashing: If you whack someone below the shoulder.
Power play: When someone on the opposing team has a player in the penalty box, and you have the advantage of another player on the ice. Note: This would be an opportune time to score a goal. And, as the Hawks learned in their last playoff game against San Jose, it's embarrassing when the other guys score on you when they are short-handed.
Penalty killing: When you have a player in the penalty box and you're able to keep the puck out of your net when the other team has more men on the ice.
Faceoff: Picture a jump ball in the NBA. Now look down.
Icing: This is not what the Zamboni does (read more about the Zamboni later). Icing occurs when a team, while at even strength, shoots the puck from its half of the ice to the opposite end of the rink and it crosses the end line, and the defensive team touches the puck first. It results in a faceoff near your goal.
Zamboni: That giant street sweeper-looking machine that scrapes the snow off the ice and lays down a thin film of water that quickly freezes over, making the ice pretty again.
Checking: This isn't touch football, people. The fun part about hockey is that you can cream someone. The Hawks are proficient at that. Just watch Dustin Byfuglien apply his big body to someone on the boards and try not to think of a tube of toothpaste under a truck tire. You can hit someone in possession of the puck or a guy who just got rid of it. Just don't launch yourself at someone like a torpedo from across the rink. That is charging, and you'll have to sit a spell for that.
The trapezoid: OK, think back to high school geometry. It's that area behind the goal marked by red lines. It's the only area behind the goal where the goalie can make a play.
Conversational French and Russian is helpful in figuring out hockey names, even if hockey players are not traditionally conversationalists.
Some hockey names are easy to pronounce: Hull, Orr, even Mikita.
Some are not, and these can only be described as contractions because there clearly are missing syllables:
• Jonathan Toews (Taves)
• Niklas Hjalmarsson (those Swedes and their silent H's.)
• Dustin Byfuglien (don't waste your time trying to sound it out. It's simply BUFF-lin or Big Buff)
You'll need to know how to pronounce these names if you want to make it through the finals game without swallowing your tongue or otherwise making a fool of yourself.
Fighting: A hockey game without fighting is like a demolition derby with turn signals. See hockeyfights.com if you don't believe me. What's funny to watch is when one guy pulls the other guy's jersey, er, sweater over his head to make him swing blindly. Just like on the schoolyard when you were a kid. But the experts remind me that if you're only starting to watch now, you can pretty much forget about the fights, because they rarely occur in playoff games.
The lyrics: Learn the words to "Here Come the Hawks." And learn them well. Few can get beyond the first line. Only the crazies can sing the second verse. Here's how it starts:
"Here come the Hawks, the mighty Blackhawks!
"Take the attack, yeah, and we'll back you, Blackhawks!
"We're flyin' high now so let's wrap it up!
"Let's go you Hawks, move off!"
Bobby Hull: The Golden Jet played 15 seasons for the Hawks starting in the late '50s and was one of the top scorers in the league with his monster slap shot. He was one of the guys on the '61 championship team and has become a fixture again at the Madhouse on Madison.
Stan Mikita: A fan favorite who was more than just a talking head in "Wayne's World." The Hall of Fame forward played 22 seasons, retiring in 1980. Held the record for points in consecutive playoff games until Jonathan Toews overtook him in the final game against San Jose.
Tony Esposito: The Hall of Fame goalie and 1968 rookie of the year was one of the first guys to splay his body across the ice to keep the puck out of the net. And he kept a lot of pucks out that way. Let's hope Antti Niemi - a rookie of the year in his own right - can keep up the tradition during this best of seven series.