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Never enough

05/02/2016, 5:15pm CDT
By Dan Bauer

Sometimes, expectations are not realistic

If your organization operates on the succinct maxim of “One Goal” there is no room for error or coming up short.  At the seasons start it appeared the Chicago Blackhawks had a more than legitimate chance to achieve the goal and be the first team since the 1998 Red Wings to hoist back-to-back cups. 

When St. Louis Blues eliminated public enemy number one in a first round game seven many thought worthy of a June encounter it immediately sent a hurricane of disappointment through the Windy City.  Over the past six seasons the Blackhawks have danced admirably with the dynasty label and played more hockey than any other team in capturing three Stanley Cups.

Trailing by a goal late in the third period, the Hawks Brett Seabrook, author of many clutch playoff goals, ping-ponged his slap shot between the two and three/eighths inch steel pipes and as the puck squirmed along the goal line, but not across, the Hawks gas tank finally reached empty.  The physical, emotional and financial drain of defending the Cup had taken its toll.  The 400th game in a span of four seasons proved to be the tipping point for the boys in the Indianhead sweaters. 

In an era designed to prevent dynasties, the Blackhawks most dangerous opponent has been the salary cap.   Troy Brouwer, a former cap casualty, was another painful reminder of the attrition of deported players that has rendered Chicago beatable.   The ex-Hawk delivered the Chelsea Dagger that pierced the hearts of Blackhawks fans and gave the players a chance to reacquaint themselves with spring.

The Chicago media didn’t wait for the cheering at Scottrade Center to die before labeling the champs as chokers and proclaiming the season a failure.  Fans blasted general manager Stan Bowman, but stopped short of calling for the firing head coach Joel Quenneville and his 919 career wins.  When you drink Kool-Aid from the Stanley Cup long enough you start to believe that your organization, talent and puck luck is so superior to everyone else’s that you think winning the Stanley Cup will be as simple as lacing up your skates.

Lord Stanley would chuckle at such an arrogant attitude.  

These predictable reactions come from observers who have not stepped in front of crippling slap shots, taken a bone crushing check from a charging forechecker or sacrificed a few teeth to an errant high stick.  Neither do they know the weight of lifting the Stanley Cup, nor the burden of carrying that cross through the course of a grueling eight month season.  When Gary Bettman hands off the Cup in June it is light as a feather, by seasons end the weight of getting everyone’s best game is exhausting. 

Heavy the head that wears the crown.   “The grind had something to do with it” (early exit), offered head coach Joel Quenneville.

Contrary to the mindset of the average fan, who believes outcomes are based on lucky hats and fantasy ratings, the reality is getting all of the “stars” physically and figuratively to line up for a championship is quite literally an astronomical feat.  “We all know how difficult it is to win a championship—and how fortunate you are when you do win,” said Quenneville, who could be considered a modern day expert on the subject.

Falling short of the one goal is a risk every team takes in October.  Only one team escapes its deadly grasp. 

Fans and media, all possessing the mental capacity of reason, always want more—championships.  Anything less has been deemed unacceptable—regardless of the circumstances. 

Two hundred miles north in Green Bay another franchise with a championship pedigree agonizes over the lack of Super Bowl rings on the fingers of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.  General Manager Ted Thompson takes most of the heat in Titletown, but in Chicago the faithful quickly turned on Captain Jonathan Toews for a goal-less series.

Three championships in six years still aren’t enough, not even for Toews, perhaps the most respected player in the NHL.  When your salary is the second highest in the league your effort, character and leadership take a back seat to your goal production.    A fans ticket price doesn’t just buy a seat anymore it decrees them to an unrealistic set of expectations and a what have you done for me lately attitude.

It seems that as the greedy Americans we are portrayed as, we do indeed always want more.  I fear a string of three or four championships would leave fans disappointed in the margin of victory.  It is the same cancerous attitude that is growing in amateur sports.  In a medium that is dependent on the process, we have become totally fixated on the end result. 

When excellence is on display for us to enjoy we choose instead to view anything but a championship as a failure.  As the legendary Dean Smith once said, “If you make winning a life and death proposition, you’re going to have problems.  For one thing you will be dead a lot.”

Branding the Hawks season that included 47 wins and the 5th best record in the league, Patrick Kane becoming the first American born player to ever lead the league in scoring, a franchise record twelve game winning streak and a head coach reaching the 800 win milestone—a failure, seems a bit unfair.  Equally absurd is the assumption that in a claustrophobically close seven game series the team with the patented killer instinct “choked.”  Both accusations consider nothing but the end result.

As Bill Murray put it, “How about a little something, you know, for the effort?”

When we lose sight of the overall effort put forth we have truly lost our perspective on what really matters.

We sadly become reminiscent of the spoiled children screaming in the toy aisle at Wal-Mart because they didn’t get what they wanted—another championship.

Blackhawks general manager and resident salary cup Houdini, Stan Bowman, made his appreciation clear,

“I certainly can’t fault our effort.” 

Believing any professional team can repeatedly win championships is a complete failure to grasp the reality of the degree of difficulty of that task.   Hawks fans and maybe a few Chi-town sportswriters should appreciate this run they are on instead of condemning it when it falls short.  Like the Packers both organizations are not that far removed from a time when they respectively occupied the very bottom rung of the league ladder.

Appreciation—there is never enough.

Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI.  You can contact him at dbauer@wausauschools.org.

May 2016

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