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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team “It’s exciting in Chicago, it’s the first time in a long time that people are expecting a good season out of the Hawks, and that’s a good thing. I feel like we could be a better team than we were last year but we know it’s not going to easy,” said Patrick Sharp, one of the Hawks’ top scorers during 2009-10 training camp.

Expectations are indeed high for a team deemed by many the Western Conference favorite. It began this past weekend in Finland, in a two game split with the Florida Panthers, and debuted in North America with a loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night. Despite the inevitable ups and downs of a roller coaster off-season, the Hawks are trendy like Taylor Swift when it comes to picking a Cup participant.blackhawksshow

“They’re warranted, we have some good hockey players here. Going all the way to game five against Detroit opened some eyes and there’s expectations,” said the newly acquired John Madden. There is one Blackhawk who will be under the spotlight more than any other. If Left Wing Patrick Kane is looking for a song to encapsulate his upcoming season, perhaps its 2pac’s “All Eyes on Me.” No player in the Olympics or the NHL will have the spotlight shined as bright upon him this winter. “Kaner” is the face of the franchise, EA Sports NHL ’10 video game, and when February comes, Team USA hockey.

And when the Hawks take to the road, opposing fans will heckle him, worse than Hawks fans heckle any member of the Red Wings. Of course, on the other hand, a lot of people in this country have very short term memories, so if we see a couple “Hatrick Kane” nights early in the season, pretty much everyone will forget what happened in Buffalo on August 9th.

For a more in-depth preview of the forwards click here, goaltending and defensemen go here. For more with Patrick Kane, follow this link.

The Blackhawks open their home slate versus Colorado tonight at 7:30. There will be a special red carpet event on Madison Street from 5:00 to 5:30 P.M. Players will arrive via limousine on Madison Street in front of Gate 3 and will each be introduced before walking down a red carpet and into the United Center. Blackhawks Radio Play-By-Play Announcer John Wiedeman will serve as the master of ceremonies for the event, which attracted thousands of fans last season.  It’s free and open to the public and also features appearances by Blackhawks alumni, executives, broadcasters, Tommy Hawk, the team’s mascot, and the Bud Light Ice Crew.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ sports-writing at:

-the site he founded The Sports Bank.net

-NBA analysis at Walter Football.com

-”Patrick Kane Chronicles” at Buffalo Sports Daily

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team During the Bill Wirtz era, it was not uncommon for the Chicago Blackhawks to draw less than 5,000 fans for a game. Earlier this decade, they finished dead last in the NHL in attendance. This season however, the Blackhawks set a National Hockey League club record by attracting an average of 21,783 to their 40 home dates at United Center (also, 40,818 filled Wrigley Field for the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day). It’s fashionable now to be “committed to the Indian.” Supporting the Blackhawks is the new black. On Monday night the Hawks, for the first time in franchise history, welcomed their one millionth fan in a single season (including playoffs) and they did it in style defeating the Vancouver Canucks 7-5 in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals.

Face of the franchise Patrick Kane (or should I say “Hat trick Kane”) commented on the fanbase. “They’ve been there for us all year, whether it’s the show we’re putting on, they just keep coming back. We put on a good performance on for them. They say Bruce Springsteen’s up next tomorrow, so they say he’ll have trouble putting on the same show we did (chuckles), so it should be pretty fun and we look forward to the next series,” the star winger said. Chicago advances to their first Conference Final since 1995 where they’ll face the winner of Detroit/Anaheim.blackhawksshowEarlier this season, Chicago established a single-season attendance record, hosting 871, 337. The previous high set in 935, 971. GM Dale Tallon spoke about the journey. “It’s been a long time coming for these fans and they’ve been supportive and to do it here in this packed house rocking like this is quite special, so I’m very happy for our players and fans,” Tallon said.
The Blackhawks led the league in attendance and merchandise sales. They have one of the most recognized logos in all of sports. In the 90s, we saw Clark W. Griswold from the National Lampoon’s Vacation movies sporting the Hawks jersey, so did Wayne and Garth from “Wayne’s World.” Now it seems like everyone is, and with the Bulls eliminated from the postseason, both baseball teams struggling through mediocre injury-filled starts to the season and months until the Bears commence, don’t expect this bandwagon to lose any momentum.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times, Walter Football.com and The Sports Bank

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team

It’s been a long time coming, but we’re finally going to see some postseason hockey action on Chicago’s West side, so now it’s time to look ahead.

Of course, the most boring and mind-numbing cliche in all of sports is “we don’t look ahead, we’re taking them one game at a time,” but we’re not athletes here. Both fans and us media types love to look down the road.

Click here to read the rest of this post on nbcchicago.com.

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team Last week the Chicago Blackhawks lost and later regained the Western Conference’s fourth seed and with it the final home ice advantage for the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. They’re currently two points ahead of the fifth place Vancouver Canucks – who come to town Sunday for a slightly important regular season game- and five points ahead of the 6th place Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Hawks are helped immensely by the return of pure scorer Patrick Sharp. Number ten looked as sharp as hispatrick_sharp namesake during his first game back Sunday. Sharp had 2 goals and an assist in a 4-1 victory over Los Angeles. It was also nice for the United Center crowd to hear ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” played in celebration of goals again. Especially since we’re getting sick of the usual goal-scoring song- that annoying tune – Amstel light commercials. Chicago is 38-22-11 on the season, but went just 6-7-3 without Sharpie. “You add a player like that to our lineup, you have 3 lines that can all produce and are dangerous. So it’s a really nice addition,” Coach Joel Quenneville said.

The Hawks are just three points behind third place Calgary, but do not hold a realistic chance of obtaining third place, because the top three slots are reserved for division champions and the Hawks have no chance at catching the Central leading Detroit Red Wings. Seven of Chicago’s final 11 are at home, where the Hawks are 19-7-7. If Vancouver is to catch them, they’ll have to do it away from Canada with 7 of their final 11 on the road. And don’t forget about that youngster franchise in Columbus. The Blue Jackets have already set a franchise record for points in a season and are getting hot at the right time. During this final stretch, Chicago will try to get the same type of separation from the muddled middle that San Jose and Detroit currently possess.

“Being in the middle of this pack again, it certainly gets your attention. I think everyone has some stretches; during the course of the year we had some bumps. I think March was extended and I think we can learn something from it. Maybe we let off the gas pedal a little bit, and we know now: that can’t happen,” Quenneville stated on Sunday. Maintaining a position with home ice is crucial, because as star defenseman Duncan Keith recently told me, “We feed off that. When there’s 22, 21 thousand people cheering for you, it helps.”

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times and The Sports Bank

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team
The Winter Classic may have received all the hype, but few regular season games will have more importance than Wednesday night when the Blackhawks welcome the NHL points leading San Jose Sharks to the United Center.

“It’ll be a good test, a huge game we gotta be up and ready for,” Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said.

On Sunday the Hawks (38-22-11, 87 pts) broke their five game winless streak.

Read the rest of this post on nbcchicago.com.

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team

When the Chicago Blackhawks named 20 year old center Jonathan Toews their team captain last off-season, he became the youngest guy in the NHL (third youngest in league history) to wear the capital “C” on his jersey. With this honor came the responsibility of taking accountability to the media grilling after games, including the tough losses when no players feel like talking. Toews has a captaincy style similar to White Sox leader Paul Konerko: serious, soft-spoken and always ready to analyze and discuss the state of his team. When the Hawks encountered their last rough patch, Toews spoke candidly about it:

“We know there’s going to be tough stretches during the schedule. At the end of the day there’s always going to be little things nagging at you: injuries, fatigue whatever it is, but those excuses don’t matter. Everyone knows we’re a young team, but we showed what kind of a team we are in December and we want to keep going down that path and getting better,” Toews said following a recent disappointing home loss to St. Louis. toews-blackhawks-392

Recently Toews has talked a lot with his game. With 6 points in the last 5 games (including the Hawks’ only hat trick this season on February 27th) Toews is getting hot down the stretch. With star forward Patrick Sharp away from the ice on injured reserve, Toews is now the leading goal scorer on the Western Conference’s fourth seeded team. In just his second season, the 3rd overall pick of the 2006 NHL draft is far from the most tenured player on the team. However, it’s Toews, not one of the older veterans in the Hawks locker room, who puts the ups-and-downs of the 80 game grind in perspective.

“It’s a long season, we’re not going to make excuses, even the best teams have their rough spots, we just got to learn to battle through and not accept that. We got enough character and will in this room to be a successful team and the success we had early on- we know that’s not good enough. We’re not satisfied,” Toews said describing the big picture.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times and The Sports Bank

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team

When Denis Savard was fired from his position as head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks just four games into this season, many people criticized the decision.
Most were uber-critical about the timing. Savard was a sentimental fan favorite, despite a 1-2-1 record on the young season.

Today however, the decision to insert Joel Quenneville in place of “Savvy” looks quite astute. With Coach Q. in place the team has seen its on-ice record (28-12-7 since the Indian committed to Quenneville) improve as much as the team’s Q Rating.

Click here to read the rest of this post on nbcchicago.com.

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank Chicago Blackhawks top scorer Patrick Kane headed to the locker room with a knee injury during the first period of Tuesday night’s loss to the Detroit Red Wings, but returned to action in the second. January 1, the Blackhawks’ franchise (and perfectly healthy) player will, along with his teammates, host the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field, in NHL Winter Classic 2009. (noon on NBC)

 Earlier this week, “Kaner” answered questions about the outdoor battle with the Wings on conference call. winterclassiclogo

“This year it seems to be really high-scoring and real close games. Both games have gone to a shootout, one was 6-5, another 5-4. That’s what the fans want to see. They want to see a lot of goals and a lot of up-tempo, a lot of skill in the game and two fast teams…Every game against the Red Wings is important, especially when we are trying to chase them right now,” he said regarding the team’s bitter rival.

Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell, who played in the ’08 Winter Classic gave Kaner some advice about playing in the game. “I think it’s probably going to be a little frustrating out there. The ice is going to be a little different. They are going to have to fix it up a little bit more than you do in a regular game. The game is going to be longer. Sometimes you get cold out there and you’ve got to deal with that too,” Kane said.

Kane will unveil and use personally-designed skates and stick during the Winter Classic. Only 88 skates and 88 sticks were created for this special event and Kane, the only player wearing them, will personally sign and auction off a portion of the limited edition product to raise money for breast Cancer research.

“The skates and stick are the colors of the Blackhawks and should go well with the uniform, but at the same time, it’s a little bit of showtime,” Kane said. “Hopefully when I step out onto the ice, people will say ‘Oh wow, look at the skates Kane’s wearing.’ You know the old saying, ‘Look good, feel good, play good’” Kane said before adding, “It’s really exciting to look at a skate and design it to exactly how you want it to be made. To be able to give back to the community makes the whole experience even more special.”

For more Chicago Sports Analysis and discussion.

For my Washington Times.com blog “Chicago Blue State.”

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank 

Usually when prominent government and business leaders descend upon Wrigley Field to discuss a game being played there, the temperature’s more likely to be near 90 than zero. However, the second annual NHL Winter Classic is no ordinary game; neither are the bread and circuses surrounding it. Mayor Richard Daley, joined by Blackhawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz, Blackhawks President John McDonough, and Cubs Chairman Crane Kenney came to Wrigley Monday for a special press event in advance of the much-anticipated outdoor regular-season game between the Hawks and their bitter rival, the Detroit Red Wings, on New Year’s Day. daleyhawksjeryse

On a day with the temperature and wind-chill more suited for the Yukon Territories than Chicago, Daley and the execs toured the current field’s infrastructure, led by the NHL’s Don Renzulli (Senior Vice President of Events), and Dan Craig (Facilities Operations Manager). This is the team transforming Wrigley Field, one of baseball’s cathedrals, into a hockey experience.

Following the tour, a fedora-clad Daley and the executives talked about the event in a nice WARM Wrigley Field press room. After the speeches, Rocky presented Hizzoner with a special Winter Classic jersey with “Daley 09″ stitched on the back.

“As the first hockey game to be played at Wrigley Field, this game is already part of Chicago sports history,” Daley said.

The Hawks are both the NHL’s hottest team with seven straight wins and the current leader in home attendance. They will play the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings for a record 701st time. No other NHL series can boast of as many meetings as this one. In the NFL, the record is held by the hometown Bears and Green Bay Packers. Wirtz appropriately drew an analogy between the two rivalries when describing the upcoming Winter Classic’s atmosphere.

“I also want to thank all those Chicago Bears fans who are going to be out watching the Bears beat Green Bay today, because that’s going to be much like the Chicago Blackhawks fans who are going to be following the Blackhawks on a day like today,” Wirtz said.

For more Chicago Sports Analysis and discussion.

For my Washington Times.com blog “Chicago Blue State.”

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank 
The Chicago Blackhawks currently possess the second best scoring offense in the NHL, and their 8th overall rank (4th on the road) in power play percentage is a big reason why.

Last year, when the Hawks missed the playoffs, they ranked just 24th in the league in power play conversion percentage. Currently, Chicago has the third best record in the Western Conference on the heels of their four game winning streak.

Click here to read the rest of this article on nbcchicago.com.

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank After their annual circus road trip started well and ended poorly, the Chicago Blackhawks returned home from their long 3-2-1 road trip to find themselves down by a goal late in the third period to the Anaheim Ducks, one of the top four teams in the Western conference. Since fellow goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin went down with an injury, big money free agent signee Cristobal Huet was winless and brandishing a mediocre goals against average. After shutting out the Ducks in the first period and making two breathtaking stops that aroused the United Center crowd in the second, Huet found himself the recipient of harsh booing in the final period as most of the 21,574 at the UC verbally expressed their disgust. This time however, Huet showed why he commanded the big bucks and raised his game up while his teammates came together on offense.

Jonathan Toews, with a game leading two points, scored the game winner assisted by (just added to the first line) Dustin Byfuglien and prominent rookie Kris Versteeg with about a minute and a half left restoring the roar of the UC crowd. This point was accentuated later when fans erupted for Dave Bollland’s empty netter making the final result 4-2. “In the first we came out strong and then in the second we struggled a little bit, but we battled hard and in the end it paid off,” Huet said.blackhawks

It was more than just your garden variety comeback for the Blackhawks; this victory was especially emotional. At this first home game following a long road trip, the team had two pre-game ceremonies; each offered a polarity of feeling to the die-hard Hawks fan. The team honored two-time All Star and 1983 Rookie of the Year Steve Larmer, who is also the third leading goal scorer in franchise history. This joyous tribute was followed immediately by a sorrowful homage to Pit Martin, the former Hawks forward who passed away this week. Martin played 11 years with the team and is 7th on the franchise list in career points.

Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville talked about the magnitude of defeating Anaheim for both his goaltender Cristobal Huet and the team at large. “They’re a good team, 7-1-1 their record in the last nine road games is pretty impressive, so we should move forward from this one and be excited about next game. A big team win, a big win for Huet and I’m sure it will help his confidence as well. Huet deserves a W and I’m sure he’ll feel better going forward too,” Quenneville said.

For more Chicago Sports Analysis and discussion.

For my Washington Times.com blog “Chicago Blue State.”

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank Jonathan Toews (pronounced “tay-ves”) was named Blackhawks team captain this past summer, therefore becoming the youngest player in the NHL to currently serve in that capacity and the third youngest player in NHL history to receive that honor. Last season he finished third in Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) voting while teammate Patrick Kane won the award. Toews however, led all NHL rookies in goals. He was second on the Hawks in that category and third on the team in assists.

I spoke with Toews just after a three-star performance that included an assist and a game-winning goal over the powerful Anaheim Ducks. The 4-2 win resulted from a furious comeback in which the Hawks found themselves down 2-1 late in the third period. “I think there’s a lot of games where we’re down in the third, especially thinking back to the game in Toronto where we came back and games like that give you confidence and we knew we could win this game all along with whatever it takes; going to overtime if necessary,” Jonathan said.toews_300

Toews later commented on the superb play of surprising rookie Kris Versteeg, the team’s third leading scorer. “He’s been incredible. Some guys come of the gate hard as a rookie and play their best hockey right away and it then it kind of dies out, but that hasn’t been the case for him. Every single night he’s doing something and he’s proved he belongs at the top with the skill players in the scheme,” Toews proclaimed.

The Blackhawks started their annual circus trip successfully, before going cold and dropping the last three. Toews talked about how big the home win was as they head into a huge road game against their acrimonious rival and division leader, the Detroit Red Wings. “We definitely would have had a sinking feeling if we came up on the short side, didn’t want to lose four in a row. We told ourselves in this locker room that great teams, those that hang in there and make the playoffs at the end of the year can manage those little slides and little tough streaks, so I think we did a good job of battling back,” he said.

For more Chicago Sports Analysis and discussion.

For my Washington Times.com blog “Chicago Blue State.”

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Marcus Riley, NBC5 Street Team (video)

Nobody would deny that the Chicago Blackhawks are on a roll. After years of mediocrity and irrelevancy, the organization is making all the right moves — hiring former Cubs marketing genius John McDonough, holding the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field on New Year’s Day, putting the games back on TV and drafting new young stars or paying for proven veterans.

But when I eagerly looked at the season schedule this morning, I was disappointed to see that two of the most important teams in NHL history — the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens — will not be coming to the United Center this year. The NHL has more history than any other professional league, and started with what’s know as the Original Six — Chicago, Montreal, Toronto, Boston (Bruins), NY (Rangers) and Detroit (Red Wings).

In the NFL, a 16-game season makes it impossible to see every team every year, and it can’t happen in baseball because of the two leagues, but the NHL and the NBA are almost identical in the amount of games played and the timing of their seasons. In the NBA, you’re guaranteed to see the Lakers or the Celtics at least once a season in your home arena, no matter what conference you’re in.

OK, so maybe I’m biased because I’m from Canada and would like to see my home team play here (plus, it’s next to impossible to get a ticket to see the Leafs in Toronto). But as the Blackhawks keep making all the right moves by appealing to that great hockey tradition, take it from a lifetime fan from the greatest hockey nation on earth — there’s still a little work to be done.

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The Sports Bank, NBC5 Street Team 2008 continues to be an eventful and exciting time for the Chicago Blackhawks organization and their fans. Last month Patrick Kane was named NHL Rookie of the Year; the team made a huge splash in free agency by signing All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell, and on July 16th it was announced that the Chicago Blackhawks will host their rival the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field in NHL Winter Classic 2009 on New Year’s Day. No two NHL opponents have played more regular-season games against each other, and their 701st meeting will be just the third outdoor game in league history. Also, the first annual fan convention will take place at the Hilton Towers on Michigan Avenue this weekend. Event festivities include autograph and photo sessions with current Blackhawks stars such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, former stars like Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, and Tony Esposito, Q&A sessions with current Blackhawks management, broadcasters and alumni, coaches and front office staff detailing their Stanley Cup strategy, exhibitions, interactive games, a live HawkCast (podcast) taping.  $50 weekend convention passes sold out in mere hours. Opening Ceremonies will begin Friday at 5. Saturday festivities run 9 am – 7pm and Sunday 9 am – 2pm.

For more on hockey nerd heaven, I sought the opinion of Stan Bowman, Assistant General Manager, Hockey Operations. Bowman is a frequent guest on “Hawkcast,” the team’s official weekly podcasts, an authority on player scouting and development and even housed Patrick Kane during his rookie year.  His father Scotty Bowman is the all-time winningest head coach in NHL history. In my exclusive interview, Stan Bowman described this weekend’s convention thusly: “In hockey no team has ever done it before and just the reception we’ve gotten from it in that it sold out so quickly and lots of people wanting tickets and people wanting to come see it. It’s going to a good setup for everybody. It’s similar in style and format to the Cubs convention; obviously John McDonough is the one who pioneered the concept back in the early 80s, and it’s taken off to the point where it’s a big event and that’s where the hockey one is going too.”

For the full Bowman interview click here. For more Chicago Sports analysis and discussion click here.

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