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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team It was the biggest, and most unfortunate, news to hit the Chicago Blackhawks in weeks.

“Adam Burish went into the boards on Sunday night in Minnesota and injured his right knee. When a player like him leaves the ice it is always concerning and unfortunately he suffered an ACL tear. He will undergo a reconstruction as soon as possible and we anticipate a complete recovery. His return will take approximately six months,” reads a statement from Chicago Blackhawks Head Team Physician Dr. Michael Terry.

“I went into the boards goofy. It was one of those goofy plays, I was helpless,” said Burish to a very large crowd of reporters after the team’s practice on Tuesday. Fellow forward Patrick Kane, certainly no stranger to recent heightened publicity, spoke about his fallen teammate:

“Obviously, I know if I was looking forward to the year and something like that happened to me, I’d be devastated, so I’m sure he feels the same way. I talked to him a little bit, it’s tough for him. I’m sure he’s pissed off, and it’s just a bad break, hopefully he can get back as soon as he can.”

Last season’s deep playoff run, coupled with the star power of young goal-scorers such as Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp etc. helped the Blackhawks lead the National Hockey League in average attendance (22,247) per game. In order to duplicate that success at the box office this season, it would help to have their army of high-scoring forwards at full strength.

“They’ll be fine. That’s the least of my worries. It’s such a good and deep team. For training camp, I’m sure if you ask the coaches, they don’t even know who to put in the lineup, there’s so many guys, that won’t be an issue on this team.” Burish is the team’s best enforcer, and according to Chicago Magazine, the city’s 26th most eligible bachelor. Click here to read what he said about hockey groupies at the Fan Convention in July.

And it’s Burish’s sense of humor that keeps the mood light and positive in the locker room. “He’s very good for the locker room, he’s the disc jockey for one, He likes to joke around. Myself personally I really enjoy that, so he’s going to be missed around the locker room more than anything,”

Kane said in describing what Burish’s effect on team chemistry. Kaner also articulated what the team will miss from Burish on-the-ice. “He sacrifices his body for everyone on the team and you can see that when he’s blocking shots, penalty killing, taking hits to make plays, that’s just the way he plays and when you play like that, you’re bound to get hurt sometimes. He’s a great player for us, a key part of the organization and the team, and the fans love him too.”

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

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

On Wednesday at the United Center, in conjunction with LifeSource, Chicagoland’s Blood Center, the Blackhawks organization held a very successful blood and bone marrow drive. The turnout was good, especially when considering the fact it was held on a workday morning. Lifesource officials said over the phone that 94 new units of blood were donated, with 47 new people entered into the bone marrow registry. A volunteer on-site told me that about half were donating for the first time.

Those who donated also got to take in a Blackhawks practice at the United Center; with training camp running concurrently with the drive. The need for blood and bone marrow is a cause that hits close to home with Blackhawks General Manage Stan Bowman.
“My wife Sue and I feel that it’s our responsibility to educate others on the ease of joining the National Bone Marrow Registry and donating blood,” the Hawks GM said. Bowman was first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in February 2007 at the age of 33 before having a reoccurrence of the disease 10 months later. He underwent a stem-cell transplant, which required doctors to take blood from his bone marrow and separate the cells, before replenishing the blood. Since that treatment, Bowman has been cancer free.

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“I realize how fragile life is and am fortunate to be in remission, but I certainly don’t take it for granted,” Bowman added. “There are a great deal of people fighting cancer and other illnesses each day that so desperately need a bone marrow transplant or blood transfusion. I would like to encourage our passionate and supportive Blackhawks fans to participate in this great event,” Bowman stated before the drive. He was also on hand for the event, and his wife donated blood. Towards the end of the drive, he appeared on the UC Jumbotron to thank those attended.

This reporter registered to donate, but was rejected due to a prior condition. Bowman and I share more than just a keen interest in hockey. Like Stan, I have fought and conquered Hodgkin’s disease- twice. And in a remarkable instance of coincidence, I received my own stem cell transplant, 6 years to the exact date of Bowman’s. Since 2003 I have been in remission, and living a life healthy enough that I was even able to swim in the Triathlon last month. I wholeheartedly agree with Bowman’s statements and I am very pleased his organization held this event.

For more information, or to give blood and/or bone marrow in the future please visit lifesource.org or click here.

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

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

For the first time since his arrest a week ago, Chicago Blackhawks star right wing, and alleged co-perpetrator of assault Patrick Kane will address the media regarding the “incident” in Buffalo. The 2009 U.S. Olympic Men’s Orientation Camp next week at Seven Bridges Ice Arena in Woodridge, Illinois commences Monday morning. Kane is obviously a member of that team, and since there will be a ton of media present…Here’s what the official statement from Team USA reads


“Patrick Kane will make a statement to begin the press conference we have scheduled for Monday at 9:15 a.m. in the media workroom. This will be the only time during the camp that Patrick will address the on-going legal proceedings he is part of in Buffalo.”

It doesn’t say whether Patrick will take questions or not. I’m guessing he won’t. I’m also making a very safe prediction here: his prepared statement will sound like it was poured over by numerous lawyers, image-consultants, public relations professionals etc….So it should be interesting to hear what he has to say. I’ll be there and hopefully tweeting from it. And I’m going to try and do a live post, based on my tweets which you can follow here. This story has certainly created a firestorm on the blogs, and will probably continue generating even more headlines and web traffic as it develops further.

Oh and after the Kane statement, the Director of Team USA Hockey will give an introduction/synopsis of the camp, and they’ll unveil all three versions of their new 2010 Olympic jerseys shortly thereafter.

patrickkane

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

Current Chicago Blackhawks right wing Adam Burish was recently named the 26th most eligible single by Chicago magazine. The former Wisconsin Badger (and my Facebook friend) showed off his bachelor pad, complete with upscale wine fridge, for local NBC cameras recently and also talked about groupies at the second annual Hawks Fan Convention in Chicago last weekend.

Of all the panel discussions I heard on Sunday July 19th, the second most memorable moment (the first being the announcement that Chicago will wear their black Winter Classic jerseys as their official third sweater next season) was Burish being asked “What do you do when a fan approaches you and tries to make out with you?” Burish half-jokingly responded, “What does she look like?”

In the segment entitled “Chicago’s Most Wanted,” Burish was joined by Brian Campbell, Patrick Sharp, Tony Amonte and Steve Larmer to converse about being a celebrity in a sports-obsessed town. To further validate the point of this exercise, the Continental Ballroom packed in a standing room only crowd to hear this topic. When asked about groupies Burish said at the beginning of his response “Is this G, PG, PG-13, Is this X? You need to direct me where to go.” The panel host, WGN’s Steve Cochran, responded “Given the high amount of 11-year olds and Grandmothers here, let’s go with PG for now.”

“There’s some crazy female fans, you see them when you’re on the road, but I have to give some of these girls some credit, because they know what time you’re getting in. I don’t know what time practice is half the time, but they know. They know what time I’m getting in, they know where practice is. They know things about my Mom, my sister that I don’t even know. But whatever, it’s cool, it’s funny. These girls aren’t doing any harm, they’re not disrespecting anybody. Except for the ones that are knocking down your door at 4 in the morning,” Burish said regarding the stalkers and drunken groupies of the hockey world.

Elisha Cuthbert- the world's most famous hockey groupie

When Brian “Soupy” Campbell was asked the same question about drunken groupies, he did what anyone who has been properly advised by a PR professional would do- deflect the conversation completely away from anything remotely provocative and interesting, and instead re-frame the conversation in a manner family-friendly enough for Disney. “The practice rink got pretty crazy at times this year, trying to get from the rink to your car. I just don’t like it when the big guy pushes the kid out of the way, because you always try to get to the kids first- they’re important that way,” Soupy said. His statement, which utterly ignored the question at hand, was met with thunderous applause.

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

During the past year of covering the Chicago Blackhawks, I’ve discussed one distinctive, but vastly underreported ritual that takes place inside the Blackhawks’ locker room. On that carpeted floor is a beautiful, large Indian head logo; and if any one steps on it, a curse or pox shall come upon them! One day, I did my best to avoid stepping on it while also trying to navigate a media throng, and since I have the gracefulness of Clark W. Griswold, I nearly fell on my face. A locker room usher observed, didn’t care about my almost falling, and simply said “You almost stepped on it there.” I once saw a camera man step on it, prompting a couple reporters to shout “DEATH.”

At the 2009 Hawks Convention at Chicago’s Hilton towers, this tradition was discussed at the breakout session entitled “Inside the Locker Room.”

“We play for that Indian head, we work for that Indian head. And Savvy put it best: you commit to the Indian- maybe I shouldn’t say that, he got in trouble for that. That’s what we do every day trainers, Troy {Murray, Hawks television commentator} up in the booth, I’m sure you’ve heard Troy get pretty passionate up there. I know I have, but you stay off it, it’s just respect that goes with anything. hawksconvention2

As far as superstition, everyone has their little things…But as far as big things, know to stay off the Indian head and you’ll be alright,” said Blackhawks Equipment Manager Troy Parchman. He was joined by Blackhawks players Ben Eager, Aaron Johnson, and Niklas Hjarmmson in a session moderated by Murray. Also a part of the panel was Equipment assistant Clinton Reif.

“This year, in the playoffs especially, when things got crowded in there they had to do something a little bit special because everyone who was around the team on a regular basis knows that you don’t step on that Indian,” Reif said. And that something special included putting up tensa-barriers on the floor surrounding the logo when the Hawks advanced further along in the playoffs, and more media showed up in each round of the postseason. Just typing about stepping on it reminds me of “Ghostbusters,” when they were told just “crossing the streams,” will make something catastrophic occur.

“The players take that very seriously. When a reporter would be in there, they would get it pretty good if someone walked across it. I wouldn’t say it was a lack of respect by those people, they just didn’t know. A lot of other teams in the league have that in their carpet, and I can’t tell of one that feels free to walk across it. I’m pretty sure that everyone does the same thing: you just stay off the logo,” Parchman reiterated.

 

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

This weekend, the Blackhawks will host their second annual fan convention. And they’ll do so with a just newly minted General Manager in Stan Bowman. Around this time last year, they hosted the first annual convention in NHL History. Preceding the ’08 convention, I had an exclusive in Bowman’s office when he held the title of Assistant General Manager, Hockey Operations.

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,” Bowman said.

His father Scotty Bowman is the all-time winningest head coach in NHL history. The Convention will be held at the Hilton Chicago (720 S. Michigan Ave) from Friday, July 17 to Sunday, July 19, with over 10,000 fans expected to attend.

The event, which is the first of its kind in the National Hockey League, will feature over 25 players and coaches from the current roster, more than 25 members of the Blackhawks Alumni along with team broadcasters and team executives. The weekend includes 20 Q&A panels with players and front office staff, several autograph and photo opportunities, an area dedicated to interactive games and over 60 vendors.
Other highlights of the weekend include:

• The “Blackhawks Bash,” in the International Ballroom on Saturday from 7:00 to 10:00 P.M., which includes music, singing and dancing.

• The “Locker Room Sale” in the Northeast Hall throughout the weekend, featuring live and silent auctions of Blackhawks memorabilia.

• Five generations of Blackhawks captains, including Jonathan Toews, Stan Mikita, Denis Savard, Tony Amonte and Pierre Pilote compare eras and share stories in the Grand Ballroom on Saturday at 9:00 A.M.

• Newly acquired forwards Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky will be introduced to the fans at a panel on Saturday in the Grand Ballroom at 10:15 A.M.

• 2009 NHL All-Stars Brian Campbell, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews discuss their time at the league’s mid-season classic this past January in the International Ballroom on Saturday at 11:30 A.M.

• Play-By-Play Announcer Pat Foley shares his experiences from 27 years of broadcasting in the Grand Ballroom on Saturday at 12:45 P.M.

• Newly appointed Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman and his father Scotty discuss the family “business” in the Continental Ballroom on Sunday
at 9:00 A.M.

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

On July 1st, “Canada Day” or that nation’s version of Independence Day, the Chicago Blackhawks made the biggest headlines in the NHL when the league officially opened its free agency period. I wanted to see what they did the rest of the week before analyzing their personnel moves- because nothing in life happens in a vacuum.

The Losses:

Leaving the Chicago Blackawks were winger Martin Havlat, who collected a six-year, $30 million deal from the Minnesota Wild. Havlat, who led the Hawks in scoring last season with 29 goals and 48 assists and was one of the most crucial players in the long playoff run, left on (possibly) somewhat bitter terms, as evidenced by his tweets on Wednesday night:

“Excited to be in Minny where I was welcomed and appreciated by management”

“The real story about what happened in Chicago [will] come out”

“There’s something to be said for loyalty and honor”

Stay tuned. Havlat has one of the best “following to followers ratio” I’ve ever seen: 12 to 7,832. Also among the departed were veteran goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin (Edmonton, four years and $15 million), center Sammy Pahlsson (Columbus, 3 years $7.95 million) and defenceman Matt Walker (Tampa Bay, 4 years $6.8 million).

khabibulin2Matt Walker, no he’s not the drummer from Filter who later joined the Smashing Pumpkins, is a serviceable but not spectacular blue-liner who may find more minutes in Tampa.

The Additions:

The Hawks signed two-time Stanley Cup Champion and 10-year National Hockey League center John Madden to a one-year contract. No, this isn’t the annoying,  still-wondering-why-he-has-a-job-on-television football broadcaster who loves Mexican food and only travels by bus.

Madden, 36, has spent his entire career with the New Jersey Devils, helping the organization reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the last nine seasons. The Barrie, Ontario native captured the Frank J. Selke Trophy in 2001, given annually to the National Hockey League’s best defensive forward, and was the runner-up in 2003, 2004, and 2008.

But the big prize was right wing Marian Hossa, even though I find the 12 year contract to be more than a bit extravagant.

“To add Marian, an elite and world-class player, and Tomas, a Stanley Cup Champion, to our exciting young core reinforces our commitment to try to win the Stanley Cup,” Blackhawks General Manager Dale Tallon said. Last season, Hossa, 30, led the Red Wings in goals (40) and finished third in points (71) during the regular season before chipping in 15 points (6G, 9A) while appearing in all 23 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Hossa is (somewhat dubiously) known as the guy who played on the Stanley Cup runner-up team the past two seasons. This “feat” is newsworthy when you consider you had the same two teams (Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins) playing each other both years, and a different team won each year.

The Hawks also snatched away from Detroit center Tomas Kopecky (TAW-mahsh, koh-PEHTS-kee) He finished second on the team with 109 hits. But I don’t think the Hawks are done dealing yet- And I have a feeling the next signing will be a defenseman. The same position they focused their draft on. So don’t judge the +/- of this offseason just yet.

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 One of the weirdest aspects of a rivalry is when a player changes teams, and goes to his former team’s bitterest of rivals. 

Even though he’s been wearing a Detroit Red Wings(who currently lead the Stanley Cup Finals 2-1)  sweater now for 9 years when Chris Chelios was in town last week you just had to root for him. Even despite  his  contributing to the Blackhawks demise. If you didn’t then you fit in to Jerry Seinfeld’s “sports fans are rooting for clothes” routine.

(We’re currently seeing the same thing with Joe Crede leaving the Sox for the Twins) Rivalries are all about black-versus-white, but when it comes to situations like this, it’s actually a shade of grey. With an injury to all-world defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, as well as his back-up Ericcson, Chelios got his chance to contribute during the Western Conference Finals. Doing the ceremonial puck drop that game was Bob Probert another guy who played for both the Red Wings and Hawks. Chelios spoke about the playoff atmosphere:

“I had a good feeling when it was Proby, because he played for the Wings and the Hawks, everything they’ve done from the marketing to the bringing back the veterans Bobby Hull, Mikita. It’s good to see them back in the building, I’m playing hockey for one reason: because I grew up watching the Hawks,” the Evergreen Park native said.

Chelios commented after the game about how the roar has been restored in Chicago hockey. “It reminded me of being in the old stadium. It’s different when you’re on the other team, but I feed off of that and I think our team likes the atmosphere,” Chelly said.

The 47 year old University of Wisconsin-Madison alum is the second oldest player in league history (he’s older than his coach Mike Babcock) to Gordie Howe. Is this finally it for him?

“Everybody’s trying to get rid of me, it’s crazy, but they’ll miss me when I’m gone, so I’ll stay around as long as someone wants me, I love playing,” Chelios said.

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

In Kane and Sharp, the Chicago Blackhawks possess two young star forwards named Patrick. “Sharpie” the lesser known of the two, is having a much better Western Conference Finals than “Kaner.” Down 3-1 to the Detroit Red Wings, the Hawks will need both of them, (and more reinforcements) to be on their A game if Chicago is going to stand any chance of advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals. Sharp is often overshadowed by Kane, the 2008 Calder Memorial Trophy winner and face-of-the-franchise, but it was Sharpie who was on pace to lead the team in goals this season before being sidelined by injury down the stretch.
Kaner is having a rough series, sporting an ugly -7 in the +/- department, and he didn’t even make it onto the score sheet until notching a game 4 assist. Red Wings Coach Mike Babcock talked about how his team shut down Kane.

“Till today we always played Nick (All-Star defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom) against him. Today, we didn’t have that option so we just try to play a really good five man unit and limit their touches the best we can. I think Osgood did a good job, but you’re never going to shut a guy like that down totally with the amount of skill level he has. I thought the other night in game three even though he didn’t get on the sheet, I thought that line with Byufglien and Toews dominated the shifts territorally- just couldn’t get the puck in the net,” Babcock saidkane_8x10

As ugly as the 6-1 game four home loss to Detroit was, both young stars have breakout game performances in their recent memory.
Before entering this current slump, Kane recorded his first career hat trick in game 6 of the Western Conference Seminfinals, in eliminating the Vancouver Canucks. After the exciting 7-5 win, Kane told the media the criticisms from Canucks defenceman Willie Mitchell fired him up. “I got a wake-up call from old Willie Mitchell over there. He made some comments saying I couldn’t play five on five, I don’t know if you want to fire up a player like that. I scored three goals five-on-five, so you’ll have to ask him about that one,” Kane said.
Friday night, Sharp was the number one star of the conference finals’ game three with two goals, including the overtime game winner. That was pretty exciting to be in the building at that point, I’ve had some double overtime ones in the minors but, it was pretty loud when the puck went in and it was exciting,” Sharp said in describing perhaps the biggest night of his career. Both Patricks will need to have more games like that as Chicago faces elimination.

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

Heading into 2008-09, the season of Chicago Blackhawks renaissance, it was thought in certain circles that Hawks General Manager Dale Tallon could be on the way out. Tallon was more Bill Wirtz’s guy than he was Rocky Wirtz’s guy. After NHL coaching legend Scotty Bowman joined the Hawks organization (pronounced “organ-I-zation” in Canadian English) as Senior Advisor of Hockey Operations, rumors swirled that Tallon might be replaced by Bowman’s son, assistant GM of Hockey Operations, Stan Bowman.
Today however, Tallon is sitting pretty as the blueprint for success he drafted has guided the Hawks much further along the postseason path than anyone expected. After advancing to their first Conference Final since 1995, (where they’re currently down 2-1 to the Red Wings), Tallon spoke about his team, the youngest in the league, climbing the ladder much faster than expectedtallon

“The sooner the better is fine with me. I don’t want to wait any longer, it’s been fun and I’m proud of these kids, this is the greatest group of kids I’ve been around; on and off the ice,” Tallon said.

Tallon’s first season as GM was tumultuous. After the 2004–05 NHL season was canceled due to labor issues, a new collective bargaining agreement was signed. This created a new financial structure and many rule changes intended to yield higher scoring games. In response, Tallon reshaped the team, but most of his free agents never panned out and the Hawks finished 14th in the 15-team Western Conference.

However, since then he turned the Blackhawk franchise around (the Hawks are the only team in the NHL to improve their win total each of the past four years) by drafting young talents Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and also acquiring stars Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg. Tallon recently spoke about the traits possessed by his young nucleus. “Their impeccable character- they’re beyond their years as far as composure and intelligence…they’re way ahead of their time as far the mental aspect of it, their maturity impresses me,” Tallon said before later commenting on his team’s versatility:

“This is a team that can play any style, it you want to play it tough, we’ll play it tough, if you want to play speed, up-tempo, we’ll do that too. I think people underestimate how strong and resilient these kids are.” Chicago’s deep playoff run has been great for hockey ratings on television, and the NHL could certainly use this boost. Perhaps the Blackhawks’ rebirth, led in part by the young stars Dale Tallon drafted, will help improve the league’s damaged Q rating. Tallon spoke about the plethora of current young NHL stars.

“As hockey fans we’re in a great era right now. You see Crosby perform and Ovechkin and Malkin, and you see Backstrom in Washington and everyday we get to see Kane and Toews and don’t forget we’ve got some other young guys in Bolland, Brouwer, and Byfuglien, you can go down the list…we’re very fortunate in this era to be able to witness such young players excel at such a young age,” Tallon stated.

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 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 In the Chicago Blackhawks-Vancouver Canucks Western Conference Semifinal series, most of the statistics are remarkably even. The one exception: shots on goal. The Hawks hold a decisive edge, accumulating a 31 shot advantage. Even though they’ve taken more shots than a college fraternity pledge during hazing week, the numbers of total goals scored in this series is a dead heat. Many of the Chicago slap shots are coming from beyond optimal range and often after a pass or two too many. It’s a true testament to the Vancouver defensemen, who have done a great job limiting Chicago’s prime scoring opportunities.

It also reaffirms the hype surrounding Canucks’ goaltender Roberto Luongo, one of the best in the business. By stopping 107/115 shots he’s faced (.930 save percentage), he’s clearly outplaying his Blackhawks counterpart Nikolai Khabibulin. The “Bulin Wall” has saved 72 of the 82 shots (.878 save percentage) coming his way. The Hawks scored very late in regulation and then again in overtime of Game 4 to win 2-1 and even the series at two games a piece.

After the road loss, Luongo spoke about the defense in front of him. “It was a pretty close game and we took the lead and we were doing what we needed to do in protecting that lead as far paying the price of blocking shots and stuff like that,” Luongo said.

In order to take control of this series, Chicago must do a better job converting more of their scoring opportunities. The optimal plan might be following Coach Joel Quenneville’s mantra of keep getting pucks on the net and eventually good things will happen.

“I think against him, shots at the net, traffic, second and third opportunities, tip screens, deflections, that’s how you have to beat him. The more we do that, the better chance we’ll have to put the puck behind him,” Quenneville stated. And like the greatest hockey player of all, Wayne Gretzky famously said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

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

With the Chicago Blackhawks capturing the city’s heart this season, numerous second city citizens who previously ignored hockey are now finding themselves to be experts on the sport’s terminology. “Even Strength” is the term used to describe the portion of the game when both teams have the same number of attackers on the ice. It’s also the perfect way to describe the Hawks match-up with the Vancouver Canucks in. The statistics for the best of seven series, which Vancouver now leads 2-1, are remarkably even. Vancouver has the edge in total goals by just one, Vancouver has committed only two more penalties than Chicago, and both teams have exactly 13 penalty kills in this series.

Each team even has a home venue (United Center and General Motors Place) named by a transportation corporation recently in or headed towards bankruptcy protectionchicago-blackhawks

Vancouver defenseman Ossi Vaananeen spoke highly regarding the fundamentals of the team currently battling his squad so tightly. “They’ve played well, in a tough division. They have good power play, good special teams, they scored a lot of even strength goals, they had more points than us this year,” Vaananeen said.

An even Steven series should have been expected when considering how the regular season went. Just 3 points and one win separated the two clubs in the 2008-09 standings. The two teams also tied for exactly 88 points in 2007-08. Even though the Hawks were the better team during the regular season, they now must win Thursday, if they are to have a realistic shot at winning the series. Hawks captain Jonathan Toews spoke about some things Chicago must improve. “I think we need to start chipping away and moving out feet to wearing them down next time,” Toews said in reference to the Hawks falling behind in each game of the series. The way things are going, it will likely take a 7th game (and probably and overtime shootout) to decide this Western Conference semifinal.

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

The Blackhawks have ruled Canada like Prime Minister Stephen Harper this season, compiling a 15-5 record (including playoffs) versus Canadian teams this season.

But this round’s matchup against the Vancouver Canucks will provide a much bigger challenge than Calgary in the first round. Chicago and Vancouver split the four game regular-season series with each team winning a game at home and away.

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team
The rise of the Chicago Blackhawks franchise from obscurity to fan and media darling has been well documented. But there’s another (and even more positive ) story that also needs to be told. As bright as the present currently is, the future looks even better. The team’s leaders are a very young core of players whose best days are likely still in front of them. The most recent player to emerge is speedy left winger Kris Versteeg, one of three finalists for the 2009 Calder Trophy, given out annually to the league’s top rookie. Great at both ends of the ice, Versteeg has the chance to become the ninth Chicago player in team history to be awarded the Calder Trophy and joins teammates Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews as the third Blackhawk in the last two seasons voted a Calder Trophy finalist.

Versteeg led all NHL rookies with 31 assists as part of a youthful nucleus that’s set to meet the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference semi-finals. His four shorthanded goals (or “shorties”) were also tops among League rookies and fourth overall. “Playing on this team we’re exciting, we play hard for each other and Kane and Toews, they’ve kind of been through it before and they know what it takes to do it,” Versteeg said.

 (AP Photo/Frederick Breedon)

Patrick Kane captured the honor last season. Other past Blackhawks to earn the award are: Mike Karakas (1936), Carl Dahlstrom (1938), Ed Litzenberger (1955), William Hay (1960), Tony Esposito (1970), Steve Larmer (1983) and Ed Belfour (1991). “It’s been huge just to be nominated for it,” Versteeg stated. The winner announced June 18th. The other two finalists for the award:

-Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets. Named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month for both November and December, he accomplished a four-game winning streak where he stopped 94 of 95 shots. As Columbus captured the first playoff berth in franchise history, Mason’s 10 shutouts led the League and his 2.29 goals against average was second only to Boston’s Tim Thomas (2.10).

-Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks. The second overall selection in the 2005 Draft, Ryan led all rookies with 31 goals and 57 points in just 64 games. Ryan earned Rookie of the Month honors for January with 11 goals and five assists in 14 games.

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 last time the Chicago Blackhawks won a playoff series was 1996 — a first round triumph over the Calgary Flames. If history repeats itself in 2009, the series MVP could likely be Hawks Center Jonathan Toews, who was 8 years old back then.

He was born the same year the Flames’ home arena, the Pengrowth Saddledome, hosted Winter Olympic hockey in 1988. With 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists), team captain Toews is leading the Hawks in scoring this postseason.

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team
Since the opening face off, the Chicago Blackhawks first round playoff series with the Calgary Flames has been a very physical one. Game one contained lots of good solid checking, but it didn’t have all the punches of games two and three. Monday night’s loss in Calgary saw even more checks get cashed in the currency of pushes, shoves and punches. Downright dirty and nasty, if these series trends continue maybe we’ll see Ken Shamrock or Oscar de la Hoya on skates in game six. Usually the postseason brings less fighting than the regular season because teams don’t want to risk obtaining dumb penalties within tight playoff games, but emotion has taken over for logic at certain points of this series so far. And since game three was a little more lopsided down the stretch than the first two, the physicality was ramped up even further.

Hawks defenseman (or “defenceman” in Canadian English) Duncan Keith sees the physical quotient increasing as the series goes on. “Every game’s going to be tougher and tougher that’s the mentality you have to have. Naturally, the more times you play a team, the more issues, whatever you want to call it, you’re going to have against guys out there. Obviously, they’re trying to key on certain guys on our team, and we’re trying to hit them as much as we can as well,” Keith stated.sharks_blackhawks17b

Both teams combined earned 5 penalties for 12 minutes in game one. The second game total jumped to 9 infractions- 18 minutes while game 3 at the Saddle Dome saw a whopping 13 penalties for 86 minutes combined!

The Hawks lead the series 2-1 and in order to maintain control, they must keep a cool head when considering possible retaliation against the Flames. “It’s something we’ve talked about in here. We try to play as hard as we can whistle-to-whistle and be in their face as much as they’re in ours without taking penalties. Discipline is a huge part of the game in the playoffs and that’s something we’re addressing,” said Hawks forward Patrick Sharp.

As this series between the 1988 Winter Olympic host city and a 2016 Summer Olympic bid city progresses, expect the skills and fundamentals inherent to a few Olympic events (boxing, wrestling, possibly tae kwon do) to play a significant role.

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

There’s one aspect of the game of hockey that makes the athletic achievements of the players all the more impressive. Most of the time, hockey players must perform their tasks aware that a giant Russian or Canadian man is speeding towards them on skates with the intent to kill them.


Well, not literally kill them, but hockey is an extremely physical game and the seek-and-destroy physicality often takes on an added dimension during the emotionally-charged Stanley Cup playoffs.

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

In order for the Blackhawks to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, they’ll have to first skate past Mike Keenan, the man who guided them to their last cup appearance. Keenan, currently with his 8th team, is to NHL coaching jobs what Elisha Cuthbert is to dating hockey players: they’ve been around the block a few times. The heavily-traded coaching commodity has a long history of getting involved in power plays (of the metaphorical kind) with people at all levels of the organizations he’s been with. His personality breeds controversy, and these controversies have granted him his carpetbagger resume.

After taking the Blackhawks to the 1992 Stanley Cup Finals, Keenan eventually lost a power struggle with Senior V.P. Bob Pulford after the 1992–93 season, resigned his position, and was soon hired to coach the New York Rangers. The next season, New York ended their infamous Cup drought. And now Chicago currently has the dubious distinction of longest hockey championship drought. After a 3-2 overtime loss in game one, Keenan was again stirring the pot in Chicago. When he rocked the mic at the post game press conference, he devoted much of his brief time to his belief that Chicago’s game one win was largely due to illegal goalie interference penalties being perpetrated (but not called) against his team.keenan-mike

“It’s a certainly part of the game plan, It’s a good plan if you can get away with it, and so far they have,” Keenan said regarding the home team possibly illegally pushing his star goalie Miika Kiprusoff over.

I said before the series started (partially because I heard it on NHL Network a couple days ago) that getting Left Wing Mike Cammalleri going would be the key to Keenan’s offense, and Cammalleri lived up to the billing by becoming the lone Calgary representative to earn a “three stars of the game” position in game one. Cammalleri was still upbeat about in the series in the locker room after the loss. “We didn’t get the win, but it’s not a one game series and I love our group,” he said.

But the most important thing Keenan’s bunch must do if they wish to end Chicago’s dominance over them (the Hawks are 5-0 with a +13 goal differential on the season versus Calgary) is to warm up their ice-cold power play. Anticipating a Flames score with a man advantage is like expecting a sober Amy Winehouse, as they currently have a 0-45 power play drought in effect.
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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team This week the Blackhawks reached one milestone, but fell short of another. The Hawks established an all-time single-season attendance record Wednesday night before their contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It’s amazing what putting home games on television, welcoming back iconic players and broadcasters, hosting the Winter Classic, developing a young winning team etc. can do for a franchise previously in need of rejuvenation!

Laura Fontana-Vena of Elmhurst was the 8,547th fan to pass through the United Center’s turnstile on Wednesday, marking the Blackhawks’ 835,972 this season, surpassing the former record of 835,971 established during the 1995-96 season. Fontanta-Vena was presented with a Blackhawks jersey with “835,972” on the name plate before performing the ceremonial puck drop. The Blackhawks’ new record is through 39 regular-season contests at the United Center, all of which have drawn capacity crowds. chicago-blackhawks

Now for the bad news, the Hawks lost that contest against Columbus, 4-3 in an overtime shootout.

However, they picked up a point in the standings, giving them a C-note for the season: a milestone they haven’t reached in 16 years. They now need just one point to clinch the 4th seed in the Western Conference- and with it home ice advantage for the playoffs’ first round. The Hawks have just two games remaining, a home and home with their hated rival Detroit. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville discussed the Red Wings. “I think both teams want to go into the playoffs on a strong and high note. They’re a dangerous team and we haven’t beaten them yet and I think we’ll be excited to finish strong,” the bench boss stated.

Should that option fail, Chicago can also grab the coveted 4th seed if the two teams chasing them, Vancouver and Calgary, both stumble somewhere in their last two. Calgary has a home and home with mediocre Edmonton. Vancouver faces off against two bottom feeders: the cellar dwelling Colorado Avalanche and the third-from-last Los Angeles Kings.

Wednesday night’s second period intermission was noteworthy as NBC Chicago’s own Paula Faris took part in the popular “Coca-Cola Shoot-the-Puck challenge.” The much ballyhooed on-ice promotion gives contestants three chances to win hundreds of dollars if they can put the puck in the net from the center line. Unfortunately Faris, like the Blackhawks themselves, fell short of her goal on this night and missed all three shots. However, I did hear from Hawks personnel that she made three in a row while practicing before the game.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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