CHICAGO — Jeremy Morin sat on his haunches at the back of the cage. Every muscle tensed. His fists were clenched, held stiffly in front of his shins. When I happened to make eye contact with him, he let out a low growl. The young man’s rage distorted the air around him.
Bryan Bickell, on the other hand, slept soundly in the next cage over. Whenever Morin wasn’t growling, Bickell’s soft snoring filled the room. A snapshot of Bickell’s baby was taped to the wires beside his head.
Contrary to popular belief, Joel Quenneville’s “dog house” is more than a metaphor. Never before glimpsed by anyone outside the Blackhawks organization, there is a bona fide detention center. It is a small, dead-end cinder block hallway buried deep in the United Center’s bowels.
Several years ago (no one will specify when), an equipment manager heard that an animal testing lab at the University of Chicago was upgrading its enclosures. He bought seven cages destined for the scrap heap, brought them to this hallway, and bolted them to the wall. According to unconfirmed reports, Joel Quenneville smiled.
Morin and Bickell were not alone on the day I was granted access. Brad Richards occupied a spot down the hall. He sat against one side of his cage, watching pensively as a handler showed me the water bottles and feeding trays. Brandon Saad was on “part-time” – he could roam freely between practice sessions, but had to return immediately after dinner.
I tried to speak to Richards several times, but my handler wouldn’t allow it. The old timer’s eyes were hollow and doubtful. He seemed more rueful than angry.
“I think it’s good for them,” my handler was saying. “It shows them what Q’s looking for. Sometimes, they need this kind of motivation.”
It was then that I noticed small notes taped to the cage doors. They were titled “Requirements for Release.” I hurried closer to read them but each simply said “More.”
I turned to ask about the vagueness of this when Quenneville himself entered the hallway. Morin’s rage evaporated. His body uncoiled. He slumped into a heap and turned towards the wall behind him.
Quenneville merely grunted. Walking past, he motioned for me to follow. At the end of the hallway he pressed a single cinderblock, causing a hidden door to swing open with a loud hiss.
“Are you sure, Q?” asked the handler. Q said nothing. I followed him through the doorway.
We were in darkness. Then the lights snapped on and a gleaming contraption of steel, tubes, wires, gauges and switches loomed before us. My handler scurried in, rounded the machine’s base, and began pressing buttons. Steam hissed. Beeps and bloops and whirring echoed off the walls.
I asked what this monstrosity was. “Machine,” replied Quenneville.
“What does it do?” I asked.
“Machine,” said Quenneville. “Kiwi fruit.”
The machine was thirty feet tall and twice that at its widest. It took my handler several minutes to power it up. When he was done he was out of breath. He came back to stand beside me.
“Some of those gauges are hard to turn,” he said, panting.
“What is this thing?”
“It’s the Blender.”
It’s not some sort of state secret. Every coach in the NHL will tell you getting the first goal can change the complexion of game. If a team is lucky enough to get the first two, then you can pretty much focus on burying the opposition.
For the third straight game – all wins, by the way – the Blackhawks scored first, and for the second consecutive contest they got the first two goals before their opponent had a shot on net. No more fucking around, they seem to be saying.
The ‘Hawks scored early and finished late, beating Washington 5-2 on Sunday at the United Center. For a team most were writing off without a healthy Jonathan Toews, the ‘Hawks are 7-1-1 since the Leap Day win over Toronto and are within four points of Detroit and Nashville for the No. 4 seed and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs with nine games to go.
If Washington wants to get back on track, it can start Monday by knocking off the slumping Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena and doing the ‘Hawks a favor.
Stuff before Boxing…
♦ Remember when most figured Coach Q had given the crease to Ray Emery for the duration of the season? Nakis and I never were convinced of that, and Q is being as predictable as ever and riding the hot hand. Corey Crawford wasn’t tested much Sunday, but his 16 saves were enough to improve him to 7-2-0 with a 2.12 goals-against average since Feb. 16. He struggled in a three-game stretch in losses to Dallas, Los Angeles, and getting yanked in the win over Toronto, but he’s back to playing above average, which is really what most of us are asking for to continue.
With nine games to go, no one has any idea if Q will commit to either one of them. It seems to be working right now, though.
♦ So, Michael Frolik still plays for the Blackhawks. Interesting.
♦ Patrick Kane really has been stepping up lately, and it’s coming just at the right time. With the news that Toews suffered a setback in his recovery from a concussion, Kaner has helped make that a little easier news to take given how well he and the ‘Hawks have been playing. There’s never a good time to have the Captain out, but this nice little stretch is making it more tolerable.
♦ With Toews out, the ‘Hawks went 36 for 55 at the dot Sunday. That’s neat.
♦ Viktor Stalberg winning that race to the puck, getting himself under control then charging the net with a move in mind and patience to execute it was a thing of beauty. For someone who seemed so far off the handle when it came to keeping himself and his blazing speed tamed to be able to fit it into an actual game, he’s seems to be starting to get it more and more each game. Oh, and he gets to light up Columbus again soon.
♦ Alex Ovechkin reminded us that despite him having another “down” year, he’s still one of the best in the game with his move on Duncan Keith. Ovechkin’s goal gives him at least 30 in every season since he entered the league in 2005. Yeah, that’s good.
Here’s Boxing…Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
Alexander Ovechkin has 29 goals this season for Washington.
The next closest guy on the stats sheet has only 18.
How do you defend the Washington Capitals? I’ll give you three guesses…
Once again, Jonathan Toews summed it up:
“That’s two overtime losses in the last couple of games. We can’t be happy with just getting one point in each of those games. If you look at the games ahead and we keep getting to overtime, it doesn’t do us any good. It’s just about getting beyond that point of satisfaction and finding a way to win.”
And just like that, the Blackhawks are back down to 7th in the Western Conference - one point up on eighth and two up on ninth – after a 4-3 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals. Games like this aren’t going to cut it. And the fact of the matter is that the ‘Hawks were lucky enough to salvage that one point on a 6-on-4 power play with an empty net.
We can make excuses. No Dave Bolland. Limited action from Brian Campbell. But the ‘Hawks gave up a short-handed goal and got pretty damn lucky with good bouces on all three of their goals. The Capitals scored on defensive breakdowns and were much more solid the entire day.
Oh, and the Blackhawks didn’t get ONE SINLGE SHOT on net in nearly four minutes of overtime. Crap.
I’ll send you on your way to Boxing with this thought: Please, for the love of God, play Marty Turco tomorrow, Q. Please. Crow needs a break heading into another two-game trip. The game is too big and means too much to be strolling out a tired goaltender. It won’t mean you’ve lost faith in Crow, Q. It means your guy needs a break. Give it to him.
If I could do some hockey betting on this, I’d say Q still starts him. Damnit.
Any of you who watched the “Penguins/Capitals 24/7″ show on HBO got an earful of Capitals Head Coach Bruce Boudreau hitting below the belt on his team in the locker room following the latest in a string of humiliating losses due to lackluster play. The quote above was the most memorable of the diatribe.
As if getting checked for a hernia wasn’t humiliating enough, now we have this ringing in our heads.