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.”