That’s Gonna Leave A Mark

Photo: Buffalo News

When you play baseball, you can tell when a hit is going for the wall. There’s a certain feeling in the bat, that perfect connection between two objects in motion, and the feel of it says, “Bye-bye.”

Slap shots in hockey have the same feel to them when you “get all of it.” Pros have that feeling pretty much every shot. My slap shot sucks, so I felt it maybe twice in my years of amateur hockey.

But hits can have that same eerie resonance to them as well. Those I was good at. My favorite setup was catching a forward skating towards me, looking back over his shoulder to catch a pass. Happened maybe once per season. Time it just right, and you drop a shoulder into his sternum at the exact instant the puck hits his stick — BOOM. He goes down like he’s been hit in the chest by a wrecking ball.

That was the Niklas Hjalmarsson hit on Buffalo’s Jason Pominville. You could see it on the replays: he dropped like a stone. After his head ricocheted off the boards a couple of times, I mean.

Late Tuesday Niklas Hjalmarsson received a two-game suspension for the hit on Pominville. I had guessed three. During the preceding 12 hours I had heard the Old-Time-Hockey chorus around Chicago chiming in that they didn’t think it even deserved a penalty, let alone a suspension. Similarly, the Buffalo faithful were advocating that the league throw the book at him. That’s to be expected.

I actually read some barely-literate chucklehead comment on TSN.ca and suggest a suspension of 40 games. Holy bird turds, it’s pro hockey, not powderpuff soccer. Get a grip.

Let’s deal with the not-even-a-penalty suggestion first. From the NHL rule book, “Rule 41″ and “Rule 42″ respectively:

Boarding: A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player who checks an opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to be thrown violently into the boards. The severity of the penalty, based upon the degree of violence of the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee.

“Charging: A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner. Charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A “charge” may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice.”

The ref had both of these as options for the Hjalmarsson hit, as the play very easily met both of these descriptions. It was called on the ice as a boarding major, which comes with an automatic game misconduct. So it’s quite plain to all but the most biased observer that *some* penalty should have been called — and it was.

There is also the new “Rule 48″ which addresses blind-side and/or head-targeted hits, which is new this year:

Illegal Check to the Head – A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principle point of contact is not permitted.

The league would have announced this as the cause for the suspension if that were the case, since it would have been the first one they ruled on. They made no such announcement, so I have to believe they did not feel the hit fell into the description as noted above. I think most casual observers would agree with that assessment.

So: not a blind-side hit, no intent to injure, not targeting the head, then why the suspension? In my opinion, it’s a question of PR.

This hit made the news. It was likely shown on ESPN’s SportsCenter, because they love good video that they can slow down and make viewers watch as bodily parts do things they were never intended to do in the interest of sport, while commentators who know precious little about hockey at all say, “Yeah Dave, that’s gonna leave a mark.”

It would have made the Buffalo newscasts, and other hockey markets as well. The follow up stories (when they show the hit and Pominville’s stretcher-bound exit yet again) will tell everyone that Pominville suffered a concussion, needed 8 stitches, and will be out a minimum of a week. This presents a PR problem for the league. There’s really no provision in the rule book that justifies a suspension per se, but they can’t do nothing.

If the league lets Hjalmarsson off with no suspension, then sports columnists and commentators get on their high horse about the league turning a blind eye to the needless violence that is now making a comeback. Next thing you know there’s some fool-idiot petition circulating about stopping innocent children from playing or watching hockey. And Lord love a duck, if Don Cherry says something about it on Hockey Night in Canada, then just look out. Every time that old bastard opens his mouth it’s as if somebody had skated to center ice and set a basket of kittens on fire.

Understand that the average person doesn’t follow this stuff. If you’re reading this, you can likely quote the number of games Alexander Ovechkin got for the hit that sidelined Brian Campbell last year. But 99% of the people who only see the news reports about this incident and don’t follow hockey at all. So because these people have the attention span of a gnat, the league only has one shot at controlling the message.

The only way to do that is to move quickly and give the appearance of firm and definitive action. Get the suspension, whatever it is, done quickly — and make sure it’s made public before the 6pm news sportscast goes on the air. You’ll notice that was the precise timing for this announcement.

The league brings this on itself. The rules of the game don’t — and can’t — accommodate for every single circumstance. So when something new or unique comes up, they have to wing it. This opens up debates precisely like this one, and because of the completely secretive and often-times incomprehensible means by which they choose whom and what to punish, they look like idiots, and the sport looks like a joke.

But in the absence of a set of rules that turns hockey into basketball (MOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMM! HE’S TOUCHING ME!!!) we’re going to have to put up with this.

So, Niklas, enjoy your two games off, have some press box popcorn, and we’ll see you next week.

*     *     *     *     *

In other news, the league also handed out a two-game suspension to Islanders’ defenseman James Wisniewski, for being a dick-head.

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NHL lays the Hammer: Hjalmarsson suspended 2 games for hit

You got knocked the fug out! (Getty Images)

As suspected,  Niklas Hjalmarsson  has been suspended for two games for his bone-crushing hit on  Jason Pominville, according to TSNI thought it would only be one game, personally, but the NHL gave two games to  James Wisniewski  today for making a blowjob gesture on the ice. I guess nearly killing someone — intent be damned — is worth at least a blowjob.

Wait…

Anyway, we’ll have more thoughts on this later.

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Boxing with the Blackhawks and Giant Swords, 10/11/10

Monday night’s box score of the Blackhawks’ 4-3 victory against the Buffalo Sabres — with a twist.

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The Champs are here! The Champs are here!: Blackhawks 4, Sabres 3

GET ON YOUR HOSSA!

This game, nor this season, started like we wanted it to start. Before anyone finished mixing their after-work cocktail, the ‘Hawks fell behind 2-0 and seemed headed toward their third straight loss to open their title defense.

But this is what champions do — they fight back. Monday’s win won’t go down as the prettiest — unless you’re counting  Patrick Sharp being back in the lineup — but it’s a win nonetheless which gets the ‘Hawks on the board.

Also, good to hear  Jason Pominville only suffered a concussion. For a minute there it looked like he would be making a tee time on Cloud 9 with  Kim Johnsson.

Here’s what I’ve got…

♦  Marian Hossa is the motherfucking master. His two goals tonight made  Ryan Miller look like Cristobal Huet‘s little sister, and he’s got five points in the first three games. Hossa also set up a chance for  Jonathan Toews while lying on his testicles by somehow sliding the puck over with his stick to a cutting Toews. Watching this guy play is a thing of beauty, and everyone better start appreciating how lucky we are to be able to witness this until he retires before his 300-year contract is up for the next 11 seasons.

♦  Despite the two quick goals,  Corey Crawford played very well tonight and made some good saves — especially on scrambles in front of the net. Sharp stood and watched  Drew Stafford skate right past him up the middle of the ice and put a dart on net 14 seconds into the game. Then every ‘Hawk on the ice supervised while  Derek Roy positioned himself in front of the net to put a rebound past Crawford just a couple minutes later. It could’ve shaken the kid up, but he hung tough and finished strong.

♦  Niklas Hjalmarsson didn’t intend to nearly kill Pominville, but he’s going to get suspended — it’s just a matter of how many games. It was simply a timing play Hammer mistimed. But with the NHL dying to make an example of someone other than people who make blowjob gestures on the ice — Very classy, Wiz — Hammer will have some extra time to film his Ikea commercials.

♦  Another half hour-plus (31:42) of ice time for  Duncan Keith, with  Brent Seabrook adding close to that (28:30). Not trying to make excuses from their sometimes spotty play, but I’m wondering if these two are feeling the effects of so much time on the ice. Granted, Seabrook looked absolutely lost a few times tonight, most notably on the Sabres’ third goal which slipped right past him. But with  Brian Campbell out, Hammer getting booted,  John Scott being a complete boner and the inexperience of  Nick Leddy, the ‘Hawks are relying heavily on Keith and Seabs and it’s tough to expect them to make every single play.

♦  Speaking of Leddy, congrats on your first goal, kid. Even if it was uglier than a  Brent Sopel look-a-like contest.

♦  Patrick Kane netted a power-play goal to pull the ‘Hawks within 2-1, scoring a goal in Buffalo for the first time since 2007.

♦  The fourth line of  Jack Skille, Jake Dowell and  Viktor Stalberg had some great shifts tonight, which is becoming a trend. Now, if they can just put one in the net …

♦  Dave Bolland needs to get his head out of his ass. He was 3-for-9 on the faceoff dot and looked like a complete moron most of the night. I’m not sure what’s wrong with him, but through three games he’s done nothing but aggravate me.

♦  Toews’ numbers: 21:09 on-ice, +3, 14-for-25 in faceoffs and one good deed, bringing Leddy the puck for his first NHL goal.

That’s it for now. The latest edition of “Boxing” will be up around noon tomorrow. You’ll read it.

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Blackhawks vs. Ryan Mill— umm, Buffalo

Photo: viewfrommyseats.com

Quick: name one player on the Sabres. Ryan Miller, good. Now name one more.

Yep, you got the same answer I did: “Uhhh…”

The Sabres are a balanced attack team, ending last year with nobody at the 30-goal or 70-point plateau — but five at or near 20 goals, and FIFTEEN guys with 20 or more points. So essentially, they come at you three lines deep, and they attack from the front: only one of their top eight scorers is a defenseman.

If you did know who plays for Buffalo, you’ll see some minor shake-ups from last season. Jordan Leopold joins the blueline corps, and Rob Niedermeyer is the new “name” up front. Patrick Lalime (yes, God bless him, he’s STILL playing) rides the pine waiting for their superstar goalie to get a hangnail. However, the grousing coming from Lake Erie’s armpit is basically, “How do you expect to do any better than you have been with the SAME LINEUP?” Looking back three seasons, it’s apparent that they have a point.

However scoring is not the focus for the Sabres, as their goals-for last season was middle-of-the-pack, despite winning the Northeast Division and finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference. Which means this team is about stopping goals, not scoring them. I’ve always objected to the defense-wins-hockey-games theory (it actually results in 0-0 ties, if executed to perfection — how’s that winning?), and their playoff record shows it: two, count them, TWO playoff wins in three seasons. The goalie can’t win *every* game for you.

Which brings us back to their star, Ryan Miller. Few would argue that his silver-medal performance at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics (8 goals against, .946 save percentage over 6 games) wasn’t worthy of the MVP award, and Miller continues to perform like a hall-of-famer with each passing season. He is the reason the Sabres finish as high as they do, and his consistent 2.5-ish GAA means all the team in front of him has to do is score 3 goals a night. So it’s the Blackhawks’ job to stop that.

Unfortunately, stopping goals hasn’t been the Blackhawks’ strong suit this season. They’ve allowed seven goals over two games, with solid performances from Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but middling, deer-in-the-headlights efforts from the rest of the defensive squad. The absence of Brian Campbell is hurting us, as it did last season, and that will be a problem against Buffalo.

Additionally, the Blackhawks haven’t found their scoring touch as yet either. On this team, when Bryan Bickell leads the team in goals, something’s askew. Alas, it is indeed, as neither Patrick Kane nor Jonathan Toews has lit the lamp so far this year. Against a powerhouse goaltender at the other end of the rink, this does not bode well for our chances. Pray Mr. Kane decides to humiliate the home team and set the building on fire in front of his home-town fans.

Brandon Pirri has been sent back to Rockford, suggesting that Patrick Sharp will return to the lineup tonight. His energy and strong play will hopefully provide a spark and get the ball rolling. The Hawks need a confidence-builder, and few things could do that better than racking up 5 goals and chasing a superstar goaltender in the first two periods of the game.

On defense, Jordan Hendry is a scratch for the second game in a row, and John Scott will get another chance to land that pesky triple salchow. Hopefully Coach Q will start to mix the pairings up a bit to try to solidify what has been an inconsistent effort from the rear guard thus far.

After the Hawks morning skate it was announced that Corey Crawford will start tonight. I’ll bet that cheesed off Marty Turco, who has no wins in his first two starts. But it will be good to see Crawford get his first start behind him, and if we see the same kind of don’t-even-think-about-scoring-on-me approach he exhibited in the pre-season, this could be a good outing for him and the team.

I just hope we don’t rely on our goalie to win this one for us. How ironic would that be.

The season so far hasn’t been awful, it just hasn’t been what we’re used to seeing. Perhaps tonight we can catch a glimpse of the speedy, tic-tac-toe passing team we saw for most of the year last year. That, above all, would get the Blackhawk faithful back on the bandwagon. If we have to endure much more of the team we’re seeing now, and it may be difficult to convince Hawks fans that the bandwagon isn’t going into the ditch.

Puck drop 6pm, TV is Comcast SportsNet. Does anybody even listen to games on radio anymore? Comment here if you listen on traditional broadcast, Sirius or XM. If so, I’ll try to put those channels up here for you each game so you don’t have to hunt them down constantly. I hate that.

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Boxing with the Blackhawks and Communists, 10/9/10

Here’s Saturday night’s Blackhawks vs. Red Wings box score with a twist:

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Detroit (*spitting noise*) vs. Chicago: Invasion Of The Colostomy Bags

Photo: AP

Seems the Red Wings organ-eye-zation didn’t care too much about my vicious evisceration of their geriatric lineup, as the only assisted-living candidate that was cut from the team late in the pre-season was Kirk Maltby.

Don’t let the oxygen tank hit you in the derriere on the way out the door, gramps.

But you can be sure to see five more of the skating senile on Saturday night, all north of 37 years of age: Tomas Holmstrom, Mike Modano, Kris Draper, Nick Lidstrom, and Chris Osgood.

As predicted, barely any of the young mustangs in the Detroit stables made the team: Justin Abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz will bring his -11 rating from last season to the forward ranks; and Jakub Kindl, still fuming from his not-unexpected defeat during the copyright infringement lawsuit with Amazon.com, will be on the blue line.

Detroit brings with them the usual cast of characters: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Todd Bertuzzi, Dan Cleary, Johan Franzen, and prodigal Euro-trash Jiri Hudler fresh off an I’m-taking-my-football-and-going-home contract dispute that landed him teaching pre-schoolers how to tie their skates in Russia for a year. Or something.

Our pre-season win against the Motor City’s limp and incontinent came with leaky sieve Osgood in net, and however I’d be surprised if we were so lucky this outing. You can bet Jimmy Howard will be between the pipes, and he’s a more formidable backstop, if only due to the fact that he doesn’t soak his teeth between periods. We’ll see what Coach Cranky Pants decides to do.

All kidding aside, whatever the Scum are doing, it appears that they are firing on all cylinders to start the year: last night they blanked Anaheim 4-0. Let’s hope the back-to-back games gives us the advantage.

For the Blackhawks, it’s likely the same lineup we saw against Colorado, with the likely exception of defenseman Nick Boynton replacing either Jordan Hendry or John Scott. You will continue to see the same 12 forwards in the lineup for the foreseeable future, as injuries and salary cap restrictions mean we can only carry 12 on the roster right now. So everybody plays. Yee-ha…

The fun begins at 7:30pm, and what fun it will be. Expect Lord Stanley’s Cup to make an appearance at center ice, as the Blackhawks raise the Championship banner to the roof of the United Center prior to dropping the puck.

And won’t that be a treat for the Detroit (*spitting noise*) players to watch. Chicago is “Hockey Town” now, bitches.

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Boxing with Blackhawks and Big Falling Snow Pile, 10/7/10

My nice new job allows me access to screenshots of the box scores, so I thought I’d take advantage and try to put something together for last night’s Blackhawks opener vs. the Colorado Avalanche.

I’m going to try and do this as much as I can this season. Can’t guarantee I’ll get to it every single game. Sorry if the font is a bit small, but it’s definitely readable. Let me know what everyone thinks.

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If Not For Some Rookie Mistakes

Photo: Marc Piscotty - Getty Images

When Jeff brought me on board, one of the things he told me was that if I disagreed with something he was advocating in one of his posts, feel free to say so.

Didn’t take long. Heh heh…

But we’ll get to that in a minute. I just have some quick thoughts about two rookie mistakes from the same play during last night’s game — Colorado’s first goal. The first mistake was from Nick Leddy, who was the victim of a bouncing puck, and incredibly speedy pair of forwards, and getting caught flat-footed in the attacking zone.

Sitting on the right point and fielding a pass from his mate Niklas Hjalmarsson, the puck bounces over Leddy’s stick, takes a Colorado carom off the boards, and it’s off to the races. What could he have done differently? The only thing that comes to mind is sacrificing the attacking zone: going to one knee to field the pass coming across from Hammer, using his hands to settle the puck down (keeping it in front of him and pushing it into the neutral zone, away from the Avalanche forwards), and having the team re-group. Other that that, the kid lost a foot race against one of the speediest guys in the league, pure and simple.

Credit to Coach Joel Quenneville, however: he still kept the kid out there, and Leddy put in a solid effort in 19+ minutes in place of the injured Brian Campbell. As he matures he is going to be a valuable asset to the team. However, it appears at this point that he’s not over the holy-shit-I’m-in-the-NHL jitters. This time last year, Leddy was trying to persuade a lovely young Scandahoovian girl to write his English paper for him. Now he’s skating alongside Olympic gold medalists. That would screw with anybody’s perspective.

The other rookie mistake was from 10-year NHL veteran Marty Turco. And this is where Jeff and I disagree. Turco was not the reason the game went into overtime; he’s the reason the Blackhawks didn’t win it in regulation.

Defensemen are taught from an early age: in a 2-on-1, play the pass. Play the PASS, play the PASS, PLAY THE PASS. This means that you never, EVER, stop covering the guy *without* the puck. Why?

First of all, it eliminates confusion between you and your goaltender as to who is covering whom. Secondly, it leaves the situation as a 1-on-0, and usually from a bad angle.

The path from the blue line to the net is a funnel. The further you can push the attacking forwards towards the goal, the less lateral room they have to maneuver, and the fewer shot options they have available. You keep them thinking about the pass/shoot decision until they’re so far down they’ve (still) got nobody to pass to very little open net to shoot at. That gives the advantage to the goaltender, and all of a sudden your 2-on-1 isn’t so scary anymore.

For this reason, they tell goaltenders from an early age, play the shooter. That’s where Mr. Turco fucked up.

As Nick Leddy was out of sight behind the play, it became a 2-on-1 towards our goal with Niklas Hjalmarsson busting his meatballs to cover the guy in the slot. This put Avs forward Chris Stewart carrying the puck off on the left circle with nobody to get a (decent) pass to. Perfect, right? Turco can stop that, right?

No. Turco was playing the pass, standing so far out of his crease I could have parked the U.S.S. Constellation, two of it’s tender ships and a life raft between him and the goal post, leaving Stewart to flick a wrist shot past Turco. An 8-year-old could have buried that shot with his skates untied. Fool-idiot rookie mistake.

I’m not saying we should have kept Antti Niemi, that ship has sailed. I disagree with the selection of Turco for just this reason. His performance is a balancing act, alternating between bailing the team out of deep doo-doo with Rogie Vachon acrobatics, and letting in crap goals like this one. If Turco hugs the post on this play like he’s supposed to, then the game is tied 2-2 going into the 3rd, and the Hawks win in regulation.

But as Jeff says, we’ve got 81 more of these to go. Nobody wins 82 games a season, this is just the start. We’re going to give ourselves ulcers if we judge each game strictly by the scoreboard. There was a lot to like about last night’s game. As the jitters subside, the team gets into proper condition, and the kids stop running into their teammates (not mentioning any names, Viktor Stalberg), we’re going to have a lot better outings than the one last night in Denver.

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It’s a league game, Smokey: Falling Snow Pile 4, Blackhawks 3 (OT)

Well, that's PooP (Getty Images)

It’s pretty amazing how emotions shift so quickly. Until yesterday, I was still enjoying the Stanley Cup victory. Hell, I haven’t even gotten my season-ticket holder time to grope the thing. That happens Oct. 14.

But as soon as the VERSUS coverage shifted to Denver, I forgot everything that happened in June and during the Summer-long celebration. We’re back to reality, and the Colorado Avalanche made sure the Blackhawks know that, too.

The ‘Hawks showed flashes of their potential to repeat as champs, but also played like they were wearing slippers at times. It’s what comes with defending a title and having a target on your back. And there’s 81 more of these to go.

Though I would have loved to get started with a victory, the Blackhawks came out with a standings point from a game in which they trailed 3-1 and looked left for dead. So, there’s that.

Here’s the rest of what I’ve got for tonight…

♦   Before everyone starts leaving skid marks in their undies, Marty Turco is the reason that game even went to overtime. I wanted to get that out of the way just in case there’s a meathead reading this saying, “We should’ve never let Niemi walk.” Turco made some great saves tonight on good chances for the Avs — and more importantly, on good shots as well. There’s not much to complain about on any of those four goals.

♦  Turco’s athleticism is something we’re not used to, and it may cause heart failure for one or two people this season watching him chase the puck all over the place. Yes, he almost got burned getting caught in Bumblefuck deciding whether or not to chase down a loose puck entering the zone. But I’m convinced Turco’s ability to play the puck will be an asset for the ‘Hawks rather than a detriment. Minus the Chris Stewart goal, Turco snuffed the Avs on a couple more odd-man rushes because…

♦  … the ‘Hawks were noticeably different without  Brian Campbell. The Avs had enough short-handed chances tonight to make me want to strangle a small child. Part of the reason for that is Campbell’s speed wasn’t around to make up for the blue-line shortcomings of the forwards at the point. Aside from that,  Nick Leddy’s blunder which led to the Stewart goal may not have happened, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Oh, and the Blackhawks gave up 41 shots. This can’t keep happening. And if it does, it’ll be a long season.

♦  Marian Hossa is a fucking animal. He just does everything right. Even forgetting his deflection goal and beautiful assist on  Bryan Bickell’s tally, Hossa makes such good decisions and plays an outstanding defense for a forward. If he wasn’t known so much as a scorer and playmaker, I have no doubt he’d be getting more consideration for the Selke Trophy.

♦  Patrick Sharp is not only a very handsome man, he also played fantastic tonight. Even during the preseason, Sharp looked like a man just dying to get back on the ice and get the season started. Not a bad way to get going: Goal, assist and seven shots on goal.

♦  Getting back to Leddy’s miscue in the offensive zone that lead to Stewart’s goal: It was a 19-year-old play made by a kid seeing his first NHL action. Leddy turned a routine cross-ice pass into hacky sack.  Niklas Hjalmarsson was forced to saucer it to Leddy, who had time to either settle the puck down with his hand — a la  Duncan Keith – or simply let the puck slip past him and let the boards settle it down for him. Overall, Leddy didn’t play all that bad for a guy no one really figures is ready to play at this level. He made a rookie mistake.

Let’s just hope there’s not many more of them.

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

A couple non-’Hawks-related things…

For those who may not have noticed the names on certain posts,  Tim Currell has jumped aboard to help me out with some thoughts and keep this site updated with insightful words. My fault, Tim, for not announcing this earlier. But be sure to check the names on the posts to know who’s writing and who to direct your feedback to. You can find each of our email addresses on the “About” page.

Holy. Fucking. Shitballs. Look at this fucking goal by  Jordan Eberle, the Edmonton Oilers rookie making his NHL debut. I couldn’t go without posting this:

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