Nov 16, 2001
After four years of struggle against mediocrity and missing the playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks are back in familiar form. The form of the successful Chicago teams of the 1980's and early 1990's were built on accountability and honest effort. On the Chicago teams of that time, you had to sit in the dressing room beside the likes of hard-nosed players like Dirk Graham. You had to ride the plane beside lunch pail Troy Murray. You had to attend team meetings with the infamous Sutter warriors. There was accountability in every corner. There was a team filled with time-tested players who were there for one reason, to win. In today's National Hockey League of youth, expansion and personal agenda, having veterans who will hold the youngsters accountable to themselves and their teammates is a very valuable ingredient to have on your team.
Much has been written and said about the resurgence of the Blackhawks, with coach Brian Sutter gaining most of the credit warranted, but if you look inside the dressing room you will find four key veteran additions that deserve a fair slice of that credit pie. Chicago General Manager Mike Smith signed four free agent veterans over the summer, and they have all provided the leadership that his team has been sorely lacking.
Defenceman Jon Klemm was signed coming off a Stanley Cup win with Colorado and he has calmed the young Blackhawk blueline corpse with his consistent, mistake free game. In the room, he only has to wave his Stanley Cup ring around to remind everybody that he knows what it takes. Future Hall of Famer Phil Housley was brought in from Calgary, and at 37 years of age he provides a blue print for success and longevity to his younger teammates looking for the same. Winger Steve Thomas was signed for his second tour with the Hawks, his first coming between 1987 and 1992 as part of those successful Hawk years. Thomas has always been an honest performer, who has the ability to deliver at crunch time. He is also a presence in the locker room, a teammate who doesn't lay blame on others, but rather looks straight in the mirror to find solutions. The last of the veteran additions is forward Igor Korolev, who was extremely well liked by teammates in Toronto, and has faced tremendous adversity in both his career and personal life in recent years. Through it all, Korolev is a great example for his peers of what mental strength and toughness can overcome.
In recent years, accountability has been absent from the Blackhawks room. On a team full of youngsters looking to Tony Amonte, Alex Zhamnov and Alex Karpovtsev for leadership, the Hawks seemed to doubt whether they were heading in the right direction. When doubt happens to a team, losses mount. When losses mount, blame and frustration creep in and the finger pointing begins. The only thing that can combat blame is team accountability, and the leaders to instill it. Players like Klemm, Housley and Thomas are those leaders. They know when the line needs to be drawn. Coach Brian Sutter knows as well, but many times players tune out the coach for no other reason than he is the coach.
Players cannot tune out their teammates, especially one who wears a Stanley Cup ring, one who is headed for the Hockey Hall of Fame, or one who helped forge what the Blackhawk emblem stands for. You have to depend on these teammates out on the ice. In the middle of the heat, they watch your back and you watch theirs. There are consequences to all if one guy slips up. These are the things that have to be engrained in the individuals, to make the team successful. Leaders will engrain by example, by practicing what they preach on a daily basis.
In an article I wrote earlier this season, I referred to the Blackhawks as a lower echelon team. A good friend with whom I won an Ontario hockey championship growing up is a fanatical Blackhawk supporter. He told me I was wrong in that assessment, and that I needed to write an article to right the ship. He was right, I need to be accountable to my peers in my writing, and I need to take responsibility when I make mistakes. The Blackhawks are no longer a lower echelon team in the National Hockey League - they are back. The main reason for that - accountability.
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