There were really two events last night at the Bell Centre: the classy tribute to the Canadiens-Blackhawks rivalry, and the game between the two clubs.
Have to say I had a few goosebumps seeing a lot of the old greats, and honestly the Habs have been my second favorite team for decades. I was never a great, or a very good, hockey player. But as good as I was, part of it was from warching an interview on NBC's hockey coverage with Yvan Cournoyer in the mid 1970s. They asked him how he got to be arguably the fastest skater in the league. And he simply said (with a heavy French accent): "I go out to the lake and I skate and skate and skate. And then skate some more."
So that's what I did. And it made me a better player for years to come.
Great to see the beaming, ear-to-ear grin of Bobby Hull in his old Hawks sweater. The Jet's become a bit of a disenfranchised spectacle over the last decade, doing guests appearances at Wolves' games and such. Bringing #9 and Stan Mikita back into the fold as Team Ambassadors is one of many great moves by John McDonough and Rocky Wirtz.
On to the game. The Habs have put together quite a team. They could easily take the East. They're solid top to bottom. It was a fun end-to-end game, but in the end, the Hawks were outgunned by a superior team. That said, had the Hawks had Toews, Sopel and Wisniewski, there wouldn't have been such a disparity. Simply put, Toews is a great young player. Sopel and Wiz would give the Hawks depth and stability that they currently lack on the back end. And might allow Coach Denis Savard to move Dustin Byfuglien back up to forward.
Hawk fans are divided over whether Buff should be playing defense or forward. I am one of those who believes he can only be a limited, one-dimensional defenseman, and a beast as a forward. I will admit, I can see the other side of the argument. He really jumps out in terms of his ability to head-man the puck up the ice and start a break-out. All that said, there are some NFL QBs whose arms wow you, but they can't master the subtleties of the position and ultimately can't get you to the Promised Land.
Byfuglien has problems handling faster forwards on the rush. It's a skating issue with him, and it's probably not going to change. Koivu clearly beat him outside last night in the same way other forwards have all season. As the Hawks improve and become a legitimate playoff team with real hopes of a Cup, I question whether Byfuglien can be a top 4 defenseman against teams that can roll 2-3 lines of top-end speed players.
On the other hand, aside from adjusting to skating up and down a wing and how to break out of his own end as a wing, Byfuglien has shown he can be a force as a top 6 power forward. But he can (and should) play D on the power play.
Salut a mes Amis en Montreal! C'etait une tribute tres formidable! Merci, et bon chance.