The inspiration for this blog came during the third period of last night's 6-3 loss to the Ducks. A fairly major scrum developed when Todd Bertuzzi (more on him in a minute) bull-dozed Patrick Lalime (most likely accidentally), a number of bodies dove in, the most obvious being Dustin Byfuglien, followed by the referees and linesmen.
When the guys in the striped shirts pulled everybody out, emerging from the bottom of the pile, fists pummeling a hapless Corey Perry, was the gap-toothed spectre of an enraged James Wisniewski.
How can you NOT love Wiz?
This is the guy a lot of Hawk fans wish Jim Vandermeer had become. A bit on the small side, playing on two re-constructed knees, there are few players in the game who bring it every night with more passion.
While I don't personally know Wiz, I feel like I go way back with him. When the Hawks originally drafted him in the fifth round, I was living about 20 minutes from where he was playing with Plymouth in the OHL. A neighbor of mine, it turned out, was one of his agents, also part of the team that represented Craig Andersson and Dustin Byfuglien at the time.
Over time, we talked a lot about Wiz, his family (his parents are great people who were so proud of him when he went to his first Hawk prospect camp) and his prospects. Wiz was a dominant player in the OHL, racking up big points for a defenseman, being named CHL defenseman of the year in his overage season and being selected to the 2004 U.S. World Junior Team.
I was in a conference room in Toronto when the U.S. played Canada for the gold medal. A Canadian client and I monitored my laptop wireless connection for updates on the game. I was so proud when the U.S. won, but even more proud of Wiz, the local Michigan kid, who helped lead the U.S. to victory. (Later, that same client and I went to a game one night in Vancouver— the same one where Bertuzzi sucker punched Steve Moore).
My buddy, Wiz' agent at the time, and I talked about his prospects in the NHL. We wondered if his skating and conditioning would be enough to help him translate his game to the NHL. We didn't need to. When Wiz showed up for full-time duty with the Hawks, he was almost overnight one of their 2-3 best defensemen (albeit on a bad defensive corps).
Wiz played even strength and the power play. He got more than a few goals and assists. He hit people. He played his own zone the way it was meant to be played. First, Duncan Keith, and now Cam Barker, have grown exponentially while playing with him.
I was at the game on 12/26 last year, when the Hawks rolled over the Predators, capped by a game-ending pummeling of Jordin Tootoo by none other than James Wisniewski. Just prior to dropping the mitts, Wiz stepped on a stick and pulled his MCL, causing him to miss the next few weeks, but not the opportunity to put Mr. Tootoo in his place.
Gotta love the Wiz.
And last night, while Bertuzzi parked in the crease whenever the more highly touted Keith was on him, he had to battle for every inch against Wiz, even landing on his backside more than once.
In this blog, I've predicted deals will be made today by Dale Tallon. And like other Hawk fans, I have my list of "untouchables." Here's hoping (and betting) Wiz is on Dale Tallon's.