The offseason in sports is normally a bittersweet time for us fans. A lot of energy is expended looking at rumor websites, watching highlights, and contemplating the needs of their beloved team for an upcoming season. If your team happens to have won a championship (as the Chicago Blackhawks did this year) an offseason may be filled with higher highs than a fan could have ever expected. That does not exempt them from experiencing lower lows though. There will be trades and moves that can leave some scratching their heads and cursing GM’s without remorse. And then there are some, that fans can see inevitably coming.
The case of Brent Sopel.
Not the flashiest guy on the ice, but an absolute warrior that deserved the Stanley Cup just as much as his teammates. Sopel came back this season to play 73 games after an injury sidelined him for most of the 08-09 regular season and all of the playoffs. Most hockey fans will remember Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith while reminiscing about the Hawks’ magical Cup run…leaving out unsung heroes such as number 5.
Throughout the course of an NHL season many things must happen to prepare a team for playoff glory.
Brent Sopel should forever be remembered as the type of guy a team needs to be successful when it counts. He played most games like they were game 7’s, laying out to sacrifice his body (and face!) to prevent pucks from finding their way to his net. It was not the sexiest job. In fact, I’m certain his frail body had to have looked like 205 lbs of blood sausage after most games. He put on a shorthanded shot-blocking clinic in the Nashville series, a series the Hawks very well could have lost without his contributions. Sopel’s assist on Marian Hossa’s goal wasn’t pretty, but it should be part of hockey folklore for generations. Like any veteran, he did things desperate journeymen will do to win games. That makes up for lack of skating ability, to say the least.
I wont lie and say I didn’t curse his name while he was, so often, looking for the puck despite it being nuzzled between his skates. Alone and wearing a V-neck t-shirt with mustard stains, I yelled through the TV for Sopel to ice the puck against the Ducks in November. Those memories seem to fade as they are replaced by new, happy stories of great passes, hits, or blocked shots. A championship will do that to your memory.
The summer of 2010 will be a pleasant honeymoon after the Blackhawks won their first cup in 49 years. The dismantling of the team has already begun, though. Saying goodbye to any player you watched help a team throughout the course of a championship is never easy. Say what you will about the integral nature of a teams superstars, but Brent Sopel was necessary as an idea. The Sopels of the world won’t garner the most attention from casual fans. They are oft forgotten within 5 or so years, but you can be sure they will always have a place in sports. They may forgo individual trophies to instead have their name forever engraved on the Stanley Cup. ”Brent Sopel” will be on that same piece of silver as Gretzky, Messier, Yzerman, and Hull. Contributions of role players may be forgotten as time passes, but the name stays.
So long, Brent Sopel. You will be missed.