Sports are about moments.
For the fans who’ll never get to score a game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs or make that tide-turning save on an odd-man rush, we live for the instances where the games we love consume our entire being, to the point the universe’s existence outside of this place is merely a rumor. Nothing else matters.
The catch is, though, that moment is never fully realized until it’s gone. While the events are unfolding, the all-consuming nature of the moment prevents the understanding that this moment is one that will be revisited countless times in the future, frequently when fans of the same team pull up next to each other on a barstool, with one turning to the other and starting a sentence with, “Do you remember ... ?”
Or, as hockey announcer Doc Emrick often utters as the Stanley Cup is being paraded around by its winners, in a line first authored by Patriot-News writer Steve Summers in describing the 1988 Hershey Bears Calder Cup championship: “The episodes in life that last so many years in memory are often measured in fleeting minutes as they happen.”
Well, I’ve got a moment to share, one that occurred 10 years ago — holy hell, 10 years — on this day. So pull up a chair and take a trip down memory lane.
This was still so new.
Having just missed out on the Hawks playoff runs from the early and mid-90s, this was my first real taste of a Stanley Cup Playoff run, as the Hawks 2002 postseason appearance lasted all of five games. Chicago quickly dispatched Flames and then met the Canucks in the second round, with the rivalry between Chicago and Vancouver already heated thanks to this brawl from March 29 of that season (and the hair-pulling incident between Alex Burrows and Duncan Keith). The Canucks took Game 1 at home before Chicago evened the series in Game 2, and the teams also split Games 3 and 4 at the United Center, setting the stage for a pivotal Game 5 on a Saturday night in Vancouver.
For me, I had to find a way to watch that game while in college in central Indiana, a significantly difficult task in that hockey hotbed (I met exactly one other hockey fan in my four years there. We became fast friends because we may have been the only two on campus). Through a series of circumstances too complicated to explain, I suddenly had DirecTV at my off-campus house and access to whatever Comcast SportsNet Chicago was called at that time, which meant I could watch the game at my house. Except it was the final Saturday of the school year and I’d be heading home Sunday. It was also graduation day, which meant that several people would be leaving that Sunday to start the next phase of their lives. It wasn’t the type of Saturday where you’re supposed to be sitting in your house, watching hockey all night.
But I did it anyway.
At least, I tried. I watched Dustin Byfuglien score two power play goals as the Hawks and Canucks entered the second intermission tied 2-2. Sometime during that intermission, I received an all-caps “WHERE ARE YOU???” text. That’s because, at my tiny college in central Indiana, all the graduating students gathered at one dive bar (and that’s being generous) in town the night of graduation to bid a proper farewell to those who were leaving us. I’d just finished my third year, so I knew many of those who’d gathered — but I was watching hockey. No, playoff hockey. I couldn’t bring myself to leave until that frantic text arrived. So I did what everyone did in 2009 — I popped a blank tape into the VCR, hit record and headed off to the bar for drinks with many people I haven’t seen since that night ended.
I got home around 2 a.m. and sprinted to my room, fully unaware of how the Hawks game had ended. But in a classic rookie mistake, I hit the “play” button too soon and saw that the score was 3-2 late in the third period, with the Hawks ahead, completely ruining the suspense I’d attempted to build for myself.
I didn’t care.
I probably jumped to the goal to see how it happened: a brilliant Patrick Kane save of an attempted clear by the Canucks. Eventually, the puck works back to Kane at the left circle and he fires a pass across the ice to a wide open Dave Bolland, who made no mistake. Pat Foley has the call beginning at the 3:25 mark of this video:
That play cemented Bolland — great first name and all — as my top guy of that Hawks era. When Martin Havlat scored the game-clinching empty-net goal — a goal I didn’t know was coming, unlike the other — I’m pretty sure I woke up my roommates with my celebration, with a sudden surge of confidence that this team was moving onto another round.
And they would, with Kane’s hat trick in Game 6 ending Vancouver’s season and sending the Hawks to their first conference final in nearly two decades. I was home by then, back with friends in an area where it wasn’t a Herculean task to find a hockey game on television. Back for the first of so many memories from an incredible run of Blackhawks hockey.
A run that still seems to have its another memory or two waiting to be created.