First Hawks Hero - Kyle Calder

This one's from reader Dave Melton.

I really picked an awful time to become a Blackhawks’ fan. The first game I went to was in 1997, the season following Roenick’s departure. I watched four seasons of, at its best, mediocre hockey. I know the first Hawks’ sweater I ever owned bore the name of Eric Daze, but that was largely because his name was so close to my name (Dave) and I thought this was awesome at the age of 11.

The 2001-02 season was the first time I got to enjoy a winning hockey team in Chicago. To this day, I have a soft spot for names like Thibault, Daze, Sullivan and Amonte because of that year. But the one player who became the focus of my early teenage admiration was LW Kyle Calder.

He played 81 games that year, scoring 17 goals and setting up 36 more. But the one goal that endeared him to me, more than any other, was the one he scored in Game 1 of their playoff series against St. Louis. I believe it went something like this: shot from the point on the power play, save by Brent Johnson, rebound kicked out to Calder, and he roofed it over a sprawling Johnson for an early 1-0 Hawks lead. The Blue tied it later, and Alex Karpovtsev’s goal with three or four minutes left in the third period gave the Hawks a 2-1 playoff victory. That night sealed Calder’s name at the top of my list. Somehow, the Hawks spent the next three games getting shutout by Johnson, before exiting in five games. I was bummed, but I had a new up-and-coming player to watch. I was excited for the upcoming season.

That summer, I signed up for the Blackhawks Kids’ Club, just because I knew it’d get me an autographed 8 x 10 photo of Calder. I couldn’t beg my folks to buy me another Hawks sweater so I could get one with number 19 on it, so that was the piece of memorabilia I settled on. For the next four years, my eyes followed Calder all over the ice—probably to save me from watching the puck constantly end up in the Hawks’ net. As part of the A-B-C line that included Tyler Arnason and Mark Bell, I naively thought that this would be the core that would lead the Hawks out of the Western Conference basement. Arnason went on to get in fights outside of strip clubs with Theo Fleury and in Nashville bars with then-coach Brian Sutter. Bell would get traded and promptly get a DUI in Canada. But I always held out hope that Calder would hang around and be part of a Hawks’ resurgence.

That ended—I thought—when he was traded in August of 2006 to Philadelphia for Michael Handzus. But hope resurfaced at the trade deadline of the following year, when a buddy informed me that Calder had been traded back to Chicago for Lasse Kukkon and a pick.

Soon after that, in a cruel, cruel twist, Calder was shipped to Detroit for Jason Williams. Not only had my favorite Hawk been sent off—again—he’d become Scum. I was crushed that day. Thankfully, a new number 19 took the ice for the Hawks that fall. I haven’t had many complaints since.

One day, there’s a very good possibility that number 19 will be hanging in the rafters at the United Center, bearing the name of our beloved Captain Marvel. But I know there’s a part of me that will always see that number and think back to a sprawling Brent Johnson and a gaping net and Kyle Calder, there, to bury the rebound.