A 49-year itch is about to get scratched.
Whether it goes away or not we’ll find out in less than two weeks, but both parties have done enough talking and say they are ready for the Stanley Cup finals to begin.
“I feel good,” winger John Madden said after the Hawks final practice on Saturday morning. “I feel excited. It’s been a long couple days not being able to play hockey. We’re excited it’s here. Game 1. We can finally start answering questions after the game about what happened out there instead of the same questions over and over so we’re pretty excited about it.”
Madden says the Blackhawks will try to keep things as normal as possible leading up to faceoff.
The team will stay in a hotel Saturday afternoon before returning to the United Center.
“We tried it in the San Jose series so we’ll see how it goes,” coach Joel Quenneville stated.
Quenneville says he doesn’t have any Knute Rockne speeches prepared for pregame. Again, treating it like just another game or beginning of a series, is the Hawks preferred strategy.
“We don’t change too much the flavor of how we approach games or going in between series,” Quenneville explained. “I think the guys have been really diligent with their preparation and their focus has been in the right place.”
What about nerves? There’s sure to be a few.
“You’d be different if you weren’t nervous for this,” Madden stated. “You have to be nervous for this but in a good way, though, and channel it the right way. You don’t want to be that nervous guy that doesn’t want to go on the ice. You want to be that guy that is nervous because he’s excited to play hockey and just chasing a dream.”
Adam Burish concurs.
“Nerves can be a good thing for this group,” he said. “Like when Jonathan Toews get nervous he gets dialed in and he’s unstoppable sometimes. Once you get on the ice that’s where everyone is most comfortable. Some guys get more nervous talking in front of the camera than being on the ice.”
Quenneville thinks with the layoff and the stakes, the first few minutes of the game will be interesting.
“Everybody needs a couple of shifts under their belt playing hockey,” Quenneville said. “Lot of talk here all week long. That’s what we’re looking for, just to play.”
For some players, the night before the finals begin wasn’t a big deal -- Dave Bolland said he was out cold at 10 pm Friday night -- for others the phone wouldn’t stop ringing.
“[It] rang more than normal,” Burish said. “My sister called me to wish me luck and cut me back down to size. She said, ‘You’re not that cool. What did you do today?’ So she gave it to me. And some buddies called.”
Patrick Sharp says all his business is taken care of.
“Everyone has everything figured out for logistics and family and stuff like that” he said. “We’ve done enough scouting and talking about the other team … we’re happy the moment is here.”
“Tough loss with Laddy [Ladd] but Kopy [Kopecky] is a big body with some nice hands,” Dave Bolland said. “We can utilize him. It is a bit of a different rhythm but we mixed up the lines all season. I played with Kopecky so I know how he plays.”
Bolland, Kopecky, and Kris Versteeg will start together as the Hawks checking line. The former two along with Ladd were a vital piece to the Hawks defensive puzzle in previous rounds.
“We have options,” Quenneville said. “We’ll see. I know [we have] Hossa or you could look at Brouwer [going there]. We have other options as well. We’ll probably begin like that and go from there.”
So the game plan is in -- look for Bolland to check Mike Richards -- and tickets have been distributed. Families have arrived from all over the world and Hawk fans are as hungry as ever. There’s only one thing left to do. The veteran Madden will address it.
“Have fun. It’s a chance of a lifetime.”
That it is.