Work in Sports
CENTRAL DIVISION |
3 Chicago Blackhawks
Team Page | 2000-2001 Schedule | Roster
Sports Illustrated Ranking: 20
By Kostya Kennedy
If one event endures from the Blackhawks' miserable 1999-2000 season, it's the gruesome fight on March 3 between Chicago enforcer Ryan VandenBussche and Lightning tough guy Kyle Freadrich. In a furious exchange of punches that then Blackhawks assistant Lorne Molleken glowingly called "probably the best fight I've seen in hockey," VandenBussche sent a couple of Freadrich's teeth flying out of his mouth. Blood gushed so profusely from both players' faces that children in the crowd burst into tears.
Beginning with last year's preseason, when the Blackhawks were widely criticized for sending too many thugs onto the ice, two things held true about playing Chicago: 1) You had a good chance of winning, and 2) You had a good chance of getting the pulp beaten out of you. All told, the Blackhawks, who were 33-39-10-2, amassed the second-most penalty minutes in the NHL and employed more big-footed bouncer-types than the VIP room at the China Club.
Enter first-year coach Alpo Suhonen, who spent the last two seasons in Toronto, where few aside from forward Tie Domi did any roughhousing and where Suhonen implemented the high-energy offense the Maple Leafs thrive on. The arrival of the erstwhile Finnish theater director (Suhonen produced and directed Cat on a Hot Tin Roof among other plays for the Turku Theatre Company) signals the start of a welcome new era for the Blackhawks, who have missed the playoffs three years running. Suhonen directs his players to keep moving and attack the puck at all times, and he encourages improvising as a play unfolds. "It's dynamic hockey," Suhonen says. "You create a hole and then fill the hole."
Skilled players such as underrated right wing Tony Amonte (his 87 goals over the past two seasons are the most in the NHL), centers Alexei Zhamnov and Steve Sullivan, and defenseman Boris Mironov should get a boost from their new freedom. "There's so much flow," says Sullivan of the team's practices under Suhonen.
Much of the team, though, isn't suited to Suhonen's style of hockey, and until new general manager Mike Smith can assemble more talent to replace the ruffians, Chicago will not be a playoff team. For the moment, it will be progress enough just to keep young Blackhawks fans from going home in tears.
Issue date: October 16, 2000
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