Blackhawks prepare for party crashers
After a summer-long celebration, team must keep its swagger in quest to defend Cup
CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane is only 21 years old and for the rest of his life he will be known for two things:
Scoring a goal to win the Stanley Cup and, for the next three months, partying like he scored a goal to win the Stanley Cup.
When Kane met the media to kick off training camp Friday afternoon, the first question was: "Are you partied out?"
Kane, to his credit, laughed along with the rest of us.
"What are you talking about?" he said with a smile.
Just a year ago, Kane was in major image rehab, trying to live down his arrest and guilty plea for assaulting a cab driver in Buffalo, N.Y. It was a black mark on the budding young star and his budding young team. It didn't stain his season, but it was always there.
Now we can laugh about him drinking his way through Wrigleyville, because he earned his fresh start. To the champions go the spoils. When Kane's moment came in Philadelphia, he took it, shot it and sent it far post.
Kane deserves to be rich and young and confident, with the world in a beer koozie at his fingertips. Whoever said youth is wasted on the young never partied with Kane.
"Definitely the funnest summer of my life, for sure," Kane said. "Leaving Buffalo, and leaving my buddies and my family, that's pretty much what everyone said to me. This is the greatest summer of our lives, the greatest time of our lives. So you realize all the feelings and the emotions you had after a great season like that, and you want to do it again."
Doing it again. Repeating. Back-to-back. Another parade, another summer in the sun. Those are the goals for the Stanley Cup champions.
What will be asked over and over again, but can't be answered until next June: Can the Blackhawks repeat? Can they do what the 1986 Bears and 2006 White Sox couldn't? Can they be the rightful heirs to the Bulls' dynasty?
As we watch the season unfold, we'll find answers to these questions as well: Can this team handle the heightened fame, the increased scrutiny? (The team sold out its first practice of the season. Who sells out practice?) Can individuals temper their egos without losing their edge?
The Blackhawks' core is young, but battle-tested. History is on their side, if only that they handled everything that came their way last season.
"We had pressure last year to win it," Kane said. "Coming in last year, we had a really good team with a lot of depth and a lot of expectations. I don't think [the fans] would've been satisfied if we didn't win the Cup last year. We know how to deal with those expectations and I don't think it's really anything new for us."
As Kane talked about perfecting his shot and stepping up as a voice of the team, Jonathan Toews waited nearby and listened.
The two are linked forever, like Jordan and Pippen, and their differences in personal style belie their similarities.
Why? Because championship teams start at the top, he said.
"They're young, they're fun, they're exciting and they're Stanley Cup champs," he said. "Who doesn't want to be around a group like this?"
We've definitely got to find a way to want it even more the next time around.” -- Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews
Toews said he wants to see the team balance fun and work this season, just like last, when the team's many single players owned the city's hotspots.
The captain said his message to the team will be clear: Forget the past, focus on the present, prepare for the future.
"Most of all," Toews said, "it's easy to imagine how you're going to react and how you're going to be when things are going your way, but it's all about reminding ourselves when things get tough, if we have a two- or three-game losing streak here and there, not to say hey, this is what happened last year, we're doing pretty darned good.
"That's not good enough. We can never think that way. We've got to keep pushing ourselves to get better and never be satisfied with what we've accomplished. In a way you've definitely got to forget what happened last year."
But as Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said, "It's easier said than done." An NHL team hasn't repeated as Stanley Cup champion since Detroit did it in 1996-98.
From getting over a summer of celebrating to the strain wearing a target through an 82-game grind, there are myriad reasons teams can't repeat in the modern age.
The league's draconian salary cap is probably the biggest factor nowadays, as the Hawks can attest. They have to work in new lines, after losing important pieces such as Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg and John Madden. They have to find chemistry without locker-room leader Adam Burish.
Toews looks young -- he's only 22 -- but the Conn Smythe winner is clearly the leader the Hawks will look to this season. He wants that pressure and he's grown into his role in a short time.
In a lot of ways, defending the Cup is on him as much as anyone in the organization. He said the team might be motivated that pundits will shy away from picking it to repeat. But words and speeches will only go so far.
"We've definitely got to find a way to want it even more the next time around," Toews said.
"It's good to have that confidence, almost arrogance in a way, where, like last year, we want to walk into every single game, no matter the opponent, and feel like we've got a pretty darn good shot of winning that game," he added. "You've got to have that mindset if you're going to have success."
I asked everybody about whether the team should even entertain the notion of "defending" the Cup. It's a new season, with a new supporting cast.
Said forward Troy Brouwer: "As soon as the season starts, we raise our banner and give the Stanley Cup back to the league. From then on, it's just trying to win that again."
Veteran defenseman Brian Campbell disagreed, in a way. He doesn't want to forget the Hawks have the Cup. He wants them to act like Stanley Cup champs.
Like Toews said, the team needs a little arrogance. It needs a little swagger.
Chicago needs a little swagger too.
"That's our goal," Campbell said. "Our goal is to defend. So I think that's what we're after. It's ours until somebody takes it away. And I know the guys don't want anybody to take it away from us."
What I think Campbell is getting at is: The party's not over until they say it's over.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.