Commentary

Young Chicago's reserve is endearing

With a muted celebration, Hawks say they're not done, and it's easy to believe them

Updated: May 24, 2010, 5:14 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Maybe in this particular case, youth is not wasted on the young. Maybe what the Blackhawks don't know is precisely what's keeping them steady on this crazy course they are now steering into the Stanley Cup finals.

Still, it was hard Sunday night not to feel as if they were cheating themselves. Here was a roomful of young athletes who had just accomplished a major milestone, yet hockey tradition and their own sense of discipline had them acting as if someone had just handed them a plate of Brussels sprouts rather than the Campbell Trophy.

It was the anti-celebration in hopes that the Big One is ahead. But, come on. Not even a little champagne?

"We don't want the champagne," Kris Versteeg said.

Not even a little victory lap with Clarence Campbell's bowl?

[+] EnlargeDustin Byfuglien
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhDustin Byfuglien said the Hawks celebrated their sweep of the Sharks, but they're not going overboard.

"It's not what we want to win," Jonathan Toews said. "They gave us hats tonight, so we'll come home with those and be happy about that, but we're after something bigger and better, and we still have to win four more games to get that."

Hats?

"We definitely got our music going and whooped and hollered a little bit," admitted Dustin Byfuglien, who scored the winning goal and has emerged as an unlikely offensive hero, although only after substantial prodding. "Then as soon as you guys [in the media] come in, it's time to calm down and that's it."

We should be careful not to mistake their restraint for any sort of apathy. This is dedication in its highest form. It's also why hockey players are so endearing.

Toews, the leader of this determined band of athletes who, if they haven't won the hearts of Chicago by now, certainly should, is consumed by this team and this game.

"Every night before I go to sleep, I can't get the thought [of winning the Stanley Cup] out of my head, so it's been a little stressful," he said. "But that's what's so fun about it. If it was easy, it wouldn't be that worthwhile. We're battling every single night.

"This feels really good right now. But maybe we were a little bit too content with where we were at in the playoffs last year [reaching the conference finals before losing to Detroit]. I think that feeling has gone out the window. We're happy that we're on to the next round, but that's all it is."

Even the fact that the Hawks swept the San Jose Sharks in four games did not necessarily move them. Or if it did, said Toews, it won't for long.

"In a couple days, it won't mean as much to us," he said. "We'll have moved on and gotten over this fact that it's really exciting that we did it in four games. [But] it is good for our confidence."

The danger is that they'll allow this potentially once-in-a-career experience to slip by without fully appreciating it. Teams don't stay the same anymore. Windows of opportunity close. Even successful young teams aren't guaranteed anything more than growing older.

But it is that knowledge, Toews said, that makes them turn around and ignore it.

"We realize how rare this chance is, and we have veterans in our locker room that have been far before," he said. "Soupy [Brian Campbell] has been to the conference final numerous time, and Sopes [Brent Sopel]. But if you think every little detail about how crazy this is and what great fans we have in Chicago and how badly they want it and how exciting it would be, if you think about all these things, it's going to overwhelm you. It's going to drive you crazy.

"It's hard not to sometimes, but we're just going to treat it as hockey, and we're going to keep playing and keep getting better and use that energy of the crowd and the building and this time of year, use that as motivation and emotion to make us better. But there's no reason to beat yourself up when you're away from the rink."

Toews went so far as to put his left hand on his hip when "accepting" the Campbell Trophy for his team as Western Conference champion, as if it might slip and accidentally caress it.

"I don't know when that started," Hawks' senior adviser Scotty Bowman said of the practice to all but ignore the thing and certainly not touch it or, gasp, hoist it. "I think somebody had bad luck along the way, so it's passed down now."

Bowman, who was thrilled Sunday for his son Stan, whose position as Hawks general manager brought him to Chicago, is not against savoring the moment.

"You've gotta watch your distractions and keep your priorities in order," he said. "You really have to enjoy it, though, because it's not easy to get here. Sometimes teams try to shelter [players] too much from the enjoyment. As long as it's in control, it's fine."

Some of the Hawks wouldn't even cop to early Stanley Cup-watching memories.

"It's fishing time right now," Byfuglien said. "I was fishing."

Toews' fondest memory was as a 21-year-old.

"Last year, especially seeing the Pittsburgh Penguins win it, a very comparable team to us, against a team like Detroit, where it looked like it was over halfway through that series, and they just kept kicking, it really made me think there's no reason why we can't do it," Toews said. "We're a young team, but we're here to win it, so we'll work for that."

Clearly, there is no reason to doubt that at this point. And no reason to doubt their judgment. But that doesn't mean they're not open to some decent advice once in a while -- such as, for example, suggesting to Byfuglien that instead of ordering a pizza after the game, he might want to consider any restaurant in town, where a free meal would surely be waiting.

"That's a great call," he said gratefully. "Maybe I might now. I never thought about that one."

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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