Commentary

Don't forget Savard's impact on Hawks

Updated: June 7, 2010, 9:56 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- Two years ago, Patrick Kane cried after finding out Denis Savard was out as Blackhawks coach. He didn't understand.

He was only 19, and didn't know the ins and outs of the business side of NHL yet. But it also spoke to his relationship with Savard, one of the most popular figures in Blackhawks history. Even today, there remains a bond between Savard and Kane, two dazzling offensive talents who had the obvious connection because of it.

"We talk a lot," Savard, who now serves as a team ambassador for the Hawks, told ESPN.com on Monday. "I've been in his shoes in a sense. We play pretty much the same game. I understand what he has to go through and the battle he faces every day, and I think he's played very well the last two games. I'm happy for him. He's a great kid."

With the Blackhawks one win away from a Stanley Cup championship (they lead the Flyers 3-2 heading into Wednesday's Game 6 of the finals), Savard is excited for Kane, Jonathan Toews and all the other youngsters he coached when the team began its rebuilding project.

No one can argue the outstanding job Joel Quenneville has done since replacing Savard early in the 2008-09 season; but, nonetheless, Savard deserves some form of recognition for helping many of these youngsters get their feet wet in the NHL.

[+] EnlargeDenis Savard
Bill Smith/NHLI/Getty ImagesDenis Savard, left, is hoping this year's Hawks can bring the Stanley Cup back to Chicago.

"There's no credit for me to take under any circumstance," Savard said. "At the end of the day, it's the players that play the game. I know that I've been with those kids for a while, some of them. Honestly, they're special people. I was involved in the coaching here for a long time, as an assistant as well, and to assemble a group like this with so much will, it's tough to find.

"Philadelphia is also a young team with a lot of resilience themselves. But I'm excited, I really am. I feel it inside of me, I can tell you that. I have great feelings about how well [the Hawks have] played and I'm excited for them. The bottom line is that I hope they can get it done for themselves. They've worked so hard for it."

Savard believes the captain, Toews, had his best game of the finals Sunday night.

"He's been great all year, but last night was the kid that we know," said Savard. "You know, it's tough. You forget these kids are 21, 22 years old, and they're leading the team. But last night, kids like [Kris] Versteeg stepped up, Buff [Dustin Byfuglien] stepped up. They're fun to watch."

One thing Savard tried to do when the young core of this team first came together was stress the importance of two-way hockey.

"When I was a young kid coming to the NHL, I was really never taught defense," Savard said. "I was scoring goals in junior, and when I got to the pro level, they didn't want to change any of my game. So I used that example with these kids.

"When I was traded to Montreal, first thing they told me was, 'Your point production is going to go way down, but you're going to win a Cup.' That came from [former GM] Serge Savard, who told me I would have to play defense for that team. So I tried to keep these kids accountable in terms of playing defense right from day one and they responded that way."

Savard did indeed win a Cup with the Canadiens in 1993, but never with the Blackhawks, the team he's most associated with. He led some good teams in the 1980s, but they never won the title. Now, the franchise so close to his heart is one win away from delivering this Original Six city its first Cup in 49 years.

"I mean, it would be great, for everybody that's involved now," said Savard. "I know [owner] Rocky [Wirtz], after he took over, hired some great people, starting with [team president] John McDonough, and John hired people. The message was pretty clear: They wanted to win a Cup. I hope that happens this year."

Just as important, Savard added, are the people who have come back to the United Center in droves.

"The fans, we lost them for a while in the sense that they weren't coming to the rink," said Savard. "But we didn't really lose them overall, because we knew they were there. I've got a lot of friends in this town. They're hungry. They want to see this happen, and I hope it does. But these Flyers are tough. It's not over yet."

And right there, the old coach in Savard took over. He wanted to warn his former players that the toughest test is yet to come.

"They're one win away, but it's a long ways still," said Savard. "You're facing a team on Wednesday that has come back from a 3-0 series deficit. Even last night, a three-goal lead and you think it's over, but it wasn't. They kept coming back. That's the advice I would give them. Don't let these guys off the hook. If you have a chance to put them away, you have to finish them off because they won't give up. They haven't all playoffs long and now wouldn't be any different.

"The most work they will ever have to put in is the next four days. That's all they've got left, and hopefully, we won't have to go to that fourth day."

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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