Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 Chicago Sports Memories Awards

Play of the Year: Patrick Kane, Blackhawks, April 24
     With their first-round playoff series against the Nashville Predators tied at two games apiece, the Hawks are trailing 4-3 in the third period of Game 5 at the United Center and facing the prospect of returning to Nashville for a potential elimination game. The situation goes from bad to worse when Marian Hossa is sent off for boarding with only one minute and three seconds left.     
     As the clock ticks down, Nashville’s Martin Erat gains possession of the puck behind his own net and attempts to clear it along the boards, hoping to spring one of his teammates for a shot at Chicago’s empty net. Patrick Sharp intercepts the puck, pushes it over to Brent Seabrook in the corner, who slides it to Jonathan Toews in the slot. Toews flips a wrist shot that Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne stops with his pads but allows to bounce toward Patrick Kane, who’s camped just to the left of the goal mouth.
     Before you know it, Kane shovels the biscuit into the basket, and the game is tied with 13.6 seconds remaining. It is the first game-tying, shorthanded goal inside the final minute of a playoff game in the long history of the NHL, and it saves the Hawks’ season. The Hawks win 5-4 when Hossa tallies four minutes into overtime, and they advance to the second round by defeating the Predators 5-3 in Game 6 at Nashville.

Game of the Year: Blackhawks vs. Philadelphia Flyers, June 9
     The home team had won each of the first five games of the Stanley Cup Finals when the Blackhawks and Flyers took the ice for Game 6 in Philadelphia. Patrick Kane assisted on the Hawks’ first goal, by Dustin Byfuglien, and their third, by Andrew Ladd, as Chicago took a 3-2 lead into the third period.
     But the Flyers’ Scott Hartnell scored his second goal of the game with 3:59 remaining in the third period, and neither team scored again in regulation. The Hawks had the better of it all night, peppering Philadelphia goalie Michael Leighton with 41 shots in all, while Antti Niemi faced only 24, but nonetheless the Flyers held on to force overtime.
     Four minutes into the extra period, Kane received the puck from Brian Campbell near the left circle. He fired from an apparently impossible angle between Leighton's pads and deep into the far side of the net. The Hawks were Stanley Cup champions, but for an awkward stretch of time no one other than Kane knew it—because only Kane was certain that the puck was in the net (actually it had become lodged under the net). "I knew it was in right away," Kane said. "It was crazy. At that moment, it's just like 'We won the Stanley Cup.'"
     Kane single-handedly began the celebration, skating the length of the ice, yelling "It's in and the game's over!" as he passed the Hawks' bench, and jumping into the arms of Niemi, while the Flyers and their fans looked on in stupefied silence. Almost a minute elapsed before the officials finally confirmed that Kane indeed had scored and that the Hawks’ 49-year Stanley Cup drought was over. 

Player of the Year: Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks

     Wearing the "C" that signifies a team captain is an honor and status symbol for hockey players that is unlike any in other sports. In order to wear it effectively, one must be among the best players on the team, must have the respect of his coach and teammates, and must be able to act as the team's leader both vocally and by example.
    Jonathan Toews was named captain of the Blackhawks in the summer of 2008 after only one season in the NHL and just three months after his 20th birthday. His dedication to the job has earned him the nickname "Captain Serious." In 2010, Captain Serious led the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup championship and received the Conn Smythe Award as the most valuable player of the playoffs.
     "He is a special player," head coach Joel Quenneville said of Toews during the Hawks' playoff run. "Exactly the same approach over the course of the year to the end of the year. He rises to the occasion. But his consistency is what we like. I think Johnny represents exactly the type of leadership any team would love to have."

Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order):
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks; Duncan Keith, Blackhawks; Paul Konerko, White Sox; Julius Peppers, Bears; Derrick Rose, Bulls. 

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