As the Chicago Blackhawks gear-up for the final third of their season, they find themselves in the unique position of having not one, but two first class goalies. Starter Corey Crawford is top five in wins (5th with 13), goals against average (2nd: 1.86), and save percentage (4th: .926) and whenever coach Joel Quenneville decides to give him the night off, back-up Ray Emery has gone ahead and won every single game he’s started, amassing an 11-0-0 record.
And yet as comforting as this is for Hawks fans who were told all during the lock-out that the team’s destiny would live and die with the goal-tending, the simple fact remains that a goalie-by-committee system isn’t going to cut it in the playoffs.
Therefore I suggest we spend Palm Sunday in reflection. We should reflect on the last golden age of Blackhawks hockey and the goalie who carried the team on his wings.
I’m talking about “The Eagle.”
Ed Belfour (nicknamed “The Eagle” due to the legendary Bird-of-prey he had painted on his face mask) crashed into the Hawks Universe when he became the team’s starting goalie in 1990-91 and immediately carved himself out a place in the Hawks history books by posting 43 victories in 74 games (both NHL rookie and Blackhawk team records), and finishing the season with a 2.47 GAA and four shutouts. He also led the league in Save% (.910) giving him the goalie triple crown which to this day has not been equaled.
But it wasn’t just the big wins and awards that Eddie piled up that made him the heart of the Hawks; it was his attitude. He was known to refuse to be pulled from games, and he shattered sticks over the cross-bar in anger over bad officiating. Belfour ran backup goalie Dominik Hasek out of town after rumors surfaced that he might be in-line for the starting job the following season.
When Belfour was eventually traded to the San Jose Sharks midway through the 1996-97 season it was because once again he’d created tension with backup goalie Jeff Hackett and ultimately decided not to accept the contract extension the team had offered him. He was seen out on the town with members of the Chicago White Sox and even Grunge icon Eddie Vedder. The Eagle also holds the dubious distinction of being the franchise’s all-time leader in penalty minutes for a goalie with 242 (to put this in perspective, Hawks goalie and Hall of Famer Tony Esposito played more than twice as many games and minutes as Belfour and retired with 31).
In essence he was everything this year’s Hawks goalies are not.
That said, sure the Hawks can win it all with the quiet, stoic type in net. See the 2009-10 championship season and goalie Anti Niemi. However at some point in the season SOMEBODY on the Hawks is going to need to get mad. Captain Jonathan Toews has always shown himself to be a mild mannered leader, and Patrick Kane has grown up tons since his days of beating up cabbies for 20 cents. Ultimately, if either Crawford or Emery can figure out a way to channel “The Eagle” and let a bit of emotion into their game, the Hawks might suddenly find themselves with the final piece of the Stanley Cup puzzle.