Barack Obama, Jonathan Toews
The facts: 7 p.m., CSN+, 720-AM.
Updated: December 7, 2013 6:37AM
Standing in the corner of the China Room inside the White House, a few feet away from a towering portrait of former first lady Grace Coolidge, Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane joked about how President Barack Obama — or just “Barack,” as Kane called him — left him hanging when Kane stuck his hand out for a handshake too early while Obama was speaking with Rocky Wirtz. Kane also talked about touring the White House with some of the first-timers and about learning interesting factoids about various rooms and past presidents.
What Kane didn’t talk about was hockey — about the Hawks’ recent offensive surge, about his surprising minus-9 rating, about a competitive Central Division race, about a disappointing loss Sunday against the Flames, about the still-struggling penalty kill.
While other teams put on their gear and hit the ice Monday, the Hawks put on their suits and hit the town. Throw in another day off on Tuesday — because after a busy stretch, Monday might have been the most exhausting day of all — and the Hawks spent a rare 48 hours off the ice, their minds and bodies elsewhere.
It could be a good thing — a welcome break in a monotonous season, a chance to refresh and re-energize. But it also underscores just how different the 2013-14 campaign is for the Hawks, compared with every other team.
“There are some perks along the way from winning championships,” coach Joel Quenneville said at the White House.
Perks, yes. Potential obstacles, too.
There was the all-too-brief summer of love in Chicago and in their hometowns — more rollicking than relaxing. There was the emotionally charged banner-raising ceremony. There was the posh ring ceremony. There was the White House trip. Next comes the circus trip — seven cities in 13 days starting Nov. 19 in Colorado. Then the Olympics, which start three months from Wednesday and might include more Hawks than any other team’s players, and a stretch of more than five weeks without a game at the United Center. Throw in an outdoor game at Soldier Field on March 1, and the Hawks are looking at a season unlike any they’ve faced, including their last title defense.
The good news is, this team is uniquely prepared to handle the relentless grind and emotional highs and lows of this one-of-a-kind season. They have the experience and temperament of grizzled veterans, but the energy and endurance of youth. Even Obama — or, at least, his speechwriters — could see that.
“Captain Jonathan Toews led the team all the way for the second time — and he’s still only, by the way, 25 years old,” Obama said. “Now, I don’t remember everything I was doing when I was 25, but I wasn’t doing that. That I’m pretty certain of. Incredible leadership on his part.”
It’s not just Toews, of course. The whole core has spent most of their careers playing in big games on big stages with big stakes. And the younger guys were thrown right into the fire last season and came through tested and tough.
But last season — a barely three-month sprint until the playoffs — was nothing compared to this seven-month regular-season grind, with all its distractions and doldrums, highs and ho-hums. Never mind the two months of playoffs that they’d have to get through after that.
The spoils of victory are great and deserved, but the road to repeating is loaded with potholes and detours. So if the Hawks can make it back to Obama’s White House next year, it’ll truly be their greatest triumph yet.