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Hawks players, not management, deserve bulk of credit

The Hawks wouldn’t have wtwo Cups four seasons without Jonathan Toews. | AP

The Hawks wouldn’t have won two Cups in four seasons without Jonathan Toews. | AP

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Updated: August 3, 2013 6:27AM



Apparently, Blackhawks management won the Stanley Cup, not the players.

Maybe you weren’t aware of this. I certainly wasn’t.

I do recall the players celebrating last week at TD Garden in Boston, but I see now that it was some sort of mirage. What we have learned since Dave Bolland (purportedly) slammed home the Cup-winning goal is that four people are responsible for the Hawks’ second title in four years: owner Rocky Wirtz, president John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville.

Almost from the moment Hawks players left a debris field of helmets, gloves and sticks on the ice after Game 6 ended, the media coverage has leaned heavily toward the management side. I’m sorry, but the first people I thought of as the players kissed the Stanley Cup weren’t the coach or the GM, no matter how many good things they did.

See, there’s this Jonathan Toews kid. He’s pretty good. Teammate Jamal Mayers certainly recognizes that. This is what he had to say about the tying goal late in the clinching game, when the captain slid a pass through the legs of Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara to Bryan Bickell: ‘‘He willed us to win that game.’’

Yes, he did.

Start with Toews and go down the roster. You’ll find many of the reasons the Cup is in the Hawks’ hands. Yet if you’ve been paying attention to newspapers, radio shows and TV coverage, you might have a different impression.

I don’t mean to minimize what management has done, and I certainly don’t mean to suggest any of those men is looking to take credit for what happened this season. I don’t sense this is like the pettiness that arose during the Bulls’ championship run, when a silly tug-of-war for recognition broke out between Phil Jackson and Jerry Krause. See, there was this Michael Jordan guy.

Bowman did an excellent job of building around the core players, but the next time I see a Hawks jersey with his name on the back will be the first. Despite what you’ve heard or read, players win championships. You can have the greatest coach in the world, but if he doesn’t have talent to work with, he’s not going to win.

Quenneville was very good this season, even if it took him awhile in the playoffs to realize Toews and Patrick Kane belonged on the same line. His subsequent explanation that an injury to Bickell forced him to break up Toews and Kane was labored, at best.

I’ve been trying to figure out why we’ve spent so much time praising the people who didn’t lace up skates this season. A few possibilities:

† In this day and age of stats and fantasy leagues, management types are seen as the stars. It’s the salary cap as erotica.

† Some media people don’t understand hockey and find it easier to grasp how a franchise is put together than how a power play is supposed to work.

† For older media folk (myself included), it’s easier to relate to owners, presidents, general managers and coaches than the athletes.

But, Lord, these players are good. Again, go down the roster. Kane might be the best puck-handler in the NHL. Goalie Corey Crawford carried the team for long stretches of the season. (And what a public speaker!) Michal Handzus played Game 6 with a broken wrist and a torn knee ligament. Andrew Shaw’s face looked like a catcher’s mitt after a puck found it. Bickell played with a sprained knee.

You can’t teach Toews’ relentlessness. Take a look at Bickell’s goal again. Toews was a madman in the seconds leading up to the score, digging like a badger to get the puck away from the Bruins.

And yet Quenneville is the guy who comes immediately to mind for what happened June 24? Wirtz? Bowman?

The Hawks might not be here without Wirtz, who opened up the windows and let in the fresh air of needed change after his father died. They might not be here without McDonough, who pushed all the right buttons to build the fan base. They might not be here without Bowman, who took the good and bad of what Dale Tallon did and built a champion. And they might not be here without Quenneville, who pushed and prodded the players to improve.

But I know one thing: They certainly wouldn’t be here without Toews. You remember him, right?



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