Get ready for a war.
Well, not really.
A fight? Probably not.
Wakey-wakey? Don’t count on it.
The Blackhawks’ second-round playoff series with the Minnesota Wild is a rivalry devoid of bad blood — which some old-schoolers might say doesn’t make it much of a rivalry at all. The Hawks and Wild have played 23 times in the past three seasons — including the playoffs in 2013 and 2014 —yet the familiarity has bred only respect. For those who anticipated a series of knock-down drag-out games with the Blues, this second-round matchup is a disappointment. It’s all about hockey.
“Sometimes it’s like that,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “It comes down to not only respect, but just playing hockey. It’s about both teams doing what they have to to win.”
The days of villainous playoff hockey seem to be dwindling by the year. The Hawks’ own Andrew Shaw tried to spice up the Nashville series. But his 32 minutes of penalties ignited nothing and elicited nary a word of ill feelings between the teams. The days of Dave Bolland goading the Canucks into undermining themselves with undisciplined hockey seem like part of a bygone era.
Neither the Hawks nor the Wild are built for that kind of thing. Shaw’s team-leading 67 penalty minutes were tied for 67th in the NHL this season. The Wild’s Marco Scandella was tied for 83rd with 56 (though former Blues forward Chris Stewart could be a wild-card). When the Hawks and Wild played in the second-round last season, the teams combined for 31 penalties in six games.
“Some teams, it’s their tactic to try and take guys off their game with big hits and stuff after the whistle and antagonizing and that sort of thing,” Toews said. “Some teams, you don’t have that. It doesn’t mean that there’s not hatred and not some type of rivalry there —those are the things you notice and make you really hate other teams, especially when you’ve been through a playoff series against them. We know we’ve got to be ready for this one, because it’s going to be a really tough challenge for us.”
It wasn’t always this way. As pre-Kane/Toews era Hawks fans remember, the Hawks had a rivalry with the Minnesota North Stars in the 1980s and early 90s that was not only filled with hatred, but fueled by it. Here’s how different of an era it was: the two classic villains of arguably the most heated rivalry in the game — the Hawks’ Al Secord and the North Stars’ Dino Ciccarelli —both were 50-goal scorers in the NHL. Hawks’ Hall of Fame center Denis Savard once was given a gross misconduct penalty against the North Stars … for pulling hair. Two years earlier, Savard was ejected from a game against Minnesota for waving his stick in the face of North Stars coach Glen Sonmor.
“It was nasty,” said Eddie Olczyk, who played for the Hawks during the heart of the classic Hawks-North Stars rivalry from 1984-87. “It was intense. It was for keeps. Back in the day, you were going to be in for a physical verbal and old-fashioned [battle]. If you were going to beat us on the scoreboard, we were going to beat you by intimidating and dropping our gloves.”
“You learned quickly,” said Troy Murray, who played parts of 12 seasons for the Hawks from 1982-1994. “I had no hatred for the North Stars when I came in. But you quickly found out that you hated the North Stars. You just hated the North Stars.”
And that hatred was cherished, and preserved. It was that important to dislike the North Stars.
“I remember Al Secord one time when we were out downtown,” Murray said, “we heard walking in [to a bar] that there were some Minnesota players there. And Al Secord would not go into the bar, because he didn’t want to become friends with any of their players. He didn’t want to get to know them personally. So we wouldn’t go in there.”
The Hawks played the North Stars in four consecutive playoffs from 1982-95 and six times in 10 years from 1982-91. The intensity of the rivalry led to some huge upsets. In 1982, the North Stars won the Norris Division and were 22 points better than the fourth-place Blackhawks. But the Hawks won a brutal playoff series 3-1. In 1990-91, the Hawks won the President’s Trophy with 106 points, but infamously lost to the North Stars in the first round, 4-2. The North Stars, who had finished fourth in the Norris with 68 points, parlayed that upset into a berth in the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to the Penguins.
“The rivalry and the way the game was played back then,” Murray said, “physical intimidation was a huge part of whether you beat a team in a series or not.”
Long-time Hawks fans are intimately familiar with the Hawks-North Stars rivalry because they literally were a part of it. In Game 3 of the 1982 playoff series, fights in the stands at Chicago Stadium marred an already brutal game on the ice. It took police to help security to help Andy Frain ushers to restore order. Fans threw debris on the ice — mostly pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. And Darryl Sutter tripped over a coin, slammed into the boards and suffered a dislocated shoulder.
It wouldn’t be the last time the fans became a real part of the rivalry with the North Stars.
“I remember a game where a fight broke out in the stands — and it was Minnesota fans [fighting Hawks fans,” Murray said. “And they stopped the game. We stopped and we were sitting on our sticks on the ice watching the fight in the stands. Not only was the rivalry on the ice. The hatred was in the stands.”
The Hawks-North Stars rivalry is littered with unflattering moments. In the opener of the 1982 playoff series, the teams combined for 125 minutes of penalties — in the first period. A 1984 brawl lasted 49 minutes. In Game of the 1985 playoffs, the North Stars’ Harold Snepsts mugged Olczyk 28 seconds into the game. (“I remember that,” Olczyk said. “And I remember Curt Fraser jumping in there and grabbing Snepsts.”) Murray recalled a game where there was a full-scale brawl before the opening puck drop. The North Stars’ Ron Friest once was given a game misconduct for head-butting Steve Larmer. “I guess I went a little psycho,” Friest explained.
That typified the Hawks-North Stars rivalry. It turned the competitors into combatants. The 6-1, 195-pound Murray, a non-fighter, remembered a game against the North Stars in which he got into a fight with 6-5, 225-pound Dave Richter just seven seconds after he took the opening faceoff. Richter drilled Murray with two hard lefts that opened huge cuts around both eyes, and without one of his contact lenses. The next morning, both of Murray’s eyes were so swollen that he couldn’t see.
“It was because of the atmosphere in the building. It was crazy,” Murray said. “It was so intense, you could cut it with a knife. I got so caught up in the moment that here I am fighting a 6-foot-5, 225-pound guy that I have no business fighting.
“But that’s what it was all about. It was crazy. In those series there were more villains than heroes. Now there are more heroes than villains.”
But it wasn’t all blood and guts. There was some great hockey and memorable moments for the Hawks. They beat the North Stars in 1982 (3-1), when 38-year-old Tony Esposito started in Game 4 and won the clincher 4-2; they won again in the 1983 division finals (4-1), with Rich Preston scoring an overtime winner in a 4-3 victory in Game 4 at the Met Center that gave the Hawks a 3-1 series lead; they won a memorable 1985 division final in six games, when the final three games were decided in overtime:Darryl Sutter scored on a rebound of a Tom Lysiak shot in double-overtime to win Game 4 (7-6); the North Stars’ Dennis Maruk won Game 6 (5-4); and Sutter became the first Hawk with two overtime game-winners in the same series when he scored off a nifty pass from Lysiak and beat a block attempt by Snepsts and goalie Don Beupre at 15:41 of overtime for a 6-5 victory that clinched the series. Troy Murray’s goal with 4:57 left in regulation — coming out of the penalty box, of course — sent it to overtime.
Now, that was a war.
“They had size and toughness,” Olczyk said. “Going into those games, you had to put the hard-hat on and [know that] intimidation was going to be a part of it. That Darryl Sutter goal in overtime — Tom Lysiak dropped it … across the blue line … I remember Pat Foley’s call was ‘Darryl Sutter does it again,’ because that was his second overtime winner in the series.”
In all, the Hawks won four of the six playoff series with the North Stars during that brutal, wonderful era when animosity was the name of the game. The won a first-round series in seven games in 1990 en route to the conference final against the Oilers (where they lost). The North Stars won a first-round series with the big upset in 1991 that catapulted them to the Cup Final against the Penguins.
“The toughness. The rivalry. It was incredible,” Murray said. “As soon as you stepped into the Blackhawks locker room, and the first time you played Minnesota, you knew it was something special. We played Minnesota one year in the playoffs and had a 5-on-5 fight in the series. Back in the day, you could still smoke in the old [Chicago] Stadium. There was a cloud of smoke at the top of the building. And the building would shake.
“It was good. I loved the hockey. It really was a game where you had to compete.”