Wednesday, June 17, 2015

His Famous Final Scene

The 2015 NHL season ended on Monday night.  For the third time in the past six years, it ended with the Chicago Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup.  Irrespective of their individual politics, the Blackhawks are not looking forward to President Obama's departure from the White House, which shall come in the middle of the 2016-17 NHL season.  Chicago is an "Original Six" team.  In its storied history it has captured a half-dozen Stanley Cups, which means that half of its haul has occurred while Chicago's native son has occupied the White House.  Prior to 2010, the Blackhawks had last won the Stanley Cup in 1961 - when the White House was occupied not by a native son but by someone whose election to the Presidency very well might not have happened but for his connection to Chicago.    People of Illinois, if you want the Blackhawks to continue to experience Stanley Cup success in 2017 and beyond, while the present field of candidates numbers something just shy of one hundred, you have but one option.  

Whether you are - as I am - a lifelong hockey fan, you have to be moved (at least a little) by what happened on the ice after the game.  Jonathan Toews is the captain of the Blackhawks.  Tradition dictates that the Cup-winning captain receives the Stanley Cup at center ice from the NHL Commissioner, which usually serves as the impetus to a wild, rollicking celebration as the members of the winning team take turns hoisting the Cup and skating around the ice with it.  On Monday night, Toews accepted the Cup from Commissioner Bettman and after hoisting it above his head and letting loose with a few, appropriate exclamations, he delivered the Cup to a teammate.  But not to just any teammate. 

Kimmo Timonen is a forty-year-old defenseman who has more than a decade and a half of NHL ice beneath his skates.  He is an exceptionally well-regarded player on the international level, having been an integral part of the Finnish National Team for twenty-plus years during which time the Finns captured 4 Olympic medals (3 bronze (1998, 2010, and 2014) and 1 silver (2006)) and 3 World Championship medals (silvers in 1998, 1999, and 2001).   He had never been on a Cup-winning team.  Five years ago, he endured the painful experience of watching the Cup celebration as a member of the losing team when his Philadelphia Flyers were vanquished by Toews and the Blackhawks.  Last summer, Timonen was diagnosed with blood clots in both lungs and in his right leg.  He could not play hockey while he was taking the blood thinners needed to attack the clots.  Slowly but surely he worked his way back into something resembling playing shape and shortly before the 2015 trading deadline the Flyers, who were stumbling their way through a forgettable season, traded Timonen to the Blackhawks.

Roughly a week after the trade was made, in deference to his health and perhaps his age (his fortieth birthday was less than two weeks after the date of his announcement), Timonen announced that the 2014-15 NHL season would be his last.  After arriving in Chicago, he played sixteen regular season games for the Blackhawks, during which he amassed exactly zero points and two penalty minutes.

He laced up his skates for the Hawks fifteen times during their run to the Cup this post-season.  And on Monday night, after his captain had lifted the Cup above his own head and saluted the crowd, Toews made damn certain that Timonen knew exactly how much his teammates and his team's fans loved him and respected him - not simply for battling through his life-threatening health problems less than one year ago - but for what he has meant to hockey (both in North America and all over the world) for close to a quarter-century: 

If possible, watch the video with sound.  You might live one thousand years.  You shall never hear an exclamation of joy better than that of Kimmo Timonen.   After all, it was more than forty years and eleven hundred games in the making. 

It is going to be one hell of a parade in Chicago...

...and the celebration in Finland ain't gonna be half-bad either. 



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