Underdogs and Hawks

by Ryan

I keep watching this and thinking back to what I wrote before the series started. The post was a lot shorter than I wanted it to be, and I ran out of time before I could really explain my feelings on the series and what makes Detroit so much better. After watching the first two games, perhaps I can take another stab at it.

When you watch a game and root for the underdog, there’s this unmistakable feeling of desperation attached to it. If you know which team is superior you sense the control they have over the game. Even if the score doesn’t show it, you can feel these things if you’ve watched long enough. It’s not cerebral or boring, just… calm.

The best example I can give you is the last half-decade of Bills/Patriots games. There isn’t much more you have to say to Bills fans about that feeling, but it’s prevalent throughout sports. Think about the first ten minutes of a 1 vs. 16 seed in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Despite the score, you can feel the confidence and control the higher seed has over the game. It’s something invisible, but completely obvious to almost everyone involved.

87244905CC044_Chicago_BlackIn a way, I think that’s what has happened in this series. Despite Chicago’s best efforts, Detroit has remained calm and taken care of business with swagger to spare. Last night was a tough 3-2 overtime game, but what gave Detroit the upper hand is something that very much has to do with that control teams have over underdogs.

When you root for an underdog, the constant fear is that your team will make a mistake. If they do, it’s over. Good teams always capitalize, always; and so every second make you a nervous wreck. Every missed chance is the one that will cost them, and every mistake will be the death blow.

The problem is that young teams fill the underdog role for a reason. They make mistakes, and these mistakes are taken advantage of. So when Dan Cleary reads two faceoffs and turns them into goals in consecutive games, these are just products of the matchup. Defenseman on a young, fast team make mistakes; that’s just the name of the game.

I think in a way the same goes for Brian Campbell and the overtime goal. Is he doing too much with the puck? Absolutely. At the same time, that’s exactly what they brought him in to do. He clearly misread the play and didn’t anticipate that Detroit would overload the point, but no one wants to see him give up on a play and get into defensive position. Those are not the plays that earn $7 million contracts; and those aren’t the plays that create offense.

87244905CC039_Chicago_BlackSabres fans will look at that play and affirm that he’s not worth the money, but in reality those plays are exactly what makes him worth that money om a way. Campbell made a mistake that dozens of defenseman make night in and night out. The difference is that Campbell has to make that play, and Detroit is the kind of team that doesn’t miss when given that chance.

The obvious thing to say is that Chicago will learn from these mistakes and get better. I can’t say that will happen, but I do know what I’ve felt these first two games. Chicago may only be a bounce away from a split at the Joe, but that feeling of dread has been there all series long. Unless something big happens in Chicago, the underdog will give up the death blow soon enough.


  1. NoUseForANickname

    2nd game I know Campbell has cost the hawks – and I’m hardly watching them.

  2. John Bigenwald

    Can’t agree that Campbell has to try and make that play. He HAS to get the puck deep, he HAS to get in front of the winger after the turnover, he HAS to make the safe play.

    They were on the road, in OT down a game. He can’t take that chance in that situation. The fact that he has taken those chances multiple times in big situations is why he’s not worth the money.

    I live in Chicago, when Campbell was signed it was big news — as big as the Hawks could be last summer. Now he’s on the third pair and is the whipping boy for his turnovers. He’s the same player he was in Buffalo, but now the Hawks fans are seeing the uneven play we saw — although he hasn’t done an Excessive Sweating Institute spot here…

  3. John,

    I have to admit that I agree: Campbell can’t make that play. However:

    “On the goal there I’ll do that play a hundred more times,” Campbell said in the Chicago Tribune.

    Logically it’s a bad play, but that kind of thing is exactly what Campbell is about. It’s not the right play, but it’s the right play for him.

    That said, I really do think you’re right. The more you see him play you understand what he’s about. It’s about taking chances, and last night was a chance that cost his team.


  4. John Bigenwald

    When I saw that quote I cringed. You just can’t make that play in OT, on the road, down a game. You have to show some situational awareness.

    I think he’s saying if he makes that same play and it connects, then he’s a hero. Maybe he’s right — I’m sure he’s made the same play and got it over to the other point for an open shot, but I’m sure that he’s turn it over more often than he’s connected. He’s high risk – medium reward — I guess that’s worth $7mm, but I’m glad it’s not coming out of my team’s cap.