Thursday was Media Day for the Stanley Cup Finals, and part of the first floor of the United Center was transformed into a madhouse of media personnel.
The Madhouse on Madison… with Mics?
For a few brief hours a couple days before the abuse begins on the ice, the players at least appeared to be relaxed as hoards of media cornered every player wanting to get bulletin board material.
Committed Indians was there.
The afternoon started with Chicago GM Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville addressing the media. A national group of media asked them questions ranging from the Blackhawks’ 49-year Cup drought to the size of Dustin Byfuglien’s… net presence.
Bowman was asked what he remembers of Michael Leighton’s time in Chicago, and what he sees in Philadelphia’s latest netminder. He noted that, in 2003, Chicago had a battle for their backup goalie position that Leighton lost to current Avalanche starter Craig Anderson.
“The key for us right now is recognize that [Leighton] really on a hot streak,” said Bowman.
Speaking of former employers, Chicago’s Patrick Sharp and Ben Eager fielded a lot of questions about being former Flyers.
“There’s always motivation when you’re playing your old team,” said Eager. ”You know, I’ve got a lot of good memories from playing in Philly, the team I got my chance to break into the NHL with…it’s one thing to be playing in the Stanley Cup Finals, but to be playing your old team… you can get a bit more revved up.”
“There’s enough incentive to win the series with the Cup on the line,” added Sharp, “ but playing the Flyers brings up a whole other set of emotions.”
Emotion isn’t something Chicago’s “Captain Serious,” Jonathan Toews, has been known for since breaking into the league. Indeed, the level to which he continues to downplay an increasingly overwhelming resume is both impressive and inspiring. When it was pointed out that the only other player to ever win the Stanley Cup in the same year as an Olympic gold medal, Toews was as underwhelming as always.
“When you win a [Stanley] Cup or Olympic medal, there are so many stats or things on paper that you can look at that make it seem more special, but at the end of the day you’re lucky to be in these situations,” said Toews. “It’s not just what you’ve done as an individual that’s helped you win these things… it wasn’t a one man show. I’ve been very fortunate to be on that Olympic team and to be on a special team with a lot of great teammates here in Chicago.
“You just go out there as a player, as an individual, and try to influence your team as best you can.”
While Toews downplaying the success he’s enjoyed already at age 22, the Blackhawks’ elder statesman was surprisingly more forthcoming about the impact his season in Chicago has had on his career.
“It’s been eye opening,” said two-time Stanley Cup champion John Madden. “I’ve learned a lot about the game through Joel [Quenneville] and the coaching staff. Watching the young guys play, I’ve learned a lot from them… and the skill level they bring.”
When comparing this Chicago team to his two championship teams in New Jersey, Madden said, “There aren’t too many similarities. None of [the Devils'] teams were this highly skilled or fast. But the one consistency is that we’re a tight group, believe in ourselves, believe in our system and that we can do this, we love to compete and love to have fun playing hockey.”
The physicality of the Flyers has become a theme of the pre-Finals media breakdowns, and it was interesting to see how each team approached the subject. The Blackhawks were well aware that Philadelphia is a physical team.
“We know those guys are physical and will try to slow us down.” said Toews.
“Both teams have a similar makesup,” said Eager. “It’s going to be a battle.”
Madden, however, took a different approach. “They’re physical and they’re aggressive, but they also have speed and know when to use it. The difference between this [Flyers] team and the teams I played in the past is that they have a lot of skill… they’re all skilled up front.”
The Flyers took a similar approach to the media’s questions as Madden.
Despite a number of media members referencing Philadelphia as the “underdog” in the series, most of the Flyers downplayed that approach.
“We’re obviously feeling confident about ourselves, so are they,” said Mike Richards. “For you guys, the media and TV, you probably want to label someone the underdog but we feel confident in our capabilities… we got here for a reason.”
Jeff Carter agreed. “We know we’re playing a heck of a team… we’ve gotta keep going. We have to play our game.”
The Flyers player that successfully blew off the most questions was Chris Pronger, who wanted nothing to do with answering questions about his approach to moving Dustin Byfuglien. Most of his answers were “You don’t honestly think I’m going to tell you?” and “I can go down a list of guys in the league that are big…” when pressed for how he was going to answer for Byfuglien’s size in front of the net.
Which was interesting, because Pronger was more than willing to speak at length on the subject when appearing on “Jim Rome is Burning” on ESPN on Wednesday. In that interview, Pronger said he would try to prevent Byfuglien from getting position, and, if he couldn’t prevent the position, would try to play around him and have an active stick.
On Thursday, though, it was more of “We’ll see.”
When it came to bulletin board material, the only player willing to go anywhere near the idea of a prediction was Carter. When pressed to pick a winner, Carter said “The Flyers… in however many games it will take to win.”
The Stanley Cup Finals begin at 7 PM CST on Saturday night.