Moments after Dave Bolland's Stanley Cup winning goal flew past Tuukka Rask last summer, I found myself thinking, "What a way to go out...a Stanley Cup hero." Maybe it took Bolland a little more time than it took me to realize that the biggest goal he'll ever score could be his last as a Chicago Blackhawk, but the thought had to cross his mind. The world of the salary cap is cruel, and even after his heroics, he was a perfect candidate to be traded.
Bolland was dealt to his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs six days after the Cup clinching Game Six. Now he's playing a bigger role with the Leafs, leading a young team on the rise in the Eastern Conference. He has 3 goals, 2 of which are game winners, and the team is off to it's best start in 20 years.
Saturday night, the hero returns to the United Center to what should be a roaring ovation.
Before I wrote this piece, I found myself wondering how Bolland would be remembered in 30, 40, 50 years. Will he simply be an answer to a trivia question? Will we see him at the United Center in 2035 signing autographs for a thin line of Blackhawks fans? Of course his Cup winner will be part of every Blackhawk pre-game video montage for the rest of eternity, but what about Bolland the player.
Bolland isn't blessed with top end speed or hands. If you've ever seen him out of his equipment, you'd be shocked at how small he looks. He looks more like a bass player in a punk band than an agitator or penalty killer.
My memories of Bolland are snap shots. Frozen moments, if you will. Of course I remember the big goals, but it's the little things he did that made him one of my favorite Hawks to watch.
He's a master of irritation and agitation. During his Hawks career, he was commonly matched up against the opposition's top line. He was a thorn in the sides of Daniel and Henrik Sedin and their Vancouver Canucks. During the 2010 Cup run, he frustrated Joe Thornton to the point of almost getting his hand lopped off in the faceoff circle. Before the Hawks captured the Stanley Cup in 2010, they had an impressive run to the 2009 Western Conference Finals, where he centered a fantastic line with Andrew Ladd and Martin Havlat on his wings...a line he claimed as his favorite.
Early last season, the Blackhawks were on the penalty kill, and an opponent's stick had broken. Bolland used his stick to move the broken shaft directly into a passing lane. Of course, moments later, the team on the power play tried to pass through that lane, and the broken stick broke up the pass and the Hawks were able to clear. This is just one of hundred of examples of his hockey intelligence. Bolland is as savvy as he is an irritant.
I had the privilege of interviewing Bolland at several bar events over the past three seasons. He'd always grin when asked which team he hated the most. "Vancouver," he'd always say. "They're a bunch of...nerds." Inevitably, the follow up question would come. "Which Canuck do you hate the most?" "All of them," he'd say with a smile.
Bolland's legacy is complex. Often injured, sometimes invisible, but he'd always rise to the occasion. Last season was by far his worst as a Blackhawk, but the only thing anyone will remember is that moment when the puck crossed the line and the celebration began.
History will remember Dave Bolland as a role player on two elite Championship teams. Hawk fans, I hope, will remember him as more than a footnote in the history books.