As a franchise, the Chicago Blackhawks have been in a lot of places in the past 25 years. They have been in the pits of despair as an organization, and have also reached the ultimate summit three different times. It’s been a roller coaster ride for those of us who have been following this team for a long time.
The 1991-92 Blackhawks are almost a forgotten team nowadays. Outside of those who lived through that season, many fans today don’t know much about the likes of Mike Keenan, Brent Sutter or Michel Goulet. Big names like Roenick, Chelios, Larmer, and Belfour probably ring a bell, but without very much context.
I’m not sure if the Hawks plan to honor the ’92 team at any point during this 25th anniversary season. I think it would be a massive shame if they didn’t. It was such an important era in the franchise’s history. Surely that is an anniversary worth honoring in front of your fans.
My ties to this team are mostly familial, but partially personal as well. First things first, I wasn’t even alive in 1992. I never saw the team play with my own eyes. I grew up as a Blackhawks fan (late 90’s – early 2000’s) hearing stories from my Dad about the “good ole days.” My first introduction to the ’92 team was my Dad’s VHS tape of their season video. I watched it over and over again. For some reason I became fascinated with this Hawks team that I had never actually seen play.
To accurately tell this story, I needed some first hand accounts of what that season was really like from a fan’s perspective. I requested the help of two people who were there to see it all, my Dad and my Godfather. They had season tickets back then (first row, first balcony, on the blue line – nice). They are also the two of the biggest Hawks influences in my life, and writing about their favorite team without their input would be foolish.
Many consider the old Chicago Stadium to be the loudest building in hockey during its prime. It was the building where cheering the anthem began, and a place that instilled fear into every opponent that came to Chicago. I wish I could go back and step foot into that place for just one game.
Dad: “I can still visualize where we sat. Aisle 15, Section P, Row A, and Seats 29 and 30. This was first row, first balcony next to the aisle and looking down at the blue line. You had an unobstructed view of the game, and it felt like you were literally hanging over the Hawk bench. There was nothing like it.”
Uncle Bono: “You have to understand, there were zero sky boxes in the Chicago Stadium. Thus, all seating was for the fans. There was the lower bowl and two balconies. The only way up was many flights of sticky stairways. That’s how they got the beer up there too. There were no elevators or escalators. The barrels were dollied up the stairs. We were first balcony right on the blue line. The Hawks shot twice to our zone. To our left was the mighty stadium organ loft, and some seats where the non-dressing players sat and watched the game... There was not a bad seat in the place. Above us was the 2nd balcony, and it hung over us. This building was the loudest building I’ve ever been in. It was compact and we were all on top of each other.”
Dad: “The Old Barn was electric, and buzzing with excitement. Since the Stadium had one of the smallest rinks in the NHL at the time, the crowd could totally get into the game to the point, and your ears would ring after a game. The ovation during the Anthem was nothing like it is now at the UC. Totally louder than anything you ever heard. You could literally feel it in your chest during the Anthem, a big check, or a goal. Nothing will ever be like that again.”
The ’92 Hawks were coming off an impressive campaign in 1991 that saw the team win the Presidents’ Trophy for the best record in the regular season. Unfortunately, the NHL-best Hawks lost in the first round against Minnesota in six games.
During the offseason leading up to the 1991-92 season, many changes were made by the front office. The Blackhawks parted ways with guys like Doug Wilson, Troy Murray and Dave Manson. Looking to acquire pieces to help take the next step, the Hawks brought in Cup-experienced players like Steve Smith and Brent Sutter, while also acquiring guys like Stephane Matteau and Rob Brown.
The core of this team consisted of Jeremy Roenick, Dirk Graham (captain, 1991 Selke Award winner), Steve Larmer, Chris Chelios, Keith Brown, and Michel Goulet. There was talent up and down the lineup with players like Brian Noonan, Greg Gilbert, Mike Hudson, Bryan Marchment, and Jocelyn Lemieux all contributing in some way.
After an unbelievable rookie year in 1991 (won the Vezina Trophy, Calder Trophy, and Jennings Trophy), goalie Ed Belfour ran into contractual roadblocks in the offseason. That holdout resulted in Belfour missing the beginning of the season. Eddie wouldn’t return to the lineup until November 2nd. Jimmy Waite filled the void early in the season, playing in 18 games in 1992 with a 4-7-7 record and .844 save percentage. The Hawks were also able to bring rookie Dominik Hasek off the bench at times. “The Dominator” played in 20 games, resulting in 10 wins and a 2.60 GAA.
Uncle Bono: “J.R. – Totally the guy. Played with so much emotion and speed. Hadn’t seen that type of speed, skill and energy prior. Larmer – Consistent and steady. Never took a dumb penalty, and always made the right play. Chelios – Bad ass. Feared by other teams. He knew how to play a bit over the line, without getting caught. Graham – tough. When he dropped the gloves, he threw rapid punches. Great leader. Lemiuex – always in his first shift, he’d go length of ice and destroy someone in the corner. Good goons (like all Keenan teams ) – Peluso, Stuuuuuu and Marchment. Eddie the Eagle – Tough, and came out of net to back up teammates.”
Dad: “J.R. knew how to fire up the Old Stadium crowd. He seemed to be all over the ice. As Jeff said, Graham (Mr. Clutch), Chelios, Peluso (I liked the number 44), Marchment, and Lemiuex. Jocelyn Lemiux was awesome to watch, just pasting players into the boards… Bryan Marchment was also a good open ice hitter… I also liked Greg Gilbert, Rob Brown, Steve Thomas, and Steve Larmer.”
The Regular Season
The Blackhawks finished the regular season with a 36-29-15 record, good enough for 87 points, and second place in the Norris Division. The Hawks hit their stride after New Years’, winning nine games in the months of January and March.
The Hawks were led by Jeremy Roenick, who scored 53 goals during the season, becoming only the third Hawk to ever reach that milestone. JR also added 50 assists to go with that, resulting in a powerful 103 point season. Steve Larmer scored 29 goals, added 45 assists, and didn’t miss a game all year (Larmer would end up playing 884 consecutive games with the Hawks, an iron man streak that is a league best with one team. Put #28 in the rafters ASAP). Michel Goulet added 22 goals, notching his 500th in February. Chris Chelios only scored nine times, but added 47 assists to that. Sutter, Graham, Noonan, and Hudson all scored in the teens. Mike Peluso led the team with 408 penalty minutes, second best was Steve Smith with 304, Chelios 245, and Grimson with 234. Ed Belfour finished the season well after missing the first two months, ending 1992 with a 21-18-10 record, a .894 save percentage, and a 2.70 GAA.
Some regular season highlights included: Steve Larmer’s hat trick against Minnesota in December, Stu Grimson’s first NHL goal, Brian Noonan scoring seven consecutive goals over two games (franchise record), Igor Kravchuk scoring in his NHL debut, Michel Goulet scoring his 500th career goal, and Jeremy Roenick scoring his 50th of the season.
Norris Division semifinals vs. St. Louis
After finishing second in the Norris division, the Blackhawks drew the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs. The Hawks had beaten St. Louis in seven games just two years before in 1990. But it had been seven years since the Blackhawks had won a playoff opener.
They laid that ghost to rest with an impressive performance in Game 1, beating the Blues 3-1 with goals from Noonan and Lemieux. But Game 2 was a much different story. The Hawks wasted two first period power play goals from Chris Chelios, and Ed Belfour got knocked out of the game midway through the second period. Tony Horacek gave Chicago a 3-2 lead, but it would slip away with three straight Blues goals, sending the series to St. Louis tied 1-1.
The Blues stormed out to a 2-0 lead early in Game 3. The Hawks would battle back to eventually take a 4-3 lead. Garth Butcher blasted the tying goal past Hawks backup goalie Dominik Hasek late in regulation to send the game into overtime. Hasek was brilliant in the first OT, but in the second, Brett Hull dented twine to end the game and give the Blues a 2-1 series lead.
Dad: “Hawks were down 2 games to 1 in St. Louis. They had to win the next game in order to avoid being down by two games heading back to Chicago. Watching Dominik Hasek in goal and saying who is this guy? He was unbelievable and got us back on track.”
Uncle Bono: “Did not want a ‘here we go again scenario.’ I had to look back and see that we were down 2-1 vs St. Louis in round 1, thus I’m sure we were terrified. But then came the streak and dominance.”
The Hawks would bounce back with an impressive performance in Game 4, out-shooting the Blues 37-9 at one point. The Hawks got goals from Matteau, Roenick, Noonan, and Hudson to win the game 5-3, and tie the series heading back to Chicago.
The Hawks dominated St. Louis 6-4 in Game 5, with big goals from Larmer and Lemieux, to push the Blues to the brink. In Game 6, El Belfour (38 saves) backstopped the Hawks to a 2-1 win (two goals by Roenick, plus Keith Brown’s 8th assist of the series), finishing the series in six grueling games over St. Louis.
Norris Division finals vs. Detroit
To advance to the conference finals, the Blackhawks would have to go through their arch rival Red Wings. Detroit finished the season with 98 points (11 better than the Hawks), their best season in 40 years. The Hawks were only able to beat the Wings one time during the regular season.
The Hawks were determined to remain disciplined in Game 1, especially after Detroit goon Bob Probert ran over Eddie Belfour behind the net. Despite the physical play, the aggressive Hawks scratched out a gritty 2-1 win to open the series. In Game 2, the Hawks jumped out to an early lead with a breakaway goal by Roenick. Ed Belfour sparkled in the net, recording 24 saves, while also getting payback by slugging Bob Probert as he skated by the net. Insurance goals by Gilbert and Larmer gave the Hawks the 3-1 win, and 2-0 series lead coming back home to Chicago.
Game 3 was a back-and-forth contest. Roenick and Chelios opened up the scoring to give the Hawks a 2-0 lead. Larmer eventually scored to give the Hawks a 4-2 lead, but the Wings would battle back again to tie the game 4-4. Late in the third, captain Dirk Graham found himself all alone in front and tipped in a Kravchuk slap shot to give the Hawks the 5-4 win. With a 3-0 series lead, the Hawks were on the brink of sweeping the Wings.
Uncle Bono: “We were in disbelief that the Hawks won the first two in Detroit… Game 3 was crazy, it was back and forth and close. But once up 3-0, we felt ready to knock them off the perch. One of life’s regrets was missing that Game 4. So glad your Dad and Mom enjoyed it. Building probably was at an all-time high sound level.”
Ed Belfour and Tim Cheveldae were brilliant in net, stopping all shots that the Hawks and Wings threw at them respectively. But with 1:34 remaining in regulation, the Hawks broke through to take a 1-0 lead on a goal by Brent Sutter. The Hawks won the game 1-0, and swept a Red Wings team that had dominated them in the regular season. Chicago had now won seven straight games in the playoffs, and were set to face Edmonton in the conference finals.
Dad: “Brent Sutter took a rebound from a Gilbert shot and put it in the net for the game winner. I mean the Stadium crowd absolutely erupted, and cheered until at least a half hour after the game was over. The Hawks swept the dreaded Red Wings. I will never forget Jim Belushi throwing a broom out onto the ice, and hearing the crowd from outside the Stadium still cheering after the game. My ears were ringing… If I could sum up the Old Stadium in one event it would have to be that goal to sweep the Red Wings in the playoffs. So incredible!”
Campbell Conference finals vs. Edmonton
The Hawks now had a chance to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in nearly two decades. Standing in their way were the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers, a team that had regularly dismantled Hawks teams of the 80s in the Campbell finals.
Uncle Bono: “We were again intimidated by the Oiler mystique, however, this wasn’t the Oilers of the 80’s. But after coming so close in the 80’s only to lose to them repeatedly, we were still fearful.”
Dad: “So many times we came up short against the Oilers in the Conference Finals. Jeff and I got to go to the first game of this series. Of course we were very nervous about the Oilers. They were still a loaded team.”
In Game 1 the Hawks made a quick statement that this series was going to be different. With the score tied 2-2 in the second period, the Hawks went on a scoring barrage to race away from the Oilers. The Hawks scored three goals on three shots in a record 1:26 to take a 5-2 lead. Peluso, Roenick and Smith all dented twine in the record-breaking sequence. The Hawks weren’t done yet, they lit the lamp three more times to cap off a dominant 8-2 win in Game 1.
Uncle Bono: “Game 1 was pandemonium. I believe the Hawk faithful all felt nervous vs. the Oilers. As the goals poured in, it was bedlam. Perhaps we really could do it.”
Dad: “We just beat the pants off of those guys. We sent a message. What I remember most was the Hawks scoring a goal, the horn, the crowd, and the high fives with complete strangers. Then another, and another, and another and so on…. Just being there with my best friend witnessing the Hawks dismember the Oilers was something I will never forget. Revenge was sweet.”
In Game 2, the Oilers jumped out to an early 2-0 lead. Larmer’s goal late in the first cut the deficit to 2-1. Oilers goalie Bill Ranford held the Hawks at bay for much of the game, stopping 41 shots. In the third period, it was Steve Larmer beating Ranford for the second time to tie the game 2-2. Late in regulation, Michel Goulet was the hero, re-directing a Larmer shot past Ranford to give the Hawks a 3-2 win, and 2-0 series lead heading to Edmonton. It was the Hawks’ ninth straight win in the playoffs.
MacTavish opened the scoring for Edmonton in Game 3, but a second period power play goal from Rob Brown tied the game 2-2. Chris Chelios then gave the Hawks the lead with a shot from the point. The Hawks held the lead until Edmonton tied it 3-3 to force overtime.
Jeremy Roenick’s heroics made that overtime very brief, scoring quickly to give the Hawks the 4-3 win and commanding 3-0 series lead.
Game 4 wasn’t even close. The Hawks throttled the Oilers 5-1 for the series sweep, and also their 10th straight playoff win (breaking the NHL record). The Blackhawks were heading back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 19 years!
Uncle Bono: “After Game 2, we felt that if we win one in Edmonton, we’d see them wrap it up on home ice for Game 5. However, much better, SWEEP! 11 straight. We’re going to the Cup, this doesn’t happen to us… We were young during the early 70’s cup runs, and of course we had to listen to them on the radio as those teams lost.”
Dad: “So here we are in 1992 and the Blackhawks are going to their first Cup Final since 1973. I thought we had a better team than back then, and good chance to win the Cup. We were very ecstatic and optimistic. It was going to be our year!”
Stanley Cup Final vs. Pittsburgh
The Blackhawks were red-hot and riding 11 straight wins heading into the ’92 Stanley Cup Final. The Hawks found themselves up against Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Hawks opened up Game 1 with a bang, scoring three goals in the first period.
Brent Sutter’s breakaway goal in the second gave the Hawks a 4-1 lead. A 12th straight win, and 1-0 series lead, appeared to be in the bag…
But the Penguins roared back. Lemieux banked one off of Belfour’s pads from below the line to make it a 4-3 game late in the second. Then late in the third, Jaromir Jagr dangled through the entire Hawks defense and slipped one through Belfour’s five-hole to tie the game 4-4 (pretty play, softest goal ever).
Momentum was now all Pittsburgh’s. In the last minute of regulation, the Pens won a draw in the Hawks zone… Belfour gave up a massive rebound that went straight to Mario Lemieux who was left unchecked in front of the net. He didn’t miss, giving the Pens a shocking 5-4 lead with 12 seconds left in regulation. Game over. Streak over.
Game 1 of the 1992 Cup Final has to go down as the biggest gut-punch loss in Hawks franchise history. Blowing a 4-1 lead is about as bad as it gets. All of the momentum that the Hawks could have gained was now gone. Brutal.
Uncle Bono: “Certainly thought the roll was going to continue. Jumped out to a big lead, dominated, and then Jagr. That goal was so pretty. Losing that game, I think, had a major effect on Game 2, the Hawks were not the same.”
Dad: “No comment.“
Game 2 was all Penguins. Marchment got the Hawks on the board, but Lemieux responded with two more goals to give the Pens a 3-1 win and 2-0 series lead heading back to Chicago Stadium.
In Game 3, Ed Belfour and Tom Barrasso dueled it out between the pipes, keeping the game scoreless through the second period. Larmer nearly gave the Hawks the lead, but Barrasso was bailed out by the post. In the third period, the Penguins finally opened the scoring with a shot from the point that was redirected past Belfour.
The Hawks couldn’t muster up a tying goal, and lost the game 1-0, now trailing 3-0 in the series.
Dad: “By then the father/son that held the tickets were just too mad about the performance during Games 1 and 2, so they did not want to attend Game 3. So luckily, Jeff and I got to go. Our first Cup Final game! The ticket was $30! Thirty freaking dollars! Nowadays you are talking three grand. We were so psyched for this game… To lose on a fluke goal was just crushing. I am thinking if we can score and get this game into overtime, we would take the momentum and score and make it one game down. But it was not meant to be. So many missed shots and opportunities. It was certainly a back breaker.”
The Blackhawks now stared at a seemingly insurmountable deficit in the series. Game 4 was a chance to get a win at home, extend the series, and live another day. The Penguins jumped out to an early lead with two soft goals given up by Belfour. Keenan pulled Eddie and put rookie Domink Hasek into the game.
Hawks captain Dirk Graham then put the team on his back, scoring a first period hat trick to tie the game 3-3 and bring the crowd back into it.
Uncle Bono: “As they fought their way back, behind Graham, I thought they’d win this one, but again, not to be. Seeing Eddie pulled was deflating. But as the Hawks stayed close, I still believed. One game at a time mentality.”
Dad: “The hat trick gave us some hope. They fought back so hard that game. If only they played like that during the first three games, it would have been much different. They did not lay down, they fought all of the way to the end. Our thought was let’s win at least one game and not be swept. Winning the clinching game is so difficult for the winning team. It would have put more pressure on the Pens to win the Cup at home.”
Despite Graham’s gallant efforts to tie the game, the Penguins kept scoring, eventually taking a 6-4 lead in the third. Roenick scored to close it to 6-5, giving Hawks fans some hope to potentially force overtime. But Pittsburgh repelled every Hawk chance to tie the game. The Pens held on to win 6-5, sweeping the Hawks to win the Stanley Cup.
Uncle Bono: “All the fans stayed until the Hawks skated off, the last being JR. Sad. Great season, but another without a cup. It was cool to watch them skate around with the cup, we’d never seen it before. Those fans, about half who stayed, were respectful and gave the Pens their due. Not a lot of Pens fans as I recall. Visiting teams didn’t travel like they do today.”
Dad: “It was very hard to see our guys shaking hands and skating one by one off of the ice. Watching the Pens skate with the Cup on our ice was so surreal. Had never seen a Cup celebration before, so we stayed put to watch it. Those should be our guys in white doing that. It was just hard to believe we did not win. We stayed to watch almost everyone carry the Cup… One parting memory of Chicago Stadium was Jeremy Roenick being the last player to skate off of the ice after losing Game 4. With the Penguins hoisting the Cup in our building, JR skated and stopped at the stairs to the locker room and waived to the crowd. The place erupted one more time. It is burned into my memory.”
1992 Hawks’ Legacy
So that was it. The Blackhawks’ amazing playoff run was over. The Stanley Cup eluded Chicago’s grasp once again. Mike Keenan, Steve Larmer, Brian Noonan, and a host of other Hawks would move on in their careers. Many winning the Cup with the Rangers in 1994.
Moving on from 1992, the Blackhawks would contend in the playoffs for a few more seasons. In 1993 they got swept out of the first round by the Blues. Then in 1995 they lost to Detroit in the conference finals in five games. They came up short again in 1996, falling to eventual Cup winners Colorado.
After that began the decline into the dark ages of Blackhawks hockey. Pretty soon 1992 became a distant memory for those who lived it. For young kids like me, all I knew about that winning era was what I saw on the VHS tape. The Hawks wouldn’t become relevant again until 2009, re-igniting the passion for hockey in Chicago, and finally winning their first Stanley Cup in 49 years in 2010.
Bur for fans like my Dad and my Uncle Bono, there is still a deep connection to that era of Blackhawks hockey, and specifically that 1992 team. What might have happened, or what could have been different, if the Blackhawks had won the Cup in ’92?
Dad: “They are like the forgotten team. Sad, but only winners are remembered. As I have said many times, this was, and still is, my favorite Blackhawks team. Maybe it had something to do with them playing in the Old Stadium, and hoping to hoist a Cup banner in that building. “See that banner son, they won it in the Old Barn.” 1992 was our last gasp in a sense. By 1996, the Blackhawks were unrecognizable, and the UC did not have the magic or atmosphere as the Old Stadium.“
Uncle Bono: “No social media, and of course, no home games on TV. That wouldn’t have changed with the old man. The true hockey fans would embrace this team and its legacy, but it wouldn’t have spread to the passive hockey fans or females beyond the fan base… Could have had a couple of more Stanley Cup runs. Some bad trades were made as they let go of guys – JR, Belfour and Hasek (went on to win six Vezinas). Nothing to show for any of those guys. I did go back and check the 90’s as far as drafting (Pulford), a decade of ugliness. That too didn’t help as they couldn’t replenish.”
It’s now been 25 years since the ’92 Hawks came so close to glory. As is natural with time, a vast majority of Blackhawks fans couldn’t name one player from that team or era. Memories fade, and as my Dad said, sadly only winners are remembered. Now we are spoiled with three Stanley Cups in the last seven seasons. It’s still surreal to think about that.
As this run for the Hawks begins to close (not quite yet let’s hope), it’s interesting to think about how my kids and the next generation will view these current Hawks teams. The only reason I care about Steve Larmer, Jeremy Roenick, the Old Stadium, and 1992 is because of how my Dad talked about and revered those teams.
Hopefully 25 years from now we can still be keeping those memories, and new ones, alive.