Chicago, Philly ride top picks
By RICK GANO
CHICAGO — Three years ago, a pingpong ball took a fortuitous bounce for the Chicago Blackhawks, almost like a sliding puck, and they came out winners in a lottery that has revived the franchise.
With just little more than an 8 percent chance of winning the top pick in 2007, the Blackhawks were able to leapfrog the team with the worst record, the Philadelphia Flyers, and they made Patrick Kane their No. 1 choice.
Kane went to Chicago and became the rookie of the year, while the Flyers took James van Riemsdyk with the second pick. Now both players are in the Stanley Cup finals, facing each other with Game 1 set for tonight at the United Center.
"It seems like it's almost worked out good for both teams," Kane said. "They're here three years later. I'm here three years later, our team is, and that's the most important thing for this franchise."
The Blackhawks are searching for their first title since the days of Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita in 1961. The Flyers are looking for their first championship since the Broad Street Bullies socked their way to the second of back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 1975 — long before Kane or van Riemsdyk, both 21, were born.
The two played together in the world juniors and remain close. They went to dinner when the Blackhawks were in Philadelphia for their only meeting with the Flyers this season. Now comes a shot at the Cup.
"You never know what could have happened. I think going into that draft, the Blackhawks were like fifth to last place or whatever you want to call it at that time," Kane said. "So it was kind of a shocker they got the first overall pick. ... To be honest with you, I was kind of excited when Chicago got it."
Kane headed right to the NHL after he was selected No. 1 and quickly emerged as a star, a consistent scoring threat with his speed and puck handling skills. Van Riemsdyk took a different route, heading off to college first and then signing with the Flyers a little more than a year ago.
"We were both put in different situations and we were in different stages of our hockey development and, you know, I did what I thought was best for me to be a better player," van Riemsdyk said. "He was obviously ready to make that jump right after the draft. He's done a good job for himself."
And for his team. The Blackhawks were playing before a half-empty arena before Kane and 22-year-old captain Jonathan Toews arrived and became the centerpieces of the team's rebirth on the ice and the accompanying marketing campaign.
Now the Blackhawks are one of the hottest tickets in Chicago, a young team that made it to the Western Conference finals a year ago before losing to Detroit.
STANLEY CUP FINALS
All Hawai'i times
Philadelphia vs. Chicago
Today: Philadelphia at Chicago, 2 p.m.
Monday: Philadelphia at Chicago, 2 p.m.
Wednesday, June 2: Chicago at Philadelphia, 2 p.m.
Friday, June 4: Chicago at Philadelphia, 2 p.m.
x-Sunday, June 6: Philadelphia at Chicago, 2 p.m.
x-Wednesday, June 9: Chicago at Philadelphia, 2 p.m.
x-Friday, June 11: Philadelphia at Chicago, 2 p.m.