With things slowing down, it's a good time to see what a popular, former Hawk is up to. Brent Sopel signed with the KHL's (Russian League) Mettalurg Novokuznetsk last week (and that's the last time I'll be typing that team name, for fear of brain bubble). We all make jokes about sending someone off to Siberia, but Sopes is literally doing it. That's where the team is based, and the shortest flight he'll have to face another team is two hours.
One can't help but feel bad for Sopel here. He made no secret of how hard it was to be away from his family last year in Atlanta and Montreal, as his wife and sons remained here in Chicago where they were quite happy. I wouldn't pretend to know Sopel's financial situation, but considering he played for over $2 million for three years, which is the contract he signed here, and had been in the league for over ten years, he's probably made a fair bit of coin. And one would have to imagine he's getting a nice check to head to the lands of oligarchs and vodka. But how badly does he need it?
I just wonder. I know, Sopel's a hockey player, and hockey players play hockey. And maybe he feels a duty to maximize his income while he still can for the family he loves so dear. Maybe he doesn't know what else he'd do. Maybe he's not ready to coach. But when the sun never comes up in December in Siberia, and it's -20 outside, what will he think then?
The only reason anyone would feel bad for Sopes is because he overcame a lot here to become a popular Hawk. And a year before he was that he was having enough taunts and slurs aimed at him that you could probably hear them ping off his helmet. In the 2008-2009 season, Sopel began the year so badly he soon became a healthy scratch before having surgery on both elbows. When he came back the following year, we all watched his first games from under our seats.
But Sopel soon won us over by swallowing pucks through every part of his body except his mouth, and his determination in his own zone. He could barely move, didn't have any offensive skills to speak of, but he made it work on the Hawks third pair the year they won the Cup. He made no secret of how much he loved it here, which further endeared him. He started the play that led to that run's most dramatic moment, Marian Hossa coming out of the box to win Game 5 against Nashville.
But for me, what I most cherished about Sopel was his choice to have his family and he be the Hawks represenative at the Gay Pride Parade after the Hawks won. While the full team should have been there, or at least a majority, Sopel lept at the chance to bridge a gap that's been far too wide and far too open for far too long. He'll forever have my appreciation for doing that.
I hope Sopes is happy in Siberia, and the cold and darkness aren't as bad as I think. Time will tell. Either way, he'll always have Hawks fans behind him.
Sam Fels is the proprietor of The Committed Indian, an unofficial program for the Blackhawks. You may have seen him hocking the magazine outside the United Center at Gate 3. The program is also available for purchase online. Fels is a lifelong 'Hawks fan and he also writes for Second City Hockey .