How the West Is Won

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Don't worry, it's not just Chicago that labels its teams' roadtrips by what is occupying their arena. Everyone has a circus trip.

The Hawks start theirs tomorrow, while the Bulls are on a permanent one, considering what a ruckus the NBA lockout has become. As always, this road trip help brings into relief exactly what the Hawks are. Two years ago, when they romped and stomped their way to a 4-1-1 trip, with blowouts over Calgary, Edmonton, and San Jose to start, it was pretty obvious the Hawks were a great team that was going to take some beating. They never were. Last year, though the Hawks went 4-2, their ugly losses to Anaheim and Calgary sandwiching a beating of favorite plaything Vancouver showcased how schizophrenic the team was going to be.

Once this is over, the Hawks will have passed the quarter mark of the season and be two months in. At that point, you can start to draw some conclusions as there's enough evidence.

So what awaits them? It's the usual circuit of the Alberta Double, but this time the pit stop in Riot Town comes before, not after. Canucks matchups are always tasty affairs, but this one will have added spice after the slapstick comedy that the Hawks were when the Canucks were here a week ago. Obviously, the Hawks want to show that's not how things are going to be, and Vancouver will want to revel in playing the Hawks in the site of the demise last year.

However it goes, the Hawks will have to avoid an emotional letdown when they head to Calgary and Edmonton, two teams they just soundly beat here at home for the most part. Calgary last year was the area of two huge letdown performances, one resulting in the dreaded "bag-skate" practice in Edmonton after it.

After that there's a couple days off, before the Hawks being the customary California portion starting with the now-traditional Black Wednesday tilt in San Jose and the Black Friday one in Anaheim. Both the Sharks and Ducks haven't gotten off to the best of starts, with the Ducks slip sliding out of sight. The Sharks have bee iffy at home, but are starting to heat up having won seven of their last ten. However, that's inflated by a five-game win streak on their long roadtrip, and they've muddled along since. The Ducks are just bad right now, not getting the supreme goaltending they need to keep afloat what is a very top heavy lineup.

The trip ends as it always does with a Saturday night date in L.A.. The Kings had some big expectations this season, but haven't lived up to them yet. They're having serious scoring problems when star Anze Kopitar isn't doing it for them. But their goalie Jonathan Quick might be the most underrated one in the league, and the Kings always use these games against the Hawks as a bellweather.

3-3 would be just fine, but with three struggling teams on the schedule that is just the minimum. If the Hawks can come home with more than eight points from these six games, we'll know we have something here.

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 .

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