(Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/USA TODAY Sports)
A 4-0 shutout against an Original Six opponent who beat them their last match up would normally be a boisterous show for the Blackhawks at the United Center, but Sunday night’s victory over the Maple Leafs was, instead, a somber one.
The Blackhawks learned Sunday that sometime between their Saturday night game in Columbus, and returning to home ice the following day that long-time assistant equipment manager Clint Reif had died.
A normally deafening United Center crowd joined in a moment of silence before puck-drop to honor Reif. And the victory closed with a team hug and raised sticks at center ice.
“We are deeply saddened by the untimely loss of one of our own family members this morning,” the Blackhawks said in a statement. “Like all trainers and support staff within our organization, Clint was instrumental in helping our players and coaches prepare and compete both on and off the ice. Our sincerest sympathies go out to the Reif family.’’
Reif was a “stick-boy” at 13 years old. He worked his way up to nine years and two Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks and forged friendships along the way.
— Philip Pritchard (@keeperofthecup) October 30, 2013
Reif, 34, is survived by wife, Kelly; three daughters, Florence, Aislynn and Colette; and son, C.J. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the DuPage County Coroner’s office said Reif was found unresponsive in his home at 8:32 a.m. Sunday by Lombard police and fire departments. His death remains under investigation.
The team and staff wore “CR” decals in his memory, and Blackhawks players honored him on the ice with disciplined play.
“We were definitely playing with heavy hearts out there,” Captain Jonathan Toews said, choked up, in a postgame interview. “We’re still in disbelief. The fact we went out there and played the way we did, we dedicated that one to our good friend Clint.”
The Blackhawks played with determination and focus. Those heavy hearts may have shown on their faces, but it wasn’t visible in their skates.
They out-shot the Maple Leafs 34-31, won 31 face-offs to Toronto’s 27, and scored on one of two power plays, where Toronto was unable to capitalize on either of their two man-advantages.
- About 4:30 into the first period, David Rundblad struck first, when he fired in a dish sent across ice from Patrick Kane, set up by Patrick Sharp.
- With three-tenths of a second remaining in the first, Kane passed forward to Kris Versteeg, who settled the puck and shot glove-side for a two-goal lead.
- After a scoreless second period, Kane tallied again on a power play, rebounding a puck first shot to the net by Sharp and Brent Seabrook 9:07 into the third.
- Finally, with 8:38 remaining, Toews chased a puck from Sharp and Duncan Keith into the zone and fired from the hash-marks for the ultimate four-goal lead.
“Normally when you’re going into a game, you can turn off any issues you have going on in your personal life, but tonight I don’t think anyone was able to do that,” Sharp said. “I think everyone played great considering the circumstances. We wanted to make sure we had a big effort for Clint.”
Goaltender Antti Raanta earned his second shutout of the season, earning a 1.76 goals against average and .945 save percentage in eight games played, with the victory.
Big win tonight! Whole team played for Clint! I think everyone understand today that we are not only hockey team, we are also one big family
— Antti Raanta (@ARaanta31) December 22, 2014
The team reflected post-game about honoring Reif, who they considered a friend and teammate more so than a staff member.
“He was just a selfless person. He was never thinking about himself. He was always thinking about how he could help others, and, it’s just tough,” Toews said. “He was just a positive guy to be around. It’s unbelievable. He was just a part of our team, you know.
“He might as well have been wearing one of these sweaters.”
Former colleagues, teammates, and even opponents, shared in their condolences as well.
RIP buddy.. Will miss you everyday bud.. — Dave Bolland (@DaveBolland) December 22, 2014
Before and After
The Blackhawks have improved to 23-10-2, with a three-point edge in the Central Division.
This Maple Leafs win follows a seven-round shootout loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday night at Nationwide Arena–breaking a 13 consecutive game win streak for Chicago against Columbus.