Young Blackhawks believe

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

Cam Barker took in a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field yesterday. Watched the Cubs blow out San Diego, 11-3.

But ask the Winnipegger who's the toast of that town these days, and he doesn't mind bragging just a little.

"Right now it's the Blackhawks," a chuckling Barker said via cellphone from the Windy City. "It's been such a long time. It's good to see."

Especially for someone like Barker, the defenceman chosen third overall in the 2004 draft, whose arrival as a full-time NHLer this season has coincided with the Hawks arrival as a Stanley Cup contender.

The change in the city is like night and day.

Where he used to drive home from games and see nobody wearing his team's jersey, he sees droves of them, now.

The United Center has gone from boring to bedlam, the Hawks from dull to dynamic.

When youth, talent and belief get together, nothing seems impossible.

We knew the Hawks were the NHL's youngest team going into the playoffs, and we knew they were one of the most skilled teams.

Now, it seems, they're starting to believe, too.

Believe they can do the unthinkable, and go all the way.

"It might have taken a while for us to realize our potential," Barker acknowledged. "We have so much talent in this dressing room. When we have it focused in the right direction, we can do anything."

Including pump seven goals past the so-called best goaltender in the world in a series-clinching, Game 6 win over Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks.

The 'Hawks weren't supposed to get this far, this quickly.

"I don't know if we've surprised ourselves," Barker said. "To be here right now, I don't want to say it's a wakeup call. But it's just like, 'Hey, we're in the conference finals.' Chicago hasn't been there in I don't know how many years."

It's been 14, actually. Barker was nine years old the last time.

Chicago captain and fellow Winnipegger Jonathan Toews was seven.

Sure, they were probably dreaming of winning the Stanley Cup back then, playing in the community clubs and back yard rinks of their home town.

But it was just that -- a dream.

Going into this season, that's all it remained.

Now, it's eight wins away.

"The first round, it all seemed pretty far away, so you tried not to think about it too much," Toews told the Chicago Sun-Times.

"It has come more into focus now. Everything seems a little bit more believable and you feel a lot closer to the ultimate goal."

Barker puts it this way: "Maybe now we realize... hey, we can do this."

Last night, these young guns were to find out who's next on their hit list.

Ominous

For Barker that must have been rather ominous, knowing that in the next round he was going to face either Detroit stars like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen or Anaheim thoroughbreds such as Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne.

Pick your playoff poison.

But as he and a few teammates settled in front of his TV for Game 7 of the Red Wings/Ducks series, he sounded like a guy having the time of his life, not someone preparing for his next job assignment.

"It's purely fun," Barker said. "I've been just a fan for I don't know how many years now -- since I was five or six. It's fun watching games, and I'm still a fan. It's fun playing hockey."

And it doesn't get any better than a long playoff run in a great sports town.

"This excitement, I don't think I've ever matched it," Barker said.

"It's so fun playing a playoff game, and getting this far and having people so excited. Especially in Chicago, where it hasn't happened for years."

Enjoy it while it lasts, boys.

These chances don't come around every year.

Just ask Cubs fans.


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