Monday, March 20, 2017

The Good Ole Days Are Now For the Blackhawks

I can remember it as if it happened yesterday.  My dad bringing me to my first Chicago Blackhawks game.  It was 1971.  I was a wide eyed 4 year old going to see his favorite hockey team play in the most iconic old building in the NHL, the Chicago Stadium.  After careful review (using I believe it was November 10, 1971, the Hawks were playing the Bruins, winding up in a 3-1 win for Chicago.  We sat first row, first balcony right behind the net the Hawks shot at twice in the game. Immediately I was hooked. My dad looked at me after the Hawks scored their first goal, (for purposes of writer's embellishment lets say it was Mikita to Hull to the back of the net) the organ blaring, sell-out crowd on its feet and the guys in the white home jerseys celebrating. I was in hockey heaven.
Bobby Hull
Courtesy: Chicago Tribune

It was a different time, the home games weren't on TV, I had to hope the NBC game of the week would show me a Blackhawks/Rangers game on a Sunday afternoon to get my fix. Plus I loved watching for Peter Puck, the cartoon hockey puck that taught your rules and things about the game. Being a self proclaimed "radio geek" I would listen to the games on a clock radio in my bedroom. Whatever station the Hawks happened to be on, whether it was "a shot and a goal" from the great Lloyd Pettit, or a "Baaaaaaaaaaaaaanerman!" from Pat Foley, I was tuned in.  Needed to hear how some of my favorites were doing.  Bobby Hull (who I actually invited to my birthday party as a kid), Stan Mikita, Denis Savard, Steve Larmer, Jeremy Roenick, Al Secord, Troy Murray, Eddie Olczyk, Doug Wilson, Dirk Graham and Pit Martin, I loved them all.

I was lucky, my dad's company had season tickets, so we'd go to a few games a year.  It wasn't easy being a Blackhawks fan back then. I didn't think it could get any better. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Forget about everything that went on in the mid 90s and early 00s, it wound up being a means to an end.  Futility to finally flourish. Last place finishes, resulting in high draft choices and immediate impact players.  The passing of the team's owner and his forward thinking son taking over.  That new owner thinking back to those days of popularity, reaching out to strengthen his front office and marketing, and putting home games on television where they belonged, to regrow a fallen fan base. Hired a VP, GM who had tons of hockey pedigree and is versed at working around the stingy salary cap. Plus Rocky Wirtz made an effort to reach out to those stars of yesterday that felt alienated by the team.  Blackhawks ambassadors were welcomed back with open arms and helped bring some fans back as well. Brilliant.

As good as it was before, as many talented players that wore the Indian Head sweater, and as much as we loved Chicago Stadium, these in fact are "The Good Ole Days" for the Chicago Blackhawks. I hope you're paying attention and enjoying what this franchise is doing.

Think of how much tougher it is to win a Stanley Cup in today's NHL.  No longer are there only 6 teams.  No longer is it a quick run through the playoffs.  No longer do your favorite players stay in one spot for their entire careers. It's infinitely more difficult to win in today's NHL than in yesteryear.

The salary cap itself is a huge burden and hurdle to jump.  If you don't believe me, just remember what happened after the Blackhawks won their 1st of 3 recent Stanley Cup's.  Trades. There was significant roster upheaval and some uncertainty for 2011. But this organization once left for dead, won the Cup again 3 years later and oh, won it again 2 years later.

Chicago became a place free agents wanted to be. Playing with drafted stars, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane gave older players hope of reaching the top of the mountain in hockey.  This was in direct contrast to earlier days, when stars like Bobby Hull, Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte fled because they wouldn't get their fair market value to stay.  Or because they didn't feel there was a commitment to winning and sustaining the franchise.
Kane and Toews

No move showed that any clearer than the hiring of Joel Quenneville in the early stages of the 2008-09 season, after Savard was let go just 4 games into his 3rd season behind the bench. Quenneville had a track record.  In his 11 seasons before coming to the Hawks he'd already won over 400 games in the NHL. Coach Q had the "Chicago temperament" the steely eyed no nonsense coach that could get the most out of some budding superstars and take them to the next level.  That turned out to be a pretty good call.

How fortunate do you feel that you are able to watch/listen to what this team is accomplishing? The success of the franchise has led to now numerous appearances in outdoor games, and the 2017 NHL Draft coming to Chicago. Do you realize that players like Kane, Toews, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa are those "once in a lifetime" type of players?  Like faces on the Mt. Rushmore of recent vintage Blackhawks players.
I'm not sure that in the time I've been a Blackhawks fan, going on 40+ years, I've seen a forward like Toews.  He was named Captain at the age of 20 and earned the monicker of "Captain Serious" because of his determined play and less than flashy demeanor off ice. The way he plays both ends of the ice and refuses to lose is so fun to watch.  He truly has rubbed off on this team, with his quiet confidence and matter of fact play, even though he's a Winnipeg kid, he's Chicago's kind of player.

The Blackhawks clinched a playoff berth for the 9th straight season.  This "Original 6" is watching other teams try to duplicate their success, which is the ultimate compliment.

These in fact are the 'good ole days' of Blackhawks hockey.

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