Friday, May 15, 2009

Weekend Sports Diversion: The Greatest Chicago Sports Story of the Year (So Far)

I’m not going to hide it: I am an unabashed Chicago Blackhawks fan. For those outside the Chicago area, the Blackhawks have taken this city by storm as they have advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in more than ten years. As a sports fan, you can appreciate that this team as one of the youngest and fastest in the league and that they have a “never-say-die” attitude. From a business perspective, it’s amazing to see how this team has re-invented itself in just over a year to one of the most up-and-coming franchises in any professional sport. If you love drama, you can appreciate this team for its ability to come back from two-goal deficits and win any game.

The Blackhawks are one of the Original Six teams in the NHL and last won the Stanley Cup in 1961. As a kid growing up in the late 1970’s, I watched an occasional Blackhawk road game as I pretended to be a hockey player in my living room. The team had its share of good players in my lifetime including Tony Esposito, Denis Savard, Steve Larmer, Jeremy Roenick, Ed Belfour and Chris Chelios to name just a few. Back in 1992, they made it to the Stanley Cup Finals only to be swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Throughout my lifetime, the Blackhawks always had a small but very loyal following in the Chicago area. Much of this was due to the fact that they didn’t televise any home games. In addition, the team had not aired a game on free local television since the late 1970’s or early 1980’s. This was due to the philosophy of owner Bill Wirtz, who felt that if home games were televised, nobody would pay to see them live. Of course passionate hockey fans know that, unlike football, a televised hockey game can’t capture the magic of seeing the game live.

In 2003, ESPN named the Blackhawks the worst franchise in professional sports. I went to a game in 2004 and the place was half full. As I watched the game in from a private suite where I was a guest, I realized there was more happening in that suite than on the ice.

Things started turning around for the Blackhawks in 2006 when they drafted center (and current team captain) Jonathan Toews third overall and Patrick Kane first overall in 2007. Later in 2007, owner Bill Wirtz died and his son Rocky took over. Rocky decided to air Blackhawks home games and became an instant hero among hockey fans in Chicago. In addition, the team brought aboard former Chicago Cubs president John McDonough, who has done a great job marketing the team.

The Blackhawks begin their next challenge on the quest for the Stanley Cup this Sunday against their longtime rival, the Detroit Red Wings. Let’s go Hawks!

Logo courtesy of the NHL.


Caroline said...

Hi Tim! So glad that you stopped by my blog. I lived my whole life in Chicago and just moved out west 2 yrs ago...can't believe what I am missing!!! My friends back home are over the moon...and you Chicago fans...they are SERIOUS about their teams! I loved being there during the Bulls reign and when the Sox won (I grew up on the South side and will die with South side I am going back in a few months...gosh, I miss the windy city! Great post...and the photos of the tulips on Michigan Ave! Lovely!

Tim said...

Hi Caroline:

I'm glad I could bring you a slice of Chicago. I am a sports nut who grew up on the north side and went to plenty of Cub games when I was a kid -- but for some reason, my heart has always been with the White Sox. So 2005 was pretty special.

This Blackhawks team is pretty amazing - and now that home games are broadcast on local TV, including a few games on WGN - sports fans in this city are again discovering hockey in Chicago.

I really enjoyed your blog...I will stop by again. Take Care.