Before I begin, I should put out a caveat that I will be discussing sports for the next several paragraphs. Please don’t think that this will become a trend, rather a one-off diversion, a temporary fork in the road. After I spew this out, I will return to the straight and narrow and discuss matters of more import. Not that sports isn’t important, it’s obviously an integral part of millions of people’s lives.
The sport that will be discussed here is hockey. That’s the one on ice, but don‘t get it confused with curling. I became a hockey fan this past year by default…de fault was with the Cubs and Bears and Bulls. I am not a huge sports fan–Rule #1: it has to be a local team or I have no interest. Rule #2: the team must at least have a fair chance of winning and they must play like professionals. (is that two rules?) Because of these two rules, I have become a hockey fan and I am really starting to appreciate the finer points of the game.
Hockey has a very bad reputation (or is it a good reputation?) for being incredibly violent. Anyone who has seen the classic film “Slapshot” will know what I’m referring to. But there is also an old saying about hockey: “I went to a fight the other night, and a hockey game broke out.” For the most part this WAS true, but things have changed. Regarding the games I have been watching this year, this simply is not the case. Sure there is action, and pushing and smashing players into the boards, and hitting opponents with hockey sticks, but it is not out of control, and fights have been the exception rather than the rule.
Which brings me to the Chicago Blackhawks. They are the feel good story in local sports the past two years. Over the course of two decades they gradually lost their fan base, crowds at the games were sparse and not energized. The team had lost all connection with the legends of old, when the Blackhawks were the best game in town and a force to be reckoned with. The Stanley Cup (the Super Bowl of hockey) hadn’t paid a visit to Chicago in ages. And then the owner died and everything changed.
For 41 years Bill Wirtz was president of the Blackhawks and he made countless decisions that diluted the popularity and success of the team. In 2004, ESPN named the team the worst franchise in sports. He refused to televise home games and he repeatedly traded away the biggest stars. When he died in 2007, his son Rocky Wirtz took over, and immediately made wholesale changes. Home games were now televised. The legends from the old era of the Blackhawks were invited back and started to play a major role in marketing the team. And a bevy of top-notch talent was enticed to play here. What a difference it has all made–in two short years, the franchise has been transformed. All games are sold-out. The crowds are loyal, loud and boisterous. And the team is performing, in fact they are in the semi-finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs now, and are just two wins away from the finals. And they are so much fun to watch.
The games are tremendously exciting. I am still amazed that these athletes perform while wearing skates and moving on ice, maneuvering with grace and skill and dodging a frozen puck that travels over 60mph. At least they wear helmets and sometimes face guards. In the old days, one could always tell he was talking to hockey player because he had no front teeth.
Maybe I haven’t spread the hockey bug to you with this diatribe, but at least I got this out of my system. I’ll be watching for the next few weeks, and perhaps there will be a reason to celebrate sports in Chicago again, since it seems pretty obvious that Michael Jordan won’t be coming back any time soon.