Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Roar is Back: The long awaited return of one of hockey’s Original Six

Last night I had the opportunity to attend my first Chicago Blackhawks game in several years thanks to the generosity of a friend who hooked me up with rock star seats (center ice, 100 level, and 10th row). As a diehard fan who suffered through the tumultuous and depressing downfall of this once proud franchise, attending 12-15 games a year in the mid to late nineties, it was quite a treat to leave the rafters of my traditional seats in the 300 level and see the game up close.

The Hawks won a gritty game 2-0 on an empty-netter but that wasn’t why I left the fabled United Center with a perma-smile on my face.

The last game I had attended, prior to last night, was a pathetic playoff loss to the St. Louis Blues during the 2001/2002 season. The Hawks “backed into” the playoffs and were quickly eliminated in 5 games. I specifically remember leaving that game with quite the opposite feeling than I experienced last night. I was down right depressed. Despite what the front office would have you believe, the Hawks couldn’t even sell-out a playoff game back then. Last night, a weekday no less, the attendance was nearly sold out in excess of 21,000 fans. Blackhawk fans are passionate but you can only kick them in the teeth for so long before they simply rebel and that is exactly what had happened over the last several years under the helm of curmudgeon and Hawks patriarch, Bill Wirtz.

With the passing of Bill Wirtz prior to the start of the 2007/2008 season a bold new era was entered when the helm of the Hawks future was handed over to, his visionary and realist of a, son Rocky Wirtz. The subsequent changes and moves that he initiated in the first 12 months of his tenure provided a clear indication that the Hawks were committed to winning and restoring this storied franchise to greatness. One of the most significant of these changes was to reach out to a disgruntled fan base and put an end to the antiquated practice of not broadcasting home games on TV.

In addition, the Hawks managed to lure Chicago Cubs marketing guru, John McDonough to the organization as President. To McDonough’s credit, one of his first moves was to reach out to two of the greatest players in franchise and NHL history, Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull, who had distanced themselves from the Blackhawks due to a long standing rift with former owner Bill Wirtz. Finally reunited with the Hawks family after decades, these two legends and Hall of Famer’s now serve as team ambassadors and are regularly seen at games and events throughout the Chicago-land area.

Team management has continued to display their commitment to revitalizing this franchise by acquiring, the talents of 9x Stanley Cup Champion, Scotty Bowman, to work closely with GM Dale Tallon, as Senior Advisor of Player Personnel. Despite the recent love fest created by McDonough and his marketing machine, the team has not sat idle in making tough decisions that are necessary for transforming this team from mediocrity to annual Cup contender. This was most evident in the firing of coach and fan favorite, during his playing days, Denis Savard. At the time, many questioned the timing of the move coming just 4 games into the season. Replacing Savard, was veteran coach Joel Quenneville, making him the 37th coach in franchise history. The hard nosed Quennville, in all honesty, was a necessary upgrade needed to groom and lead what is a very young team.

Anchored by consecutive first round picks in the 2006 and 2007 NHL’s Entry Draft respectively, Jonathan Toews, (pronounced Ta-ves) and Patrick Kane represent the future of the franchise and the NHL as a whole. Articulate, good looking, fan friendly, and highly skilled, these two young-guns are the poster children for the Hawks resurgence.
Combined with the veteran leadership of Marty Havlat, goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and the free agent acquisition of defenseman Brian Campbell, all the pieces are falling into place for the Hawks to make their first legitimate playoff run in 7 years.

“The Roar” is a reference to the deafening ovation that fans provide the Blackhawks prior to and during the singing of the National Anthem. The tradition dates back to the “Golden Days” of the franchise in the era of Hull, Makita, and Esposito, when the Chicago Stadium earned its nickname as the “Madhouse on Madison”. It has been said, “that if you have never heard the National Anthem sung at a Blackhawk’s game, then you’ve never really heard the Anthem.” To give you an idea of what “the roar” is all about, and why it’s coming back, checkout this video from the 1991 NHL All-Star game

and this one from a
Redwings vs. Hawks game earlier in 2008 .

Last night I felt the electricity of a fan base starving for a Championship, having last drank from The Cup in 1961. Their last Finals appearance came 17 years ago where they were quickly ousted by Super Mario (Lemieux) and the Pittsburgh Penguins. While no one is by any stretch, pre-maturely crowning them as champs, the necessary playoff experience and education needed to eventually become a champion should begin later this year. As a fan I can’t wait. Let the lesson begin!

For a comprehensive and easy to read history of the Chicago Blackhawks visit:


Chemgod said...

As a Blackhawks fan myself. I can't agree with you more, the team has completely revamped itself. Kane and Toews will be fixtures for years. I like Ladd, although I hated giving up Ruutuu. Is is a playoff contending team and I think only a top flight goaltender away from a Stanley Cup. Just my 0.02.

Rob- AKA "VOTC" said...

I think they have two #1 goalies right now, which may be a problem down the stretch. While they definetly have team toughness they need to pressure the puck more. The opposition routinely skates into the zone unchecked. A big stay at home defenseman or a big fast winger

Any ideas who might be out there?

Unknown said...

If you are into autographs go here and look at the hockey section. Let me know if you are going to any of these.

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