Blackhawks Win and Lose in Winter Classic

By Christopher Gabriel, CGabriel.com

I spent New Year’s Eve at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul watching the Minnesota Wild defeat the San Jose Sharks in overtime.  On a brutally cold night outside, it was a warm, festive atmosphere inside.  Watching the game with a dear friend I had reconnected with after not seeing each other for 12 years made it a perfect evening.  Still, a good portion of my thoughts kept drifting to the hockey game that was going to commence about 18 hours later and 450 miles south from where I was sitting.  

The Winter Classic at Wrigley Field

The Winter Classic at Wrigley Field would put Chicago and the resurgent Blackhawks franchise in the nation’s spotlight.  It was the new Grand Opening for the Blackhawks.  It would be, in many ways, the pinnacle of Chicago’s Hockey Revival.

The only potential snag in all of this would be the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings.

And like the poor house guests they tend to be when they come to Chicago, they were typically rude to their hosts.  After knocking over the buffet table, breaking a few windows and spilling punch on the carpet, they left town with a well-deserved 6-4 victory.

Watching the teams shake hands at center ice, reminiscent of the end of an NHL playoff series, I pondered the spectacle of this Winter Classic.  My first thought was that the day was little more than a lost opportunity to gain ground on the first place Red Wings.  Looking a bit deeper, I quickly realized that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Chicago is a world-class city in every regard and its sports teams certainly contribute to that a little bit.  But if one of them has been a little late to the dance, it’s the Blackhawks.  This is a franchise that only last season began televising a few of its home games.  Think about that for a moment.  A professional sports franchise intentionally blacking out their own market for decades.  The Blackhawks haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1961 and to a large extent, the daily operations of the franchise were stuck in the same year. 

But this isn’t the same Chicago Blackhawks team I’ve loved, though been divorced from, for so many years.

Under the leadership of new team owner Rocky Wirtz, son of the late Bill Wirtz, change has been sudden and striking.  With some remarkable young talent like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, a team president (John McDonough) who sees The Big Picture as well or better than any other team president in Chicago’s sports history and all 82 games finally being televised, it’s no wonder the Hawks lead the NHL in home attendance while igniting passion and enthusiasm for hockey not seen or felt in this city since Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita were skating in Chicago Stadium.

For native Chicagoans like myself who were raised on hockey in the Madhouse on Madison, the scene at Wrigley Field was surreal.  Seeing thousands of  energized Chicago fans adorned in Blackhawks sweaters, jackets and hats was something to behold when you consider how low this franchise had sunk.

You see, it wasn’t that long ago this game would not have been possible. 

Sure, Wrigley Field is an amazing place and Chicago is a wonderful city.  But to complete the hat trick the team needs to be worth something.  If the team stinks, as they have for so many years, the Winter Classic never makes it to Chicago. 

Meanwhile, the Red Wings are the gold standard in the NHL.  The league easily could have put a game at Comerica Park in Detroit.  Maybe brought in their longtime bitter playoff rival, the Colorado Avalanche, for the game.  But with the Hawks now playing at a level that has reached relevant status, this match-up was a slam dunk for all parties concerned.

In the end, losing the game meant missing out on two points in the standings the Blackhawks desperately needed.  But beyond that, it was a total victory across the board.  The team, the organization, the fans and the city were celebrated on the national stage for all to see.  A stage Chicago hockey has not been on for quite some time. 

The Detroit Red Wings are still a better hockey team than the Chicago Blackhawks.  The Winter Classic, the actual game itself, reinforced that reality.  But the gap is closing.  And it’s not closing because the Wings are slipping.  It’s closing because the Blackhawks are coming.  Goal by goal, game by game, the Blackhawks are inching closer to where the Red Wings have been for so many years.

For the Blackhawks and their fans, losing the Winter Classic is ok.  Simply taking part in the two-year-old event speaks volumes about how far this organization has come in such a short period of time.

For those of us who remember the Original Six, for those of us who’ve cheered and cried for the Blackhawks in the greatest buildings hockey has ever known, Chicago Stadium, the Montreal Forum, Boston Garden, Maple Leaf Gardens and the Detroit Olympia, and for those of us who had one eye closed but the other one open waiting to see the slightest bit of hope –  go ahead and call me a bandwagoner; that’s fine by me.

Hockey season is no longer just another winter of our discontent.  

winter classic at wrigley field photo, courtesy m. spencer green/ap

For Blog Harbor and more cool stuff visit CGabriel.com

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About the Author: Christopher Gabriel is the host of the cleverly named Christopher Gabriel Program on AM 970 WDAY in Fargo, North Dakota. You can hear him weekdays from 9 to Noon. As a writer and humorist, his work has been been published online by the Chicago Sun-Times, Reuters and publications within the Sun-Times News Group.

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  1. Tom Stanley says:

    I was on Yahoo and found your blog. Read a few of your other posts. Good work. I am looking forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Tom Stanley

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  2. Henry Davis says:

    Great game, I watched the whole thing.

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  3. Nice post Christopher. I’m not an avid hockey fan, but the outdoor games have always intrigued me. There is something very reminiscent of childhood memories of playing a game the way it was intended. I’m sure many of these NHL players spent afternoons on frozen ponds honing their skills. An outdoor game brings some of that allure back. Of course, there are 50,000 people watching but who is counting.

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