Blackhawks' resurgence adds allure to Winter Classic

Dec 16, 2008 - 11:07 AM By Brian Fitzsimmons PA SportsTicker Staff Writer

The Chicago Blackhawks have been hearing the buzz all season long.

Sure, their resurgence toward the top of Chicago's sports scene - coupled with the stellar play of 20-year-old captain Jonathan Toews and reigning Calder Trophy winner Patrick Kane - has helped.

But the electricity generated by the Blackhawks' dynamic duo only adds to the allure of the upcoming Winter Classic, which will be played New Year's Day at Wrigley Field.

"We've been hearing about it everywhere we go in the city since this summer and since the press conference," Toews said. "When it was officially announced that we were going to have that game, I think the city of Chicago is really excited about it.

"I think it kind of goes along with the whole hype of how the Hawks are back in this city, and hockey is back. I think it's a lot of fun for us to walk down the street and have people at restaurants and everywhere we go talking to us about it."

"The Road to the NHL Winter Classic" will reach Wrigley Field on Tuesday, as the 53-foot NHL Refrigeration Trailer - which will make the skating rink for the annual outdoor game - rolls onto Waveland Avenue.

The trailer will be greeted by Blackhawks president John McDonough and legend Bobby Hull along with Cubs chairman Crane Kenney.

Last season's Winter Classic drew 3.7 million viewers, making it the most viewed NHL regular-season game since January 27, 1996.

You'd better believe the Blackhawks' matchup against the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in this year's game will surely attract another strong audience.

Lately, the Blackhawks are used to having all eyes on them.

They currently lead the league in attendance and have sold out all 15 home games at the United Center, averaging more than 20,500 fans.

Chicago is trudging through a five-year playoff drought and has qualified for the postseason just once in the last 10 seasons. Surely, the tides are about to turn.

"I think it's pretty cool," Toews said. "I think it's obvious I was a pretty lucky kid on draft day to go to Chicago. I never imagined that my first few years in the league would be this exciting - and this historical in a way - (because) it's been a struggling franchise.

"Now, we've been making headlines across the league for things that our team and our organization has been doing on and off the ice. So, I think we have a young and exciting team right now. A lot of potential, a lot of star players - it's just a lot of fun to be part of in so many ways."

It's remarkable to think that in February, 2004, ESPN named the Blackhawks the worst franchise in professional sports.

Indeed, they were shunned for much of the 1990s and early 2000s, due to anger over several policies installed by their late owner Bill Wirtz, who did not allow home games to be televised in the Chicago area.

Now, every home game has been aired and a wide variety of hockey fans have become accustomed to the high-scoring Blackhawks, who are second in the Central Division - behind only Detroit.

Coming off an impressive 20-goal, 54-point effort in his rookie campaign, Toews has continued to blossom into a star, while Kane is currently in second place among Western Conference forwards in the All-Star fan balloting.

In fact, Kane can become the first Hawk to start an All-Star Game since Chris Chelios in 1997.

Both youngsters - along with Patrick Sharp, Martin Havlat and rookie sensation Kris Versteeg - have helped Chicago become one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the league.

"Obviously, it helps when (Kane) is a year older and (Toews), and (Sharp) has his confidence going," said Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell, who was signed as a highly coveted free agent in the offseason.

After a 1-2-1 start this season, coach Denis Savard was fired and the Blackhawks brought in former Colorado Avalanche leader Joel Quenneville. Since then, they are 15-4-1 overall and 9-1-3 at home.

Tied with the Anaheim Ducks for fourth place in the Western Conference entering Tuesday's games, Chicago is finally more than just the Cubs.

And yes, it's a buzz worth hearing.

No one has shouted yet.
Be the first!