May 28, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; A general view as fans arrive before game five of the Western Conference Final of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Once again, our beloved Chicago Blackhawks are on the cusp of another do-or-die moment. Puck drop for Game 7 of the Western Conference Final is in less than an hour. In order to head to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second consecutive year, they have to go big – or stay home.
The thought of coming so far – clawing back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the series at 3-3 – but not going all the way is enough to make any fan cringe. And if the last few games are any indication of how the series will end, let’s just say we hope you have a life alert button handy for the inevitable heart attack this game is sure to cause.
Whatever happens tonight, one thing is for sure – this is probably the most thrilling Blackhawks squad in the history of the franchise, with all due respect to greats like Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull (just to name a couple). Chicago is blessed enough to be in the midst of another powerhouse pro sports era, the likes we haven’t seen since the 1990s Bulls.
The success that the Hawks have seen in recent years has no doubt caused the fan base to grow exponentially. Nearly any lengthy discussion of the team includes the obligatory “then and now” comparison, usually in terms of the price and availability of seats in the United Center.
And any talk about fans usually invites some scorn from more than a few of the old diehards, who refer to the newer adherents as “bandwagon” fans. “We were here when the team was awful,” they say. “These fans aren’t going to stick around when [if] the Hawks don’t do so well.”
I’m not so sure that is a fair assessment. One of my early posts here at Blackhawk Up talked about how we should ban the “B” word altogether. I pointed out that not everyone grows up with hockey, and that should not really come as a surprise when you consider the relative popularity of more “traditionally American” sports like football, baseball, and basketball.
Sometimes it takes a wave of monumental success for people to notice. Once they do, you can’t help but think that they will be hooked. I mean, come on. It’s hockey. What sport can really match its pace and excitement?
On the other end, it may be fair to think that the fan base could diminish somewhat in a season where the Hawks do not fare as well in the playoffs. But that did not seem to happen so much in 2011 and 2012. In fact, a recent article in Forbes noted that Chicago Blackhawks fans were the most loyal in all of hockey, based on a number of factors such as game attendance, TV viewership, and merchandise sales.
It truly is a Golden Age of Hockey in Chicago. How long that will last is anyone’s guess. But why spend time and energy worrying over that? Instead, we should enjoy what we have, here and now. And when you think about how well the team is coached and managed overall these days, combined with the fact that stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have long careers ahead of them, it’s my opinion that the best is yet to come.
Enjoy the ride, Hawks fans. But stay true to your team as well and weather the storm with them. For the prize at the end of the end of the ensuing rainbow is not a pot of gold but a Cup of silver.