Some of you, I’ve really got to hand it to. I’ve spoken to people who are Blackhawks fans that have never stepped in the Chicago area, let alone the UC. And it’s not just a one or two person kind of thing; the Blackhawks have consistently had fans spread out from coast to coast. I mean, I’ve run into Toronto natives wearing Blackhawks gear at the Hockey Hall of Fame. We are literally everywhere.
Sure, the Blackhawks are popular now, and have been since what can only be referred to as the surge of 2008. And at this point, they really seem to have it all. From flashy highlight reel players to the quiet but strongly supportive, and entirely underrated, type. We’ve sort of become the poster-child for the NHL, as evident by our constant presence in exhibition games, All Star match-ups and even Olympic teams. I’ve seen Jonathan Toews’ face more than once in Northwest Indiana while car shopping. It’s entirely possible some of us are getting sucked into the notoriety of it all, much like the area did with the ’85 Bears and the 90’s era Chicago Bulls three-peaters, which is fine, Chicago pride and all. But for some, it’s bigger than that.
It’s not really a surprise that, out of all the teams in the NHL, I’m a Blackhawks fan after growing up on the southside of Chicago. But what makes the Blackhawks different from other teams in the league, in a “more than just a convenient proximity liking” hometown-heroes sort of way?
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I’ve followed hockey on what I would chalk up to my own accord since high school (2003, for those of you keeping score). That’s when it seems like any of us are really developing our own tastes separate from family and peers anyways; when you finally decide if being born into a “Cubs” family is really enough of a motivation for you to rave about their inevitable World Series victory that is happening THIS YEAR, every year.
At that time, the southside of Chicago was kind of a blip compared to it’s neighbor and fellow Original Sixer, Hockeytown Detroit. Detroit had spent the late 90’s building up their team for success, and it showed on the ice. The Blackhawks, erm, hadn’t, which, on the plus side, made it easier to get tickets. I went to some of their games and they were a blast (I’ve never really had a bad time at a sporting event) but they were always just sort of over for me when I walked out of the arena. I’d honestly say I became a fan of hockey before I became a fan of the Blackhawks. I didn’t really care if I was watching the Blackhawks, the IceHogs, the Wolves or my high school hockey team at that point; I was watching hockey.
In 2007 when they acquired Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, it became obvious that the on-ice play had changes a’comin. If you’ve somehow managed to never really pay attention to those two (how?), you can watch this video and readily see what I mean. They’re two extraordinary players with strong fundamentals and intuition for the game. But they aren’t really what solidified me as a Blackhawks fan, either. There are quite a few players across the league that I find it a privilege to watch them play; Zach Parise, P.K. Subban, Pavel Datsyuk, Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Henrik Zetterberg, Anze Kopitar, Tyler Seguin, to name a few. Their love for the game and their incredible skill at it is absolutely infectious. And in a lot of ways, I am a fan of the NHL because it brings me that joy and ability to see that level of talent.
But I am a Blackhawks fan. Why?
What changed for me was when I saw them off the ice; the amount of time the players and organization take with their fans. Most teams take time for fans, especially kids, at practice and before games. And I love seeing it; I eat it up every time because I think it’s important. But I’m still talking differently than that. It’s true that they do incredible things in the community- programs and charities that deserve great amounts of respect and support- but it’s also true that so do a lot of other teams (You can tell how much I appreciate these sorts of things by how many times I watched that Subban Christmas video). Sure, the Blackhawks Convention is one thing and you could be a negative Nancy and say that’s just there for the money. Sure, the videos they put together with their One Goal and their cute feels could be chalked up to a marketing angle. But I’m not really talking about that, either.
I was asked to do some Blackhawks artwork for a fan, and didn’t think much about it when I shared it online, because I had done so with a lot of my other stuff. What I got in response, though, was an influx of other fans admiring my work, but also quite a few thank you’s and happy messages from the players themselves. That small amount of time to not only view my work (If you’ve never browsed Blackhawks related hash-tags on Instagram or Twitter, there are quite literally a billion other things posted besides mine) and send me a message about it might not seem like a lot, but it wasn’t something they had to do either. But it is something I repeatedly see from these players on social media; kind retweets or responses to myself and other fans, shares on Instagram, etcetera, that aren’t used for a marketing video, that get them no media coverage and are oftentimes even done in the privacy of an inbox or a letter, and this habitual behavior tells me it is ingrained in their character. But again, that’s saying more about the players than anything else.
What turned me from hockey and player fan to Blackhawks fan was seeing this character is not limited to the players, as evident by the way management has responded to our voices. Not to get dramatic, but as a woman in the sports world, especially the hockey world, I’m sort of used to, on a good day, being ignored. There’s a certain amount of crap you have to swallow if you want to remain here. But not only did they (quite immediately) respond to things like raised concerns about making the arena more enjoyable for women by removing ‘the Stripper’, their social media accounts also frequently highlights female analysts and voices like Jen LC.
Sure, there are still a lot of issues the organization has to deal with. What organization is completely problem free? But gestures like these give me and others the ability to feel respected and included, to feel heard, and, most importantly, to feel like we matter. That’s what makes me proud to say I’m a Blackhawks fan.
So, why are you a Blackhawks fan?
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