History

Chicago Blackhawks’ Circus Trip Remembered, For Better And Worse

By Patrick K. Flowers Sr.
Nov 19, 2016; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Chicago Blackhawks forward Vinnie Hinostroza (48) celebrates after scoring a goal against Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom (not pictured) during the third period at Rogers Arena. The Chicago Blackhawks won 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 19, 2016; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Chicago Blackhawks forward Vinnie Hinostroza (48) celebrates after scoring a goal against Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom (not pictured) during the third period at Rogers Arena. The Chicago Blackhawks won 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Chicago Blackhawks wrapped up Saturday their formerly annual November road trip, when the Circus comes to town

This now-finished Circus Trip will be the last one for the Chicago Blackhawks and Bulls, it was announced around the trip’s start almost two weeks ago. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best and worst moments of the formerly-annual road trip.

Since the opening of the United Center in the mid-90s, the Chicago Blackhawks and Bulls have set off on a two-week road trip to allow the Ringling Brothers and the Barnum & Bailey Circus to occupy the confines of 1901 West Madison Street annually during the middle of November.

The annual road trip, simply dubbed “The Circus Trip” by many, has been a gigantic bag of mixed feelings for as long as it has existed, from the players all the way down to the fans alike.

For two weeks, Chicago-area families could enjoy live entertainment from tigers and tightrope walkers without much travel at all. That was an excellent opportunity for the kids to experience, as well as the adults who weren’t the biggest sports fans. I myself have spent many November evenings at the United Center taking in the non-sports festivities throughout my childhood.

But what about the effect on the teams?

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It wasn’t all clowns and cotton candy for the Blackhawks and Bulls though, as the annual West coast road trip was often seen as a frustrating leg of their respective 82-game schedules. The Blackhawks would spend the first week touring the homes of their Canadian foes, followed by a week-long trip to their California rivals before finally coming back to the Windy City after the American Thanksgiving holiday.

Executives, coaches, players, family members and beat writers would spend the majority of their Thanksgiving holiday searching for a turkey dinner north of the border, as the folks in Canada celebrate their Thanksgiving holiday in the month of October.

Season ticketholders and individual ticket-holding fans also suffered a small inconvenience as a result of the annual Circus Trip. Due to the two weeks that the NHL schedule makers couldn’t use while distributing Blackhawks 41 home games each season, home games would often be grouped into back-to-back nights or even four games in a single week.

Getting down to the United Center on back-to-back nights, or even multiple nights in a single week, can be very costly and time consuming.

The schedule has definitely produced its fair share of sore nights in Blackhawks history over the years. Actually, now that I think about it, a handful of forgetful performances have actually occurred in Edmonton, the site of the Blackhawks’ recent 5-0 drubbing at the Hands of the Connor McDavid-led Oilers.

Ugly in Edmonton (and other locations)

The Oilers defeated the ’Hawks one November night in 2006 by a score of 5-1, a loss that stung then-general manager Dale Tallon so badly he fired coach Trent Yawney after the game.

Then, of course, there was that time the Edmonton Oilers unleashed a beating for the ages on the Blackhawks when they defeated the ’Hawks by a score of 9-2 on Nov. 19, 2011, in Edmonton.

The Oilers tallied five goals in the first period alone, and they never looked back as they scored four more before the final horn.

In 2003, the Blackhawks failed to register a single win on the annual Circus Trip, which fell right in the middle of a 14-game winless stretch during the 2003-04 season. The ’Hawks would finish the final season before the 2004-05 NHL lockout with a dismal 58 points.

Nonetheless, despite the slew of inconveniences the Blackhawks faced during their annual extended absence from the Madhouse on Madison, there were some memorable moments during the West coast swing.

On the positive side

In November of 2000, the Blackhawks earned their most exciting victory of the season versus then Western Conference rival Detroit Red Wings in overtime, as Steve Sullivan beat former Wings goalie Chris Osgood for the game winner with just over 27 seconds to play.

The victory came at the end of the eight-game West coast trip in the 2000-01 season, and was the highlight of an otherwise uneventful 29-40-8-5 season.

On Nov. 20, 2010, Patrick Kane scored a pair of goals as the Blackhawks whipped the rival Vancouver Canucks 7-1. That night,  Kane would also tally a pair of assists to reach the career 250-point plateau, the second-fastest ’Hawks player to do so behind the legendary Denis Savard.

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Kane had another historic night during the Circus Trip last season when he scored a point in his 19th consecutive game, passing Eddie Olczyk and Phil Kessel for the longest such run by a U.S.-born player.

On Nov. 19 of this year, the Blackhawks pulled off their first three-goal, third-period comeback win since the 1994 season, when they came roaring back from a 3-0 deficit in the third period versus the Vancouver Canucks.

The ’Hawks tied the game at 3 apiece at the end of regulation before Marian Hossa scored the game winner for the second consecutive night to down the host Canucks. Illinois native Vinnie Hinostroza played an instrumental part in the victory by notching his first NHL goal, assist, point and multi-point game on the evening.

Changing times

The trip hasn’t doomed the Blackhawks’ road record as much as we would like to believe in recent memory. The 2014-15 Blackhawks went 5-1-0 on the Western swing while compiling a franchise-record 24 road victories, en route to a Stanley Cup championship. The Blackhawks have posted a combined record of 11-6-2 on the Circus Trip over the last three seasons.

All in all, the Blackhawks, and Bulls ownership teams have decided that the run of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus has seen its last act at the United Center, as they will allow the contract to expire at the end of the year.

The Disney on Ice show, which takes over the UC in February every year, will stay at the United Center under a new deal starting in 2018, which will only entail a week of usage at the United Center.

Next: Wrapping up the 2016-2017 Circus Trip

The removal of the two-week-long road trip will allow the Blackhawks to have a more balanced schedule starting during the 2017-18 season, and that alone will be music to many ears on Madison Street.

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