As the Chicago Blackhawks wallow in the standings, is the roller coaster of fan interest still a fun ride?
So I’m sitting at a coffee shop before leaving for Wednesday’s tilt between the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs, and I’m dreading the hour and 45-minute trek to the United Center. The ride is always lengthy from the far north suburbs, but is always worthwhile. Why? Because as Jeremy Roenick once tearfully said, “Because it’s the ‘Hawks, man!”
Hey, it’s Rivalry Night between two Original Six teams! It’s Auston Matthews and company coming in to face off against our boys! I eagerly awaited this meeting when I saw this game on the schedule at the beginning of the season. The ‘Hawks versus today’s version of the up-and-coming ‘Hawks of 2008. So much has changed since I thought those thoughts.
I now receive a regular dose of ticket alert emails from the Blackhawks. I used to receive a few of these before games against lesser-quality opponents, but now I receive them before every game.
Season ticket holders are weighing the pros and cons of venturing out to watch yet another disappointing performance. Many are putting them up for sale on Ticketmaster’s Ticket Exchange, and some are offered below face value. Some are putting them up for bid on social media, as seen here from one long time faithful fan.
It’s an investment of time and money to attend home games, and it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth when the home team doesn’t even bother to play with any intensity. It’s in our Chicago blood to expect hard work from our home team in the same way that we work hard every day.
The recent home losses to the Red Wings, Islanders and Lightning lacked the work ethic fans expect from the ‘Hawks. And the Islanders game was such an embarrassing loss, fans started filing out of the United Center in the third period.
So, coming into the game with the Leafs, I was hoping to see an angry team taking out its frustrations on a young, up-and-coming team. The effort was better, but the end result was yet another loss.
What was more frustrating was when an all-out effort was needed to pull off a win in the third period, it didn’t materialize. It was just another incomplete performance, which has been the team’s trademark this season.
And yet again, there were empty seats from no-shows at the United Center.
The journey continues
After the overtime loss to the Leafs, my brother-in-law and I commiserated in the car ride home and talked about the team effort. While the ‘Hawks did show more effort, they just couldn’t finish on many opportunities. We wondered if the organization was already throwing in the towel on this season.
Da Windy City
The message from the team has been the same all season long: “We just need to be better.” The fan base has waited patiently for the pieces to jell. The result has been a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs which never turns the corner.
The last-place position in the Central Division had obviously gotten into the players’ heads and was now detrimental to their play. This was my observation in the previous Lightning game.
And a Jimmy Buffett song came to mind.
It’s those changes in latitudes,
changes in attitudes nothing remains quite the same.
With all of our running and all of our cunning,
if we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.
Here were the Blackhawks in January 2018 struggling to find their identity and their fans losing interest. So coming into the back end of a back-to-back against the Detroit Red Wings, expectations had to be tempered with the sobering reality of the here and now.
Changes in attitudes
Lo and behold, the Blackhawks managed to put together a more complete game against the struggling Red Wings on Thursday night with a 5-1 victory. The new top line of Anthony Duclair–Jonathan Toews–Alex DeBrincat put on a dazzling display of speed and skill to amass eight points and a plus-12 rating.
The dominance of this new top line had a cascading positive effect for the rest of the lineup. Perhaps they had finally found some forward lines they could stick with for a while. Perhaps they had settled on defensive pairs that could find consistency.
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However, I found myself very restrained in my reaction to this performance. We’ve seen this team look like champions one night and then look like zombies the next. Central Division teams are suddenly hot and separating themselves from the last-place ‘Hawks. So with the playoffs seemingly out of reach, it’s hard to stay on the emotional roller-coaster ride.
Trickle-down economics and interest-bearing accounts
Enthusiasm is contagious; just look at the Jeff Glass effect. We tell young athletes that it’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game. Yes, this team is going through a transition to a more youthful roster and may not be good enough to win every game. But we do expect to see the best possible lineups and the best effort exerted each and every game.
Conversely, indifference is a disease that can spread like cancer. It runs not only through the team, but through the fan base as well. The reality of the team’s position in the standings has been looming like a dark cloud that prevents the light to shine on their slow progress to develop the young players.
Consistent hard work invested now will excite the fans and will eventually pay interest in the form of wins. If this team isn’t good enough to win the Stanley Cup, let alone get into the playoffs, so be it.
But the fact is that the ‘Hawks are starting to find their way. The front office has made changes and the coaching staff is trying to adapt. The healthy approach is to accept the youth movement may have resulted in taking a step back, but with commitment and dedication, the team may take several steps forward in regaining its championship form.
So as the team pauses once again during the All-Star weekend break, we look forward to the possibility of a miraculous finish. But more realistically, we can look forward to watching the ‘Hawks recommit to the type of speed game that made them special through the championship runs.
I’ll take that as the bonus for enduring this enigmatic season. I’ll take that as reason to stay enthused. Stay with this team, boys and girls … they’re not that far off from getting back to greatness.