- The Chicago Blackhawks are on a winning streak
- Mike Downey: Home games are "bigger than Bieber and Beyonce rolled into one"
- Downey remembers when local Chicago TV stations didn't even carry Blackhawks games
- Before 2010, the Blackhawks hadn't won a Stanley Cup since 1961
Whose side are you on?
A: I don't like hockey.
("I can't see the puck." "Too many fights." "I don't get the rules." "I can't name a player except that Wayne what's-his-name. Gatsby.")
B: I like hockey.
("A lot better in person than on TV." "Baseball's SO slow." "Basketball's all guys 8 feet tall." "I wouldn't watch soccer if you paid me.")
Me, I am B.
Hockey and I are old friends. I grew up in Chicago, right now the hottest town on ice. I also lived in Detroit, the self-named "Hockeytown, USA." I now reside in Los Angeles, current home of the game's Stanley Cup.
(That's the trophy that goes to the championship team, for those of you who wouldn't know a Stanley Cup from a sippy cup.)
The Chicago Blackhawks have been in the news. Why? Well, that's a good question. Because they win a lot? Uh, kind of. Because they don't lose? Er, technically, no. I will try to explain it if you've got a couple of minutes to kill.
(Which is also a hockey thing ... killing a couple of minutes while a guy's in a penalty box.)
Chicago's record is 21-0. That's how it looks in the National Hockey League's standings, at least. W 21, L 0.
Are the Blackhawks unbeaten? Um, no.
It's a little complicated. A hockey game no longer can end in a tie. It uses an overtime period to break a tie. If that doesn't work, a "shootout" is held, similar to soccer's. One-on-one vs. a goaltender until someone wins.
As a reward for extending a game to overtime, a team is given a bonus point by the NHL. So, even if you lose a game in extra time -- as the Blackhawks have -- you didn't "lose."
Already knew that? Hey, you obviously know your hockey!
(Quick trivia question: A team in Ohio is called the Columbus Blue Jackets. True or false?)
If you are into pucks, you might be aware that the Blackhawks put together a pretty cool 30-game streak over a span of two seasons without being defeated in three 20-minute periods.
Chicago is aware. Chicago's on fire. The team is the talk of the town. Cubs, schmubs.
On national TV's sports news, the two smokin'-hot teams have been basketball's Miami Heat (beating almost everybody they play) and hockey's Blackhawks (kinda sorta technically not losing to anybody they play).
I suppose you have heard of Miami's basketball star. His name is LeBron James. He grew up in Ohio, where he never once wanted to grow up to be a Blue Jacket. But he did tweet that the Blackhawks are AWESOME.
I do not know if you know who Chicago's hockey stars are.
One of them is Jonathan Toews, which is pronounced "Taves," not toes, not tweeze. He went to the University of North Dakota, as most great athletes do. (OK, maybe not "most.")
Another one is Marian Hossa, which is pronounced "Ho Sa," not hoss sa, not hah sa. He is from Stara Lubovna, Slovakia, where everybody probably watches him on CNN with no clue who LeBron James is.
A definite one is Patrick Kane, as in Citizen. He was born and raised in Buffalo, New York, where a boy is so lucky because he can play ice hockey outdoors 10 to 11 months a year.
Together with some sharp teammates, not the least of whom is Patrick Sharp, these guys have got Chicago rocking and rolling. From the time tenor Jim Cornelison operatically belts out our national anthem (or Canada's) to the times they pump up the volume to "Chelsea Dagger" by the Fratellis to celebrate a Blackhawk goal, a home game at the United Center is usually loud, usually SRO and usually bigger than Bieber and Beyonce rolled into one.
If I exaggerate, sue me.
I checked with Jay Blunk to find out just how big things there are. Jay is the team's executive vice president
"We've been very fortunate to experience unprecedented television ratings," he told me Wednesday. "Merchandise sales have accelerated. The NHL announced that Jonathan Toews' jersey sales were the number one-selling jersey in the country for the month of February. We also just passed the 200 consecutive-game sellout mark. Tickets have become some of the hottest regular season tickets in history."
If he exaggerates -- and I doubt it -- don't sue me. I'm enjoying this too much.
You see, it wasn't so long ago my boyhood favorites the Blackhawks were skating on (insert "thin ice" cliche here). They looked as dead in the water as a cruise ship. A great organization had become disorganized. A popular team to watch had disappeared off the radar. A team born in 1926 had turned into the Walking Dead (on skates).
Chicagoans lost interest. They had Ditka's Da Bears, followed by Jordan's Da Bulls, followed by a 2003 Cubs team that could have won the World Series and a 2005 White Sox team that did.
I moved back there in 2003. The bad Blackhawk team of 2003-04 played in 74 games and won 20. ESPN the Magazine ranked it 119th of 120 franchises in all of sports, in terms of ownership, fan relations, players, coaching, intangibles such as "bang for your buck," ahead of only the Houston Texans, a new pro football team with zero dark history.
Home games weren't even shown on TV. On the nightly news, sportscasters gave time to highlights from games of the Chicago Wolves, a minor-league team, almost as much as they did the Blackhawks. Hey, if I liked minor-league hockey, I'd live in Rockford.
I seldom saw anybody in a Blackhawk jersey go out in public anymore, except maybe Mike Myers from "Wayne's World."
The 2004-05 season didn't happen. A union war broke out, and the NHL's whole season was wiped out. Chicago basically yawned. The Blackhawks hadn't won a Stanley Cup since 1961. That was their first since 1938.
I was a hockey guy. I wasn't just familiar with old-time hockey names such as Bobby Hull. I knew Kenny Wharram and Ab McDonald and "Moose" Vasko and Bill Hay. I thought of them as other Chicago sports fans might think of a Dick Butkus or an Ernie Banks.
So you can see, almost as exciting as winning 2010's Stanley Cup was, why the 2013 superstart of the Blackhawks is a sight to behold.
Los Angeles finally cracked the ice ceiling in 2012 with the Kings' first championship, which was a pleasure to watch. I have a daughter who recently asked whether I could get her hockey tickets. She didn't want One Direction or Lady Gaga. She wanted Kings versus Red Wings. I was so proud.
Hockey isn't for everybody.
It's just for us cool people.