Here Come the Hawks

If you haven’t jumped on the Blackhawks’ bandwagon by now, you must be living in Siberia or be completely oblivious to hockey.  I really don’t think there’s a hotter franchise in all of sport than the Chicago Blackhawks.

Let’s go over their recent history.

2002: Make the playoffs but get ousted in the first round.

2004: Named the worst franchise in sports by ESPN.

2004-2005: Entire season lost to lockout

2005-2006: Finish near the bottom of the league again, going 24-43-13.  Home games are not televised and tickets average $50.

May, 2006: It’s announced that Pat Foley won’t be back with the team.  He instead goes to announce for Chicago’s AHL team, the Wolves.

2006 NHL Draft: Select Jonathan Toews with 3rd overall pick

2006-2007: Acquire Martin Havlat, appoint Blackhawks’ legend Denis Savard as head coach but still finish at the bottom of the Central Division, 12 points out of the playoffs.

2007: Win the draft lottery and use the top overall pick to select Patrick Kane

September, 2007: Bill Wirtz passes away, leaving the team to son Rocky.

Rocky Wirtz (Left) and John McDonough have led the Blackhawks back to the top of the sports world.

Midway through the 07-08 season, the Hawks decided to start televising some home games.  By the 2008-2009 season, every Hawks’ game, home and away, was on TV.

Toews and Kane made their debuts together, and Kane eventually won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s top rookie.

2008: Team adds Joel Quenneville and Scotty Bowman to the organization.  They re-sign Pat Foley to do TV work.  They have their first fan convention.  They announce that they’ll be hosting the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field.

October 16, 2008: Denis Savard is fired as head coach, and Joel Quenneville is names as his replacement.

January 1st, 2009: The Blackhawks lose to the Red Wings, 6-4 in the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field.  By all accounts, the event is a great success.

The team makes the playoffs for the first time since 2002, and loses in the Western Conference Finals to the Red Wings.

Summer 2009: Team signs Marian Hossa, Thomas Kopecky, and John Madden to free agent contracts.  Hossa was signed for 12 years.

June 22, 2009: EA Sports announces that Patrick Kane will be on the cover of NHL ’10

July 14, 2009: Team demotes Dale Tallon to Senior Advisor, making room for Stan Bowman to become General Manager.

August 9, 2009: Patrick Kane arrested in his hometown of Buffalo for assaulting a cab driver.

December 1, 2009: Team announces contract extensions of Toews, Kane, and Duncan Keith.

March, 2010: They send six players to the Olympics, and four different Blackhawks earn medals (Kane: Silver Toews, Keith, and Brent Seabrook: Gold).  Toews is named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Forward.

April, 2010: Set new team records for both wins and points in a single season.

June 9, 2010: Patrick Kane scores game winning goal in overtime of Game 6 to win the Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks’ first since 1961.

June, 2010: EA Sports announces that Jonathan Toews will grace the cover of the NHL ’11 video game.

Right now, the Blackhawks absolutely own the city of Chicago.  It’s not even close.  With both baseball teams floundering, the Bears set for another mediocre season, and the Bulls playing the waiting game, it’s finally a Hawks town again.  For a city that loves their hockey, it’s a welcome renaissance.

In my short lifetime, I can’t remember any franchise being this red-hot.  Whether it’s just a lot of good fortune or not, the Blackhawks are on top of the world.

Whether they’re showing up at random places in the city with the Cup, or appearing on Jay Leno, Toews and Kane are becoming more and more of household names.  At least, most everyone is learning how to pronounce Toews and Byfuglien (I say most because I heard a guy behind me on the train the other day say Toes and Byfooglee-in).

The turnaround the franchise has experienced is beyond remarkable.  I don’t know if they’d be called the #1 franchise in sports, but my gosh do they have to be climbing that list quickly.  In just one season (07-08 to 08-09), their average attendance jumped from 16,814 to 22,247.  They’ve led the league two years in a row, and this year they did so with one less home game than everyone else (they played their first two games, one as home team, in Helsinki).

Rocky Wirtz hired John McDonough in 2007, and they have never looked back.  McDonough has had a huge hand in marketing the team.  His genius has propelled the Hawks to record attendance and TV ratings, and the resurgence of a previously shunned, dormant fan base.

I can’t remember a time when in a single video game franchise, players from the same team have graced the cover in consecutive years.  I’d have to go back and check, but I’d be willing to bet that this is the first time it’s happened (with Kane, then Toews on the cover of NHL ’10 and ’11, respectively).

Not only have the Hawks led a local revival, but a national hockey revival as well.  From 2008 to 2009, the Blackhawks local TV ratings grew 100%, and I’m sure they grew even more this season, probably more than 100% from 08-09.  Nationally, the Stanley Cup Final ratings were higher than they’ve been in a long, long time.  Sure it helped that the Finals included two big, hockey-loving markets in Chicago and Philadelphia, and I’m sure there was some hangover from the Olympics, but the NHL couldn’t have asked for a better turnout.  Six games, a back-and-forth series, lots of goals and lots of hits produce an exciting series and a lot of momentum for a league that needs any sort of spark it can get.

It really is incredible what the Blackhawks have managed to do.  Like I said earlier, Chicago is absolutely their town not long after people had all but forgotten about the Hawks.


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