EDMONTON - CHICAGO — It wasn’t that long ago that the Chicago Blackhawks were almost embarrassed to have company.
A bad team in an empty, cavernous building in a city that had turned its back on the franchise, the Hawks were a miserable shell of their once-proud past.
Duncan Keith recalls how players from the glory days in Chicago were almost ashamed of the mess.
“Some of the veterans, I remember looking at their faces and they were pretty depressed,” said the longest serving Hawk. “You look at things now and realize why.”
Bad teams and poor crowds aren’t exactly ground-breaking stuff in the NHL, but this was Chicago. Not Florida. Not Phoenix. This was an Original Six team that used to be the envy of the sport. From the coolest sweaters to the best building to the loudest fans to one of best cities in the NHL, Chicago had it all.
And then it was all gone. They tore down Chicago Stadium and it wasn’t long after that that the team crumbled, too. The massive United Center sat cold and quiet on game nights. It was painful to see the Hawks in such miserable shape. Even the visitors felt bad for them.
“I remember about four years ago I came in here with Jersey and we were in town for a few days, so we saw the city and the restaurants and the lifestyle and we were like, ‘Wow, what a city,’ ” said Devil-turned-Hawk John Madden. “And then we come to the game and the place was half empty and we were like ‘Wow, this is sad.’ I couldn’t believe it. This had always been such a great franchise.
“My dad always told me this was my grandfather's team. He lived in Toronto, but he loved the Blackhawks. It’s good to see that (passion) back in the city.”
It’s back in a big way thanks to a young, exciting Cup contender boasting the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa.
“Duncan and myself came up together and Sharpie was shortly after, and any one of us will tell you it’s changed tremendously, it’s been unbelievable,” said Seabrook, adding they’re having the time of their lives on and off the ice. “The guys in the room have been great, a good group of character and leadership. They’ve found people with the same personalities and we’ve all clicked really well and become great friends off the ice.”
“I remember my first game — 9,000 people here and they announced 12,000,” added Sharp. “Times have changed, big time. A lot of new faces in the room, but there’s a few guys that have witnessed it. We remember what it was like, and that’s why we’re pushing even harder to keep it like this.”
Hawks sweaters are everywhere and the United Center is roaring again. This is the way Chicago hockey is supposed to be.
“It’s been fun. I think we should all feel fortunate as players, as coaches, as a Blackhawks organization,” said Joel Quenneville. “It’s fun to be part of the community and the enjoyment that everybody’s having with the Hawks, the enthusiasm that’s around there, be it our kids at school or going to a restaurant in town. Everybody’s noticing, everybody’s talking about it.
“It’s a fun situation. It’s also something that you want to guard against where everybody is telling you how great you are. We want to make sure we’re all grounded and focused in the right way. Enjoy it, but at the same time let’s stay focused.”
It’s fun being a Hawk again.
“It’s pretty crazy, but it’s been a lot of fun,” said Seabrook. “Seeing how things have changed in the last couple of years, being able to play in front of a packed house compared to playing with half a building is definitely different. Once they get roaring it’s pretty special, it’s like no other experience in the NHL.”