Chicago blues

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:52 AM ET

CHICAGO -- Tony Amonte experienced the Chicago Stadium roar. He saw how the Blackhawks faithful, crammed into the old arena and enlivened by the grand organ, would provide unparallelled home-ice advantage.

Now, as part of the Calgary Flames, Amonte can't help but feel a twinge of pain.

In Thursday's game between the Flames and Blackhawks, the United Center was half empty, as it will be today when they play the rematch (1 p.m., Sportsnet).

The raucous atmosphere, which made going to a 'Hawks game of yesteryear an experience, is now gone.

"Very sad. It's still a hockey town, which is sad," Amonte said.

"People talk hockey and know hockey in this city. They are very knowledgeable about the game. They've just had a very bad taste the last few years and aren't supporting the team."

The wait for those days continue but, rest assured, it won't change this season

Going into this afternoon's affair against the Flames, the Blackhawks are 20 points out of a playoff spot.

With 32 games remaining, not even Disney's movie writers could conjure up the kind of miracle needed to attain a post-season berth.

Once again, the Blackhawks will ride out yet another losing season, continue to rebuild and hope for a better tomorrow.

That demise, though, has made the Blackhawks just a blip on the Windy City's sporting landscape.

They've become an afterthought to such a degree no newspaper writer travelled with the team during its trip through Alberta earlier this month.

Amonte has seen the good times and believes it's paramount they return.

"As an NHL player, everybody wants to see a team like Chicago get back to where they were -- a prominent team in the NHL," he said. "Everyone wants to see a team like this drawing 19,000 a night."

Curiously, the average attendance this season is more than 1,000 better than during the 2003-04 campaign but well back of the good old days, including Amonte's first few years.

He fondly remembers the spring of 1994, the final days of Chicago Stadium.

"It was electric every night," he recalled. "With the anthem, the crowd would lift you up and take you on through the game.

"It was an amazing place to play and definitely the most missed old arena in the league, that's for sure."

Actually, the excitement didn't end with the move into the palatial United Center.

The Blackhawks in the mid-90s still had their die-hard supporters, Amonte remembers fondly.

"It can get crazy, just as loud as the old stadium," he said. "When we first moved in there and we had packed arenas, especially when the Red Wings were in town, it was great. It's a great arena."

However, the disappointment hasn't ruined Amonte's extended stay back.

Having spent more than eight full seasons with the Blackhawks, being in Chicago for four full days on this road trip has given the Calgary winger a chance to meet with acquaintances and show off his local knowledge.

The food provided after yesterday's practice in the Chicago suburb of Bensenville came from a deli owned by old friend Mario Asti.

"Most of my old haunts aren't there anymore," he said .

"It's a great city, a lot to do and a lot of culture to take in, so it's fun to spend time. It has been a good time."


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