Blackhawks starting to see glimmer of hope

LANCE HORNBY

, Last Updated: 8:12 AM ET

Three years have passed since the Chicago Blackhawks last played in Toronto, but an era in that team's history ended in the interim.

Team patriarch Bill Wirtz passed away Sept. 26 after 41 years at the helm, going back to the Original Six. But some at the United Center booed his memorial service to express anger at his perceived miserly approach to running the club. Ex-Leafs great Bob Pulford has also taken a back seat after 30 years in various capacities of the hockey office.

In a surprise move, control of the franchise has passed to Bill's son Rocky, who is not as familiar with the hockey business as brother Peter, the team vice-president who resigned to operate another company.

RELAXED

Like his father, Rocky doesn't deal much with the media, but is a sharp businessman in his own right and is considered someone who will put more money into the team and perhaps relax its controversial ban on free televised games.

On the ice, the Hawks have two of the best youngsters in the game in forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, drafted first and third overall in 2007 and '06 respectively. Toews is being talked up as the best Chicago rookie since Jeremy Roenick and perhaps its first Calder Trophy winner since Ed Belfour in 1990-91.

Going further back, the Hawks have enjoyed five top-15 picks since 2003 and owned a record of 3-3 before last night.

Coach Denis Savard's team still has to make at least a 20-point jump to get into the playoffs, after missing eight of the past nine years.

PUMPED UP

Leafs' defenceman Andy Wozniewski is pumped for tonight. His hometown of Buffalo Grove, Ill., is 45 minutes from the United Center.

"I used to go down to games with my family, and when I was younger, I did get to see games in the old Chicago Stadium," Wozniewski said. "We were high up with the loudest fans. It was really something to be there."

The last time Toronto played Chicago was at the United Center a couple of days before last Christmas, when a collision between Hawks' Jim Vandermeer and Mike Peca ended the Leaf's season with a broken leg.


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