Hawks get the cold shoulder

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

CHICAGO -- The famous frosty Chicago winds feel like they could turn beers into slushies up on the famous Wrigleyville rooftops, but the bundled-up Blackhawks boosters couldn't care less.

It is midway through the second period of the 2009 Winter Classic and about a hundred patrons are sitting on the icy steel bleachers situated on top of one of the buildings across Waveland Ave. from venerable Wrigley Field.

Normally a stage where fans watch Cubbies slugger Alfonso Soriano shower baseballs on to the street below, they have come on this frigid New Year's Day to watch history in the making.

"This is one of the most unbelievable experiences of my life," said Chicago native Nicholas Zouras, his eyes fixed on the rink in the distance where second base usually is.

The price: $375 US.

"Just a drop in the bucket," Zouras said.

In the end, the hometown Blackhawks would drop a 6-4 decision to the hated Detroit Red Wings, much to the chagrin of Zouras, not to mention the 40,818 spectators stuffed into the Frozen Confines of Wrigley Field.

No matter.

This, after all, was not about the score.

This was about the spectacle, one that included former Chicago sporting greats Fergie Jenkins, Denis Savard, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita singing Take Me Out To The Hockey Game.

This was about a sheet of ice that held up enough to produce a quality game, thanks in part to the work of NHL ice guru Dan Craig.

And this was about an Original Six rivalry that has been revitalized, so much so that chants of "Red Wings suck" echoed throughout Wrigleyville as the Detroit team bus pulled up outside the ball park.

Even the meteorologists co-operated, as their predictions of an overcast day came to fruition, squashing fears of a potential sunny afternoon that would have played havoc with the goalies.

"God smiled down on us as far as the weather," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said.

The only thing keeping it from being a perfect day for Chicago fans? The scoreboard.

After building a 3-1 advantage in the first period, the Hawks surrendered five consecutive goals. The fatal blow was a magnificent rush by Pavel Datsyuk, who put the visitors up for good at 17:17 of the second period.

"That was the turning point," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.

For the upstart Hawks, who find themselves eight points behind Detroit after back-to-back losses, it was a devastating result.

"It's definitely a tough pill to swallow," captain Jonathan Toews said. "It's so exciting, everything leading up to that game, the national anthem, the fireworks, the whole atmosphere ... and then the disappointment of not coming out with the win.

"I think it was a pretty sinking feeling in the locker room. Coming into this game, we were not thinking about losing. That was not on our minds at all."

The result was the only wart for the Hawks organization, which once again has put hockey on the Chicago sporting radar.

"This is what a World Series would be like. I think this is bigger than an opening day or a playoff game," said team president John McDonough, the former Cubs executive who spearheaded efforts to bring the event to Chicago.

The Red Wings concurred.

"I think the favourite part was coming out of the dugout and seeing the crowd, seeing the excitement and the people's faces, and hearing the crowd noise, too ... just sucking everything in once you stepped on to the field," Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said.

THROWBACK JERSEYS

With the teams wearing vintage throwback jerseys, Wings coach Mike Babcock and his staff played along by donning old-time hats, a tribute to legendary coaches of the past such as Toe Blake.

After O Canada was played, the crowd was cranked for the American national anthem, screaming louder with every chorus like they used to do at the old Madhouse on Madison -- the Chicago Stadium.

On this day, the roar definitely was restored.

Just ask Zouras, who, from his perch on the Wrigleyville rooftops, would not have missed this event for the world.

"What could be better than this?" he said.


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