Building a new identity

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

CHICAGO -- Bobby Hull dropped the puck for the ceremonial opening faceoff and Chicago fans raised the roof for a Stanley Cup playoff game here with a roar louder than any game before they raised Chicago Stadium across the road.

The scene which brought tears to the eyes of a young Calgary hockey writer in Game 5 here brought on a wave of nostalgia for a much older scribe.

It's been a long time. And yet, it's taken so little time.

It all started with the death of Dollar Bill Wirtz, the owner who refused to put Hawks games on TV, had alienated the greats of the past and cheaped out in so many areas from team media guide to hotels and travel.

Son Rocky, who had previously been running the family liquor business, took over and hired 24-year Chicago Cubs executive John McDonough.

That was 17 months ago.

QUICK TURNAROUND

All of this happened in such a short time.

"I don't think it was anything magical," he told Sun Media prior to the game. "It was just a different approach.

"First, we decided to get out of the grudge business and bring back Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito.

"We put all of our games on TV. We brought back fan favourite Pat Foley to broadcast our radio games. We went through a lot of changes in the front office and aggressively started marketing this team.

"Our demographics are 14-to-40 who have taken to this team and said 'This is ours.'

"The Blackhawks had become off Broadway, not on Broadway. There's been an awakening here.

"Everything we've done here has been big picture. Every decision has been made with a big picture approach."

Now, everywhere you look, whether it's the new carpet in the dressing room highlighted by the colorful Blackhawks logo, going from worst to first in media guides and game programs to charters and hotels, Chicago's gone from no class to first class.

"There is no accepting anything short of excellence and that goes for expectations as well. I don't have a lot of patience. Once is a trend. We had to institute a Chicago Blackhawks way of doing things," said McDonough of this franchise which hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1961, hadn't been in the playoffs since 2002 and hadn't scored a home playoff goal since 1997.

"We had a long, long way to go. Sometimes I had to exhale. This is Chicago. This is one of the premier cities in the world. This is an Original Six franchise. We have to act like it.

"I'd been here about a month and we had 11,000 for a game and the front office people were really pleased. We had over 8,000 empty seats and I was soured by that. 'What are you happy about?'

"The Cubs haven't won the World Series in 100 years. But for the last 24 years they've been playing to close to 100% capacity. Complacency is unacceptable."

The No. 1 thing he did was get the Winter Classic, ear-marked for New York.

"That was the No. 1 thing that changed the DNA of the franchise," he said. "Our franchise hadn't been used to being the focal point of anything."

SOME FRICTION

McDonough hasn't extended GM Dale Tallon's contract past next year and there's rumours he might hire his own man. He admits to some friction there.

"Dale is more laid-back and casual. I'm more 'get it done.' My approach is more aggressive. He's the architect of this team. He has a year remaining on his contract and he'll be here."

One thing, for sure, McDonough loves this hockey team that Chicago has overnight fallen head over heels in love with.

"The thing I like most is that these young guys don't seem to be at all impressed by themselves. They don't know enough to be intimidated by the playoffs.

"When we knocked out Calgary it was graduation day for these kids. It was a great exclamation mark on this season."

There was a question mark added to that exclamation mark last night.


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