A column of opinions, some facts and an occasional rant
Some thoughts following a road trip to Chicago for last Sunday's Wild-Blackhawks game:
It's amazing what you see on the road. The Chicago Tribune ran the following as their headline for Monday's editions after the Wild defeated the Hawks 2-1:
"Full Bore: Wild's tedious game plan makes for an unpleasant loss" screamed the tabloid-style back page of the re-designed Trib, making light of the post-game comment of the Hawks' Kris Versteeg, who took the Wild to task for playing a disciplined style on the road.
"Playing against a team like that makes it pretty tough to really get any life in the building," Versteeg lamented.
The Hawks play 16 of their final 23 games at home, where they have already have a 15-5-5 record going into Friday night's home game vs. KiPA's beloved Pittsburgh Penguins.
Speaking of the Hawks and home cooking: The United Center is becoming the place to see and be seen again. Hawks tickets are hot commodities in the Second City, and Hawks president John McDonough told the Chicago Sun-Times that this season, the Hawks will set the all-time franchise attendance record. The Hawks have sold out the last 28 games in a row at the NHL's largest arena, including all 24 games at home this season. The Hawks are averaging 22,051, or 107% of the UC's listed capacity of 20,500 this season...and, in yet another sign that Chicago is ready to come back to the NHL, they now have a season ticket waiting list, for the first time in nearly two decades. All this in spite of the fact (or, because of it) that all 82 Hawks games are televised, one of a handful of NHL teams to be so widely distributed in their home market.
As I can attest from personal observations, the life really has come back to one of hockey's signature franchises. When I (and a party of six) went there on Sunday, there were lines everywhere for everything. When I started attending Wild-Hawks games in Chicago after the Strike/lockout of 2004-05, you could pick your choice of seats in the cavernous UC. This year, however, you get tickets in advance, or you wind up standing at the top of the upper concourse (which is a LONG way from the ice surface), just like in the old days at the old Stadium across the street, where the standing room was atop the third balcony and along the walls, at either end of the old building.
The only thing they could improve is the noise level. Turn it DOWN, guys. Let the crowd be the noise level; you really don't need to amp up everything to get the crowd excited. You used to have to do that. No more. You have the people back, so let them enjoy the evening, without giving them a headache from too much amped up music and PA announcements.
Also: with the large crowds now populating the UC, the days of packing the place with visiting fans are OVER. I estimated about 500-700 Wild fans were in the building; in previous years, that number used to be about twice that (or more). You cannot just decide to pack the car up with your buddies and all head down to Chicago for the weekend expecting to get Hawks tickets. You have to plan in advance.
The Hawks few remaining road games will not be easy, either; they still have road games at Boston (March 7), New Jersey (March 17) and Montreal (March 31), divisional games at Detroit and Nashville, and two games at Nationwide Arena vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackets and Hawks have only played each other twice so far this season.
Edit: One final Chicago thought: Over 31,000 watched hockey in Chicagoland on Sunday (22,443 at the UC for Wild-Hawks, and 9,100 for Manitoba-Chicago Wolves at Allstate Arena, f.k.a. the Horizon in Rosemont). Both games ran at the same time in the early evening.
Good things come in fours?
The Blackhawks have swept the season series from three teams, winning all four games against Calgary, Dallas and Phoenix. The Wild's record against the same clubs? Phoenix, Wild win 3 games, lose 1; Calgary, Wild lose 1 in regulation, 2 in OT (so far, 3 games remain); Dallas, Wild lose both games (2 remain).
Anyone else notice the added seats at the 'X' last game?
The Wild added four seats by taking out the camera position betwen the benches and replacing it with a four-seat box, accessible from the section 116/117 aisle. The new seats are presumably $225 'on the glass' seats...the question: Why did they feel the need to take away the camera position? Is this a harbinger of things to come? Or is this Wild owner Craig Leipold's idea?
Best place to be on Trade Deadline Day?
The Wild were not dealt the best hand from the NHL scheduling department this March, being in the middle of a six-game, 10-day road trip when the trade deadline occurs next Wednesday (2 PM Central Time) as they will be en route from Vancouver to San Jose at the deadline. If anyone on the current roster is traded, especially to the Eastern Conference, they will have a long time to think about it.
Now I know why they scheduled it at that time...
The Wild are scheduled to play the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday, April 5th. The game is scheduled for a 5 PM Eastern Time start. Reason: it's the off day between the national semis and the national championship game of the NCAA Final Four men's basketball tournament, and hotel rooms in Detroit will be at an absolute premium.
Now that's what I call an appropriate sponsor!
The St. Louis Blues have scheduled the third annual 'Free Food Game' for Sunday, March 15, vs. the Minnesota Wild. The menu calls for every seat to be 'All-You-Can-Eat', with free hot dogs, chicken fingers, potato chips, popcorn, peanuts, soda pop and water. The Blues have not lost a 'Free Food Game' yet, defeating Los Angeles in 2007 and Nashville last season.
The sponsor of the Free Food Game?
That's it... WRT
I don't know if I should be surprised or not at Chicago's resurgence. I'm not surprised that it happened, it just seemed to happen awfully fast. I didn't think they drew all that well even last year, though it's highly possible I'm mistaken. They certainly have a very good team on the rise. Huet, his last start notwithstanding, has finally been playing up to his contract.
having the hawks back on the map has to be a very good thing for the league. I, for one, am glad they're back. It's a fun team to watch.
My wife and I had both said two seasons ago to wait a couple of years, the Hawks would be back. And they are.
The only thing now is they need to turn down the canned noise. 22,000-plus fans will make enough noise on their own.
Nothing quite like a good NHL game in front of a packed house. Especially if you're the road team and come away with the 'W'.
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