The Long Road back to Relevance – The Chicago Blackhawks
Let's go back to September 19th, 2007 - the Chicago Blackhawks' first preseason game of the year vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets at the United Center. Each time I think back to that night, I can't help but remember that eerie feeling when the announcer said it was time to rise and sing the National Anthem. There were no more than 1,500 people in a building that seated 21,200 for hockey. It was a sad night for me, a Blackhawks loyalist since I was 10 and a fan that had seen so many glory years growing up. I had watched them transition from the Savard-Larmer-Secord era to the Stanley Cup runner-up team of Chelios-Roenick-Belfour. At that moment, it became apparent to me that those years were a thing of the past. The fan base had eroded to next to nothing. It shouldn't have. Poor ownership and - in my opinion - no understanding of how to market a professional hockey team had led to this. Fast forward two years to September 19th, 2009. The Washington Capitals came to Chicago for that same opening preseason game with a new Wirtz running the show. The same National Anthem resounded throughout the stadium as it had that first preseason game in 2007. But this time 21,200 people were there on their feet acting as if the Playoff run of 2008 had never ended. Season ticket holders that I hadn't seen in years were there. Small children took the same seats that had been empty only a couple of years prior. Even college kids, the very generation of kids who grew up not having any reason to like the Hawks were donning their newly acquired Blackhawks jerseys. It was a special day indeed. And it has continued to become an amazing two-year comeback for one of the oldest and proudest franchises in Chicago Sports history. Blackhawks games are now the place to be, tickets are more valuable than they've been in decades, and you can actually watch a home game on television. Yes, it has been a long road back to relevance for the Chicago Blackhawks, but a road they have found and are now skating down at warp speed. It makes no difference whether you represent the fans who have stayed true through the ugly times of the franchise or those who jumped on-board late(r). There's room for everyone on the train that is looking very much like it is headed for June of next year and a real chance at the Lord's Stanley Cup.