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Being a Blackhawks Fan in Wisconsin

2 Jun
Chicago Blackhawks

Photo Credit: picturepush.com

I’m not a Chicago fan. I’m a Blackhawks fan.

It wasn’t always this complicated.

Wisconsin born and raised, I didn’t grow up in a hockey family – I never skated. I never watched the games. When hockey highlights showed up on SportsCenter once in a blue moon, it was my cue to get off the couch and make myself a snack. It may as well have been a commercial break.

I honestly couldn’t care less about the sport. I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t want to. I couldn’t comprehend why fully grown men were allowed to drop their gloves and attempt to beat each other to a pulp. What’s the point?

Boxing on ice, I called it.

I never would have foreseen myself becoming a hockey fan, let alone supporting a team from Chicago. I hated hockey without ever giving it a chance. But perhaps I hated Chicago more.

Much more.

When I departed for college, I wanted to make a concerted effort to broaden my horizons, try something new. And boy, did I ever get the opportunity to do so.

During my freshman year, I met a guy down the hall who eventually became one of my best friends. He was from Illinois – a Chicago Blackhawks fan.

Naturally, I was around hockey more and more as the year progressed. It was only fitting that my first experience viewing a full-length hockey game featured a fight between goaltenders, something that rarely happens. But how would I know? I was a novice. More boxing on ice, I thought.

Over time, I learned about the sport.

The NHL All-Star Break was approaching, and I took it upon myself to watch all the festivities, including the Fantasy Draft. One of the alternate captains was Patrick Kane from, you guessed it, the Chicago Blackhawks.

Sure, I had heard of household names like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin as I scavenged through my house for food with SportsCenter in the background during yesteryear. But Kane was the first player I gravitated toward, the first player I knew. Whenever he played, I wanted to watch.

Initially, I felt out of place cheering for a team from Chicago, but I got over it relatively quickly. After all, I came to the realization that Wisconsin doesn’t have a professional hockey team. We have the Milwaukee Admirals – the AHL affiliate of the Nashville Predators.

Be that as it may, the more I seriously followed the Blackhawks, the more ridicule I received from family, friends and even acquaintances who, quite simply, didn’t understand my point of view. Most of them still don’t.

Coincidentally, the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup the year before, in 2010. Not only was I a “traitor,” I was a “bandwagoner.”

I couldn’t decide which one was worse. It’s just how things worked out.

People know me for my sports prowess, my dedication and passion as a fan. When questioned about my fanhood, that’s not something I take lightly. Someone once asked how I can be a Packers fan and a Blackhawks fan, suggesting I should be ashamed. That nearly drove me over the edge.

Let me be clear: the Packers will always be atop my team totem pole. I don’t have a tattoo of the logo on my chest for nothing.

My support for the Blackhawks in no way reflects how I feel about other Chicago teams, notably the Bears and Cubs.

I find great solace in the fact that the Bears only have one Super Bowl and nine World Championships, as opposed to the Packers’ four and 13, respectively. And no part of me wants to see the “Lovable Losers” at Wrigley Field win their first World Series in more than a century. Thank you, Steve Bartman.

The Bears are to the Packers what the Cubs are to the Brewers.

But what about the Blackhawks?

There’s no hockey rivalry for folks from Wisconsin to get upset about. It’s only a Chicago thing to them.

Yes, I understand the Blackhawks reside in the Windy City, but please save your breath if you plan on telling me how close it is to Milwaukee and everything we hold dear as Wisconsinites. I don’t need a geography lesson.

Chicago is just a city. The Blackhawks are so much more than that.

I fell in love with hockey and the Blackhawks to the point where I wanted to share it with someone, the same way my friend did with me.

I force-fed my old man with more hockey than he could handle until he reluctantly began watching Blackhawks games with me on a regular basis. He was even more dead-set against being a hockey fan than I was at first. But just a few years later, we’re splitting a subscription to NHL GameCenter so we have access to every game.

He sarcastically tells me how he was perfectly happy with the way things were before I introduced him to hockey. He didn’t need the additional stress that comes along with being a Blackhawks fan: the Game 7s, the mad scrambles with an empty net. Yet he thanks me for bringing it all into his life.

Being a Blackhawks fan in Wisconsin is unique – a fraternity of sorts. I’ve come across fellow Blackhawks fans a number of times, but conversations don’t usually take place. We smile, nod and continue on. We already know what it’s about: pride.

For 18 years, I wedged the door shut on something that has increasingly become a huge part of my life. I was close-minded and ignorant – oblivious to the possibilities that have since become a reality.

I’ve been to the Blackhawks Convention, several games, including Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, and even a Stanley Cup victory parade with two million strong; none of them cared about my ties to the Packers or Brewers.

Being a Blackhawks fan in Wisconsin isn’t as sacrilegious as it seems. Open your mind. Give it a chance. There’s no better time than the present.

I never used to have a hockey team. Now I do.

And it’s not a Chicago thing.

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What $12 million asking price means for Kane and Toews, Blackhawks

28 Jun
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews

Blackhawks superstars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have announced an initial asking price of $12 million per year for their contract extensions.
Credit: blogs.suntimes.com

Most professional sports franchises have a “face,” a single player who defines what the organization stands for and represents the team’s skill and character. In the case of the Chicago Blackhawks, they have two faces: Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Both Blackhawks will become free agents at the conclusion of the 2014-2015 NHL campaign, but General Manager Stan Bowman has no intentions of letting his superstars reach the market. Bowman has often expressed his desire to sign Kane and Toews to contract extensions by July 1, or shortly thereafter.

Now, he has a starting point to work with.

Kane and Toews – both represented by the same agent, Pat Brisson – have announced they are each seeking an initial asking price of $12 million per year.

Their statistics may not necessarily indicate the type of production worthy of such contracts – Kane and Toews peaked at 88 and 76 points, respectively, in a single season – but there is something more to these two players that supports their argument to become the highest-paid players in NHL history.

Toews is arguably the best leader in professional hockey, and if you want to take it a step further, he might even be the best leader in all of sports.

Kane is one of the most dazzling playmakers in the game. With his mesmerizing stick-handling skills, he often catches opposing defenders flatfooted while admiring his brilliance with the puck.

They are superstars in their own way and provide a one-two punch that many teams across the league are desperate to have.

That being said, perhaps their greatest contribution has nothing to do with what they are capable of on the ice.

After signing identical five-year deals worth $31.5 million in 2009, the duo has led the Blackhawks to two Stanley Cup titles in five years and re-energized a fan base that dealt with mediocrity for several seasons before the Kane and Toews era.

They have meant more to the city of Chicago than simply being professional hockey players, and, for that reason, their value is higher.

What might this mean for other members on the team?

Brandon Bollig found out the hard way. On the second day of this year’s NHL Draft, he was traded to the Calgary Flames for a third-round draft pick, with which the Blackhawks selected forward Matheson Iacopelli at No. 83 overall.

Let’s face it, Bollig couldn’t skate or shoot, at least not well enough to justify paying him more than $1 million a year to be a fourth-liner and often a healthy scratch. He also lacked the physical presence the Blackhawks were looking for.

The organization is in a position where it must cut all possible dead weight to clear enough cap space for the eventual blockbuster deals for Kane and Toews.

Additionally, there are multiple core players on the Blackhawks’ roster who currently carry a cap number exceeding $4 million per year, including Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Bryan Bickell, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Corey Crawford.

Sharp has been rumored to be expendable in the Blackhawks’ pursuit for a No. 2 center, but Bowman assured Sharp’s agent that he will not be shopped. Sharp led the Hawks in scoring last season with 78 points (34 goals, 44 assists), but his streakiness and lack of production in the playoffs are a bit concerning. With a number of young, hungry wingers in the system, parting ways with Sharp and his $5.9 million annual salary wouldn’t be a bad option.

Kane and Toews are incredibly talented and deserving of lucrative contracts, but they aren’t stupid. They realize an annual salary of $12 million per year could possibly jeopardize the team’s ability to add more talent around them to make more Stanley Cup runs in the coming years.

Bowman almost certainly understands that, as well. He has done a tremendous job assembling a championship-caliber team each year, and I would expect that to continue, even with Kane and Toews on the roster and their pricey contracts on the books.

Before anyone starts calling Kane and Toews greedy or criticizes their misinterpreted disregard for the rest of the roster, just remember the $12 million figure is simply a conversation starter, and it’s highly unlikely they will receive that amount of money.

I believe Kane and Toews will each settle for somewhere in the $10 million range, which would still make them the NHL’s highest-paid duo, and, in all honesty, they deserve it.

Let the front office worry about making the necessary transactions. Instead, go out and buy yourself a Kane or Toews sweater, and rest assured knowing the faces of the franchise will be around for many years to come.

 

Blog Review: Chicago Blackhawks

22 Feb

The blog I will be reviewing is the Chicago Blackhawks blog through ESPN.com. Being a Blackhawks fan, I read this blog to learn about the latest team news. I will be taking a closer look at the blog to determine its strengths and weaknesses compared to other news outlets.

ESPNChicago (Blackhawks Blog)

A screen shot of the Chicago Blackhawks blog. The blog runs through ESPN Chicago, and its main contributor is Scott Powers. Credit: http://espn.go.com/blog/chicago/blackhawks

Nuts and Bolts:

  • The blog follows a traditional format, with most recent stories appearing first. On the right side of the page, there are features such as the next game, including links to tickets, a game preview and conversation. There are a couple advertisements, such as a download of ESPN Radio and finding a local bar. There is a brief “About This Blog” section, which talks about the blog’s primary journalist, Scott Powers. He is “an award-winning journalist and has been reporting on preps, colleges and pros for publications throughout the Midwest since 1997. He has been a reporter for ESPNChicago.com since 2009.”
  • There are menus for categories and the blog’s archives, as well as a “Recent Updates” section which lists the most recent publications. In addition, there is a Twitter feed with access to latest news and updates. A schedule of upcoming games and team leaders for certain statistics are included as well. Other team resources — such as schedule, stats, roster, rankings, transactions, tickets and forum — are on the right side, too. It appears as if the blog is mainly supervised by Powers, but because it is run through ESPNChicago.com, I would think he receives assistance with editing, multimedia, etc.
  • Powers posts on the blog on a daily basis. Most days, he will post about three stories.

Tone and Language:

  • Powers uses simple language and targets Blackhawks fans, mainly those who are up-to-date with the team. He views his audience as educated, and his insights provide readers with further knowledge about the team. Some stories are long. Others are short. It all depends on the significance of the story and how many details the reader needs to be fully informed. He includes many names, statistics and other information to familiarize readers with the players, coaches and team in general.
  • For example, in his brief article about Goaltender Corey Crawford backing up Ray Emery against the Sharks, Powers says, “Crawford has missed the Blackhawks’ last three games due to an upper-body injury. He is 7-0-3 with a 1.65 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage this season. Emery will be making his fourth consecutive start. He has a 6-0-0 record with a 2.27 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage this season.” This provides the readers with information enabling them to compare the two goalies and make their own assumptions as to how the team will be affected.

Use of Multimedia:

  • Powers uses various forms of multimedia, including text, video and photos, although most of his content is text-heavy. Powers includes links that say, “Read the entire story,” taking readers to a location where they have additional content at their disposal. Multimedia typically enhances posts, but Powers relies on his words to help readers understand the main point of the story. His use of multimedia is rather dispersed, and he uses it as a tool to add more insight and perspective to stories that are hard to describe using only words.

Comparison to Competition:

  • Because ESPN is the most prominent media outlet in the sports world, Powers does a good job reporting stories in a timely manner. However, other sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, beat Powers to the news in many instances. Social media has the upper hand for breaking news stories. For example, the news about Marian Hossa being available for tonights’ game against the Sharks was released on Chicago Blackhawks Nation’s Facebook page before it was reported on the blog. That being said, Powers reported that Steve Montador has practiced with the team for the first time this season, and the Chicago Blackhawks Twitter feed did not even report that.
  • Powers’ stories include more in-depth reporting and have more credibility than either Facebook or Twitter, both of which report the initial news quick but without further details. Twitter is better for in-game updates, while the blog is better for post-game analysis. They work together to give Blackhawks fans everything they need to know. In comparison to other sites, like secondcityhockey.com, there is not a noticeable difference between which is the first to report a story. Both do a good job with in-depth reporting and consistent delivery to their respective readers.

In conclusion, the Chicago Blackhawks blog through ESPNChicago.com is an effective outlet that provides reliable news. Its only problem is social media often breaks news stories before it, but it makes up for the issue with more detail in later reports. The battle against social media is to be expected with any blog. Overall, this blog is a great way to consume news about the Chicago Blackhawks.