What makes a fan a fan? For some, the selection of a team to support is usually based on factors outside their control, like where they grew up, or which team their parents cheered for. Very rarely will you see a Red Wings household produce a Penguins fan, for instance, and I’ll bet my firstborn that only a minority of Toronto’s residents, if that, are fans of the Canadiens.
It’s not hard for these folks to love their team the way they do–it’s the team they grew up with and the team they got to know over the years. For them, there is simply no one else. But for outsiders looking in, choosing a team to support is a lot trickier than that. It’s not just about which team wins the most games (though, of course, winning would be nice), or which team is nearest.
Ultimately, you want a team you can root for, who can take you through the ups and downs and double-loops that is the roller-coaster life of a sports fan, and this is exactly why you should be a Chicago Blackhawks fan.
1. The Rich Heritage
The Chicago Blackhawks are a storied Original Six franchise, with 13 division championships, 1 conference championship, and 3 Stanley Cups to their name. Established in 1926, the Blackhawks have gone on to produce legends like Glenn Hall, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, and Tony Esposito, many of whom are still around as Blackhawks ambassadors. This is a team with a rich history that even its newest fans could get into.
2. A Compelling Story
Ask any Blackhawk fan to tell you about the Dark Ages, and they’d probably think you were talking about the Dollar Wirtz era. From having the longest current Stanley Cup drought in the league (48 years), living in the ninth level of Hell during a time when team management did everything possible to alienate players and fans alike, even being named the worst franchise in professional sports in 2004, the Blackhawks you see now are markedly different from the Blackhawks of as early as 2006.
Recent years have been kind to Blackhawks fans, though. New management coincided with the drafting of two amazingly talented young players, the development of a couple of earlier draft picks, and somehow, the team rose from the dregs of the NHL to Western Conference Semi-finalists, from finishing 26th in the league in 2007 all the way to 6th in 2009.
During last season’s playoffs, the team was written off despite finishing as a 4th seed, simply because they didn’t have enough playoff experience. The team hadn’t seen a playoff game since 2002, and they hadn’t won a series since 1992. Yet they won their first series against a gritty Calgary team, and won again when they faced a well-rested Vancouver club, falling finally to the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Finals.
This year, the team has their sight set on Lord Stanley, though questions still plague the 2009-2010 Blackhawks. Despite recent success the team is fully aware that the road to the Holy Grail is long and arduous, but there’s a bright future ahead of the team, with our players leading the way.
3. Heart and Soul Players
Where do I even begin?
Young captain Jonathan Toews is the heart of the team, a leader by example who, just by being around and playing his game and working hard, makes everyone around him better.
Patrick Kane, cabbie incident notwithstanding, is a wickedly talented puck-handler and playmaker who still, somehow, has to consistently prove himself to detractors.
Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, drafted and groomed within the Blackhawks system, are arguably the best defensive tandem in the league.
There’s no shortage of personality from the pranks of Patrick Sharp and Adam Burish to the singing acumen of Kris Versteeg either. It’s clear how closely knit this team is, how the guys all get along, and with every Blackhawks TV feature it’s easy to see why this team has so easily captured the attention of fans of other teams too. (Hey, their words, not mine.)
This is a team that took a day off their circus trip last year to pay their respects at the funeral of their GM’s father. This is a team that’s bigger than the sum of its parts, but made up of individuals who you’ll find are, by themselves, guys you just genuinely like.
That Toronto game they won, by the way? The Blackhawks came back from a 3-0 and a 4-1 deficit to win it when Dave Bolland, a Toronto native playing in front 50 family members and friends, scored the OT goal, which is a perfect segue way for my next reason.
4. Heart-Stopping Games
There was that Toronto game last November, followed by the nine-game winning streak (the longest in franchise history) in December.
In February, the Blackhawks went up against the Penguins. On a night they were giving out hard hats to 10,000 fans, Jonathan Toews scored his third goal of the night to complete a hat trick– and because one of the goals was disallowed, he did it twice.
Game 6 of the Vancouver series saw a wild back-and-forth exchange of goals between both teams that ended in a 7-5 score, a 4-2 series win, and Patrick Kane’s first NHL career hat trick.
The Blackhawks know how to play exciting hockey, and they’re often a treat to watch. This year the Blackhawks have already gone through 17 rounds of shootouts against the Colorado Avalanche, not to mention a five-goal comeback (setting yet another franchise record) against the Calgary Flames.
And that’s just in the first two months of the season.
5. Never a Dull Moment
The excitement doesn’t stop on the ice, though. As any well-read NHL fan will tell you, the Blackhawks had one of the more colorful off-seasons to date–over the course of two months, we let go of our top scorer (he ranted in Twitter and blocked a couple of fans as a result; fun times, eh?), nearly bungled up the signing of our RFAs, fired our lovable, former-player GM and replaced him with the accountant son of the guy who used to coach the Red Wings, and oh, we signed the apparently-cursed Marian Hossa for twelve years too.
You might find this a kooky list of misstep after misstep, but let’s face it. We are sports fans through and through and when our team bids us adieu at the end of the season, we wring our hands and pull our hair worrying about how to get by without them. There will never be a moment of that dullness with the Blackhawks, and even now, in the long breaks between games, you’ll have plenty of GM-armchair fodder to work with as a Blackhawks fan.
6. The Rivalries
Cheering for a team, sometimes, isn’t good enough. Sure, you want a team you can root for, but oh, isn’t it delicious, too, when you can root so wholeheartedly against a team?
When you adopt the Blackhawks as your NHL team, you adopt a few interesting rivalries as well, primary of which is the one against the Red Wings. Sure, our dark years meant the Wings consistently dominated the Central Division and barely considered us a threat, despite the resounding “Detroit Sucks!” chants that pervaded the United Center during every game (regardless of the team we were playing, hilariously enough). But with the Blackhawks’ rise in the league comes a point where you wonder– can the student finally beat the teacher? During last year’s playoffs that was our biggest test, and though we failed to win the series against Detroit the team is determined this year to unseat the Wings as perennial Central Division champions. It’s about time to start new traditions, after all.
There are rivalries for the fans, and then, there are rivalries for the players. After winning the first two regular season games against the Vancouver Canucks, the Chicago Blackhawks received a 7-3 beating in their third contest and an embarrassing 4-0 loss that ended in a line brawl. Needless to say, the Blackhawks’ playoff series win against Vancouver was nothing short of redeeming. The Canucks are a team that is similar to the Blackhawks in terms of the skill sets of both teams’ players and the style of hockey that both teams employ. The Blackhawks have lost to the Canucks in their last three regular season games, as well, which makes tomorrow night’s game a must-see.
7. The Fan Experience
There is no better time to be a Blackhawks fan than now, especially when the roar of the old Chicago Stadium has returned. The United Center is one of the best in the league for watching games, beginning from the anthem as sung by Jim Cornelison (also known as The Best Anthem Singer Ever), where it is a Chicago Blackhawks tradition to cheer as loudly as possible, to the very end of the game, when the Blackhawks faithful spill from the United Center, usually in high spirits. (The Blackhawks currently hold a league-best 10-2-1 record at home.)
The Blackhawks have a close relationship with their fans as well–the team was the first in the League to hold fan conventions in the summer. Rocky Wirtz, the team owner, sits in the 100-level among fans during games. The team is involved in a number of charities. Some practices are open to fans. Oh, and @NHLBlackhawks is the only sports brand to be nominated (and be a finalist of) Mashable’s Open Web Awards. (Consider this a side plug– please vote for them? They’re awesome guys.)
You’ll never find a better set of fans anywhere, either. We know where the team came from, what we have achieved, what we have yet to achieve, and what we are capable of. We are cautiously optimistic and self-deprecating at times, but we know how to savor every minute of the ride.
And why shouldn’t we? It has been and promises to be a great one.
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