Fishbain: After years of struggling, new-look Blackhawks make playoffs fun to watch

Kevin Fishbain

My elitism as a sports fan has made me frustrated with fair-weather fans and bandwagon jumpers. In an effort to keep increasing attendance at Northwestern sporting events, I don’t mind fair-weather fans because I just want the stands filled. But I generally have a low tolerance for you bandwagoners in professional sports.

Except when it comes to the Chicago Blackhawks, because that’s exactly what I am, come playoff time.

The Blackhawks won 50 games for the first time in franchise history in 2010, and last year their run to the conference finals with young stars like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews reminded the NHL Chicago is a hockey town and goes nuts for its Blackhawks. But you can’t say that about our generation.

Throughout the late ’90s and up until recently, the Blackhawks were a joke. Their owner, the late Bill Wirtz, refused to air home games on TV in Chicago. Add that to the fact that the Blackhawks were not competitive in a league that was quickly losing popularity and relevance after the retirement of Wayne Gretzky, and it was difficult to appreciate the Blackhawks growing up in Chicago. In 2004 ESPN ranked the Blackhawks as the worst franchise in all of professional sports, and they haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1961, the longest drought in the NHL. Because the Blackhawks-a member of the Original Six-had previous success in the NHL, there is a solid fan base in Chicago. If your parents raised you to follow the Blackhawks or if you played hockey, maybe you were a fan of Tony Amonte in the late ’90s, but most likely if you are under the age of 25, you just started paying attention. And I’m OK with that.

As a general Chicago sports fan, I always paid attention to see if the Blackhawks won or lost and I would know who their star players were, but I didn’t follow them-without TV coverage or success on the ice, it was near impossible. Now under new owner Rocky Wirtz (Bill’s son), the Blackhawks have returned to glory in Chicago, but that still doesn’t entice me enough to watch regular season games because I didn’t grow up enjoying hockey. So what do I do? Follow the team as the season goes along, watch a game here or there, and then watch as much of every game that I can in the playoffs. And I’m guessing most Blackhawks fans of our generation are the exact same way.

Many sports fans agree there are few things more exciting than the NHL playoffs. The physicality, intensity and upsets every night create a great atmosphere. Look at this year’s first round: There are two Game Sevens and every series but one went at least six games.

One of those Game Sevens involves the overall regular season champion, the Washington Capitals. So it’s not just Blackhawks fans turning on the NHL for the first time in mid-April.

The best part about being a fair-weather fan of the Blackhawks? There are not enough true, die-hard fans around NU to call you out on it. So hop aboard the bandwagon and enjoy the road to Lord Stanley’s Cup, you are welcome here.

Sports Columnist Kevin Fishbain is a Medill senior. He can be reached at [email protected]