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Don't get me wrong - I'm thrilled the Blackhawks have finally come to their senses and signed what will surely be the first of many deals to locally televise some of their home games. And I'm sitting down as I write this to check out the first game of the new, televised era of home Blackhawks hockey . But I've had a bone to pick with all those who televise hockey for a long time and it's time to air the grievance.
Why, pray tell, was the glowing puck taken out of play after it was introduced for, what, one shining season a decade ago on which network was it again? Wait, I just Googled "glowing hockey puck" and, of course, it was Fox TV that introduced the puck that viewers could actually see throughout the games that aired on that network in 1996.
It may have been a bit cheesy when the glow changed colors as the puck reached certain speeds, but hey, the bottom line was you could always tell what was going on. Heck, you even had X-ray vision when the puck was behind the boards. But hockey purists soon ran the innovation out of the league.
So Rocky Wirtz, why stop at televising Hawks home games? Why not do something even more outlandish?
Do you think it was a coincidence that the demise of the glowing puck coincided with the demise of the Hawks (one playoff appearance in the past 10 seasons)? I think not! Bring back the glow! Bring back the glow! Whoops, wait a minute. They're starting the national anthem . . . right after finishing a rousing rendition of "Detroit Sucks! Detroit Sucks!" OK, OK, the chant wasn't part of the broadcast. But the fans on hand must have busted it out tonight, right? I just hope the Blackhawks fans out-numbered the the Red Wing backers. I know it has been close at plenty of recent United Center contests featuring the boys from Hockey Town.
Hawks fans are loud during the anthem but not as loud as during the glory days. And then we are off with announcers Dan Kelly and Eddie Olczyk. It is clear pretty quickly that Kelly is no Pat Foley, the great longtime voice of the Hawks (BANN-er-man!!) until before last season. But I would be stunned if Foley returned to the Hawk booth, even with Bill Wirtz gone. It is eerily similar to what happened with the Bulls main play-by-play guy in the late 80s, Jim Durham, who asked for a little too much money (by Jerry Reinsdorf's standards) and was banished. Durham (who is simply a great basketball chronicler) still does plenty of big-time basketball, including national telecasts on radio and, on occasion, TV. But he missed out on the glorious Bulls championship run. I'm sorry Pat but I'm hoping you're situation mirrors Durham's exactly.
Whoa, this new TV thing is making me delusional! The Hawks would be overjoyed to win one Stanley Cup in the next decade, let alone anything even beginning to approach six in eight years.
Back to the game at hand and it doesn't take long for the stars of the show to start to assert themselves. Patrick Kane, who leads all NHL rookies in scoring, scores in the first period and Jonathan Toews (pronounced Taze, which would certainly seem to require that his nickname be Taser), who is second, scores in the second. Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulan was good against the Red Wings earlier this season and he is again, making the rookie duo's goals -and one knocked in by old pro Yanic Perreault - stand up for a 3-2 win. There was even a relatively unmemorable fight in which the Blackhawks' Patrick Sharp managed to take his opponent down but not before his forehead was bloodied.
It may seem obvious that a hockey team would want to advertise how fun it is to attend a game at its arena, especially a team that had recently shared said venue with a pro basketball team that was horrible for six straight years in the late 90s and early 00s and yet still sold-out game after game despite putting all of them on TV. When he chose not to do so, Dollar Bill Wirtz not only proved he had no idea how modern sports marketing worked, he didn't even understand the appeal of hockey.
Any fan who attends a game will tell you right off the bat how much more evident the spectacular speed of hockey is in person. And maybe with a little more marketing, folks will start filling the UC and then they'll also be there for the atmosphere. Of course if they are really going to fill the place, it might require an even more radical move: Lowering ticket prices.
Oh, by the way, the Hawks may have been short-sighted regarding TV policy but at least they figured out that more families will come to their Sunday evening games if they start them at such an hour as to give young fans a chance to get home by bedtime. Thanks to whoever pushed through the decision to start many Sunday evening games at 6 p.m. I'll be seeing you all again real soon.
The rest of this season's historic home game Hawks television schedule:
* Nov. 30 vs. Phoenix
* Dec. 9 vs. Calgary
* Dec. 26 vs. Nashville
* Jan. 6 vs. Detroit
* March 7 vs. San Jose
* March 23 vs. St. Louis
1. From Jerry Pritikin:
Back in 1946 when I was nine years old, I decided to take the long way home from Hibbard grammar school by way of Lawrence Avenue. There was a TV set in the window of Little Al's Radio & Phonograph store ("Where the customer is always wrong") and the first TV image I ever saw was Phil Cavarretta making the last out of a Cubs game. I remember thinking that the game had been over for a few seconds, because it must of taken time for the TV image to go from Wrigley Field to to the station (WBKB - Chicago's only TV station then) and then to the TV set!
A couple of months later, there was a sign in Steiner's Tavern at Kedzie and Lawrence Avenue: "Watch Black Hawks Hockey Games here." So I used to sneak in and sit on the foot-rail of the bar, looking up to the Black Hawk game. The announcer was Whispering Joe Wilson. And even though there was only black-and-white TV in those days, whenever the puck went over the blue line, I swear I could see a blue line!
I made it a habit to sneak in often. The following year, Shultzes tavern on the corner of Troy Street got a TV set, so I began to sneak in there too, especially that the summer during the baseball season. My dad, Hank The Tomato King of South Water Market, heard that I was hanging around taverns and decided that was no place for a kid. I recall him coming home early from work, and asking me to go with him to Little Al's. He bought a 10" console RCA Victor TV set for $450 cash on October 13, 1947, the same day that Junior Jamboree went on the air (later to be called Kukla, Fran and Ollie) The TV in our front room and antenna on our roof was the first in Albany Park that was not in a tavern!
From that day on, I was one lucky kid. In 1948, Chicago had more TV stations. I watched all kinds of sports beside Black Hawk games, including Cardinal and Bear football, DePaul Blue Demons basketball and Noter Dame football all the way from South Bend. Boxing from Rainbow Arena and wrestling from Marigold . . . and Cubs and Sox home games. Sometimes there were 40 other kids in our front room, but my parents didn't mind because it kept me out of the taverns!
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