(Ed. Note: August is known to be a very quiet month in the hockey world. As we wait for September to arrive and training camps to begin, let’s learn a little history about all 30 teams. Behold, our summer A-Z series, in which we ask fans of all 30 teams to drop some knowledge on us! Add your own choices in the comments!)
In Chicago we cheer the anthem. Specifically, the American one. (The Canadian one we generally listen to in serious, contemplative silence as befits the nation that gave us Jonathan Toews.)
[We’re pretty lucky to have the platonic ideal of an anthem singer in Jim Cornelison, and before him in Wayne Messmer.]
Some people cheer the anthem outside of Chicago, too, but we apologize for them. They’re also the kind of people who wear headdresses to games. [See: M is for Madhouse, P is for Problematic.]
B. Binny’s Beverage Depot
If you can’t find it at Binny’s, it’s probably not worth drinking.
Binny’s is a Chicagoland purveyor of fine spirits and adult beverages, including those distributed by Blackhawks owner group Wirtz Corp. Binny’s also employs former players like Tony Esposito and Denis Savard for some truly fantastic commercials that are one of the best parts of watching a game on local TV. Feast your eye-holes on these:
GIVE THESE MEN AN EMMY.
Also, if you need a bottle of Malort for your opening night celebrations, you know Binny’s will have you covered. They have everything. [See: S is for Spinorama, W is for Wirtzes]
C. Chelsea Dagger
“Chelsea Dagger” by the Fratellis is the best goal song in the league among currently active NHL teams. (Respect to “Brass Bonanza” - which, incidentally, is great to keep linked in a bookmark on your desktop to press whenever you accomplish a goal such as reaching a new level in Duolingo or writing a really funny tweet.)
You may be saying to yourself, “UGH NO IT’S NOT IT’S THE WORST” and while I hear what you’re saying, you’re wrong. It’s the best because you hate it so much.
[“That’s awful, eh? …it is kind of catchy, though, isn’t it?”]
Yep, it’s catchy as hell, and it makes you think about the Chicago Blackhawks scoring on your team. It’s the Chicago Blackhawks in song form. Specifically, Patrick Kane. [See: K is for Kane and Toews, V is for Victory, X is for X-Factor]
D. Detroit (SUCKS)
The Detroit Red Wings were our division rivals for most of our history. Enough ink has been spilled on the subject of the Detroit - Chicago rivalry over the years to fill Lake Michigan. There have been fights and shared ownership and fights and a few key players traded back and forth and excruciatingly painful losses on both sides.
And fights. Yes, I already said that. Here’s one:
[Bob Probert, longtime Detroit tough guy playing here for Chicago, and Stu Grimson, longtime Chicago enforcer playing here for Detroit, square off in 1996.]
Now they’ve escaped the Central Division to keep their playoff streak alive and we only see them twice a year. But still, the fact remains that sometimes, it just feels good to chant it: DETROIT SUCKS. Go on, give it a try. You’ll feel better.
Unless you’re from Detroit, I guess. [See: I is for Imagine Dragons, N is for Norris, R is for Rivalry]
E. Early 90s
And the late 80s, too, but the Blackhawks that Chicago got to watch for the three year stretch from 1990-1993 was, for my money, the quintessential Hawks team of the last good era before this current one. It started in net with Ed Belfour, who was awarded the Calder, Jennings, and Vezina in 1991.
[Ed Belfour was pretty good in net, y’all.]
Beyond Balfour’s strength between the pipes, Jeremy Roenick put up 103 points and the most goals of his career in the 1991-92 Season, Chris Chelios picked up the second of his three Norris trophies in 1992-93, and Steve Larmer spent that entire three season stretch on an iron man streak. Everything seemed to click for the Hawks - at least in the regular season. In the Playoffs, though, they could never quite get there.
This is the team that many Hawks fans of my generation remember from their childhood, and despite this team never winning the Cup, they were the standard that the Blackhawks were measured against up until the Kane-Toews era. [See: N is for Norris, T is for Those Bad Years]
F. Foley, Pat
Love him or hate him, Hawks play-by-play commentator - alongside color analyst and former Hawks player Eddie Olcyzk - is an institution. The man loves what he does, loves the team, and loves him some soft serve ice cream.
[Get some soft serve and you’ll be a happy human.]
Like most Hawks fans, I come down on the side of loving him. He may go off on some tangents, but there is almost no commenting team better in the league to use as the basis for a drinking game - which is, of course, one of the most important factors in commenting team quality - and most of that is down to Pat Foley’s quirks.
Foley is an Illinois native, and he began calling games for the Blackhawks at age 26, and he had been the play-by-play announcer for half his lifetime when he was abruptly let go by Blackhawks management in 2006.
Then in 2008, after Rocky Wirtz took over from his late father, he was brought back - apparently Foley’s return was one condition John McDonough placed on agreeing to be the Hawks president - just in time for all the Hawks games to finally be shown on television. Foley’s return coincided with the return of the Blackhawks into the NHL’s elite, and in 2014 he was selected to the Hockey Hall of Fame as the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award Winner. [See: G is for Games on Television, T is for Those Bad Years, W is for Wirtzes]
G. Games on Television
Long ago, all the way back in 2008, the Chicago Blackhawks did not permit all of their games to be televised. The theory was that if the games were on TV, fans would have no reason to go to the United Center and purchase the delicious beverages through which the Wirtz family’s liquor distribution company made their fortune.
Then, in the distant past, this absolutely ridiculous policy was done away with when the late, incredibly beloved owner of the Blackhawks died and passed the ownership duties on to his son. But who remembers that far back? 2008 seems like so long ago. So does 2004, a whole 11 years ago, when the Blackhawks were named by ESPN as the worst franchise in professional sports and Bill Wirtz’s policy of not allowing local TV to air Hawks games was cited as one reason.
Strangely enough, though, when people can watch a team play on television on a regular basis, it seems they actually start caring about that team. And not only do they care, but they watch, and they buy tickets to go see the games live, and they buy lots of that delicious Wirtz-distributed booze. And it’s a really good thing games are on TV now, because have y’all seen ticket prices at the United Center lately? A girl can only sell so many of her own organs. [See: M is for Madhouse, W is for Wirtzes, Y is for You Probably Can’t Get Tickets]
H. Hull and Mikita
In 1961, the Chicago Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup, led by center Stan Mikita and left winger Bobby Hull. The pair were the most dominant forwards in the NHL throughout most of the 1960s, and played alongside a truly remarkable team that included Hall of Fame center Phil Esposito, Hall of Fame defenseman and 'Hawks captain Pierre Pilote, and Hall of Fame goaltender Glenn Hall, among many others.
By the end of the 1960s, though, much of the Hawks core had been lost to trades and the ’67 expansion draft without ever managing to recapture the magic of the 1961 Cup win. By the time Bobby Hull left for the snowier pastures of the WHA in ’74, Hull and Mikita had, between them, four Hart Trophies. They were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on the same ballot in 1983, and outside the United Center stands a statue of the two of them.
Stan Mikita remains a beloved figure in Chicago. He was the first Hawk ever to have his number retired, and news of his dementia diagnosis earlier this year was greeted with deep sadness by many Chicago fans who have known him over the years as a genuinely kind human being and brilliant ambassador for the team and the game.
[And also as a kindly donut shop proprietor.]
Bobby Hull, on the other hand, has been charged multiple times with domestic abuse and was once quoted as saying “Hitler, for example, had some good ideas. He just went a little bit too far.” [See: L is for Lord Stanley’s Cup, P is for Problematic]
I. Imagine Dragons, “Demons”
Back when Hockey Night In Canada still did intro videos, the Blackhawks were down 3-1 against the Detroit Red Wings going into game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals, and Jonathan Toews was losing his goddamn mind. Tim Thompson, the erstwhile video genius behind the HNIC intros, set his descent into madness from Game 4 to “Demons” by Imagine Dragons as the introduction to Game 5:
If you want to see why the Blackhawks have been arguably the most dominant team in the NHL during the Kane-Toews era, watch this video. The Detroit Red Wings found every single way to get under the skin of the most important player on the Blackhawks and invented a few new ones. They sent one of the single most driven people in the NHL into a genuinely epic downward spiral, which you can watch set to semi-inspirational alternative rock. In this series, Jimmy Howard found a level in goal he hasn’t seen since. And then, after you’re done watching, remember that Detroit still lost this series.
Also, "I" was kind of a hard letter. At least this way we all have the excuse to rewatch some Tim Thompson HNIC intro videos. It’s really a win for everybody. [See: D is for Detroit, K is for Kane and Toews, X is for X-Factor]
J. Jim Coleman’s Made-Up Curse
Back in the late 1920s, the Chicago Blackhawks fired their coach, Pete Muldoon, after losing a playoff series to the Boston Bruins. Upon being fired, Pete Muldoon proclaimed, “Fire me, Major, and you'll never finish first. I'll put a curse on this team that will hoodoo it until the end of time.”
[Pictured above: Pete Muldoon, probably.]
Except he didn’t. Jim Coleman, a sportswriter for the esteemed Toronto institution The Globe and Mail, made it all up.
Obviously, the Blackhawks were not cursed then - they would go on to win two Cups in the following decade - and they are very clearly not cursed now, having won in 2013 after picking up the President’s Trophy. That is, they are cursed in the way all hockey teams are cursed, with salary cap issues and the occasional obnoxious fan who makes the rest of us cringe.
As one more fun footnote in history, Jim Coleman’s totally made up Curse of the Muldoon would, as we all know, be the last time a Toronto sportswriter ever fabricated a story because he had column inches to fill with a deadline looming. [See: L is for Lord Stanley’s Cup, O is for Original Six]
K. Kane and Toews
Once upon a time there was a quiet, intense Canadian center who somewhat resembled a handsome shark and wanted to win lots of stuff all the time.
[I feel like handsome shark is probably more flattering than murder eyes, which he has also been called.]
He was drafted third overall by the Chicago Blackhawks, and then went to the University of North Dakota to play for a year with T.J. Oshie and get arrested for underage drinking.
[Now that Oshie is no longer on the Blues, this picture has lost a tiny little bit of its weirdness.]
There was also a small, showy American winger with bad hair, wicked hands, and an oral fixation who also wanted to win lots of stuff all the time.
[Dear Patrick Kane in 2009, this is not an effective way to protect your teeth.]
He was drafted first overall by the Chicago Blackhawks, and in 2008 both of them began their rookie seasons.
And so it came to pass that the quiet, intense Canadian center went from being called "Mr. Serious" to being called "Captain Serious" to being called "Please Stop Calling Me Captain Serious, I Swear I Know How To Have Fun," and the small, showy American winger tried to make like six or seven nicknames stick but still somehow ended up getting called "Lil’ Peekaboo" on camera that one time.
It also came to pass that the small, showy American winger developed a tendency to get drunk and do bad things, including beating up a cab driver over incorrect change, possibly choking a girl during a post-playoff-exit Cinco de Mayo bacchanal, and most recently being investigated in conjunction with a sexual assault in his hometown of Buffalo. Meanwhile, the Canadian captain had a tendency grow organic kale on his rooftop garden.
Along with an amazing supporting cast stocked with several future hall of famers, they brought playoff hockey back to Chicago, packed the stands in the United Center, and won lots of trophies including at least three Stanley Cups. They will probably at some point get a statue together outside the United Center.
[Kane and Toews are the new Hull and Mikita in lots of ways, it seems.]
And we all lived happily ever after until Patrick Kane did something else awful and/or the salary cap blew up the team again. [See: I is for Imagine Dragons, L is for Lord Stanley’s Cup, M is for Madhouse, P is for Problematic, Q is for Quenneville, S is for Spinorama, Y is for You Probably Can’t Get Tickets]
L. Lord Stanley's Cup
The Chicago Blackhawks are tied for the fourth with the Boston Bruins in total Stanley Cup wins at six - 1934, 1938, 1961, 2010, 2013, 2015. Though there have been some lengthy droughts - 23 years between the second and third, broken in the era of Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull, and 49 years between the third and the fourth - the Blackhawks have won three of the last six Stanley Cup Finals, and have some hockey writers calling them the NHL’s current dynasty team.
Whether you agree with this label or not, Lord Stanley’s Cup has made its fair share of visits to Chicago in recent years, both in reality and in chocolate form:
So I guess you could say that life as a Chicago fan is pretty sweet right now.
…I’ll be here all week, folks. Tip your servers. [See: B is for Bandwagon, H is for Hull and Mikita, J is for Jim Coleman’s Made-Up Curse, K is for Kane and Toews, Q is for Quenneville, Y is for You Probably Can’t Get Tickets]
The United Center is the home of the Chicago Blackhawks and has inherited the nickname “the Madhouse on Madison” from the Chicago Stadium, which was the home of the Blackhawks from 1929 until the construction of the United Center in 1994. Though there have been years where it’s been difficult for the Blackhawks to fill the seats at the UC, it’s lived up to the nickname in the Kane-Toews era, selling out the arena for every game since March 30, 2008.
The atmosphere lives up to the nickname, too - from the Anthem to the final goal horn, going to a game at the Madhouse is an experience every Hawks fan, and really every hockey fan, should have if they possibly can swing it. It is genuinely one of the best places to watch a game in the NHL. [See: A is for Anthem, K is for Kane and Toews, T is for Those Bad Years, Y is for You Probably Can’t Get Tickets]
Owner, Division, Trophy - all of these connect back to James E, Norris, who owned the Detroit Red Wings and then, with a consortium, purchased the Chicago Black Hawks (as they were known at the time) and maaaaay have taken a tiny bit advantage of that to raid the Hawks of many of their best players to help his team win. Norris died in 1952, and control of the Blackhawks passed to his son, James D. Norris, who along with minority shareholder Arthur Wirtz, cared about the Blackhawks enough to actually do right by the team. By the time the younger James Norris died in 1966, the team had won a Stanley Cup and was consistently putting the fear of God and Stan Mikita into the rest of the league.
In 1974, when the NHL retooled its conference and division system, one of the divisions was named for James Norris, and in 1981 the Blackhawks joined the Norris Division, which grew to have a reputation for being absolutely brutal and not winning much of anything. (This was the 1980s and early 1990s - other divisions got to win things. Especially if those divisions had Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux in them.)
The naming of the division came in addition to the trophy already named for Norris, awarded to the best defenseman in the league beginning in 1954, two years after Norris’s death.
Since then, four Blackhawks have won the award - Pierre Pilote, captain of the Blackhawks during the Hall-Mikita Era; Doug Wilson, who won the season the Hawks moved to the Norris Division; Chris Chelios, who won two of his three Norris trophies as part of the excellent Early ‘90s Hawks team; and Duncan Keith, who is probably a robot or at least part cyborg or something.
42% TOI%??? who the heck...oh Duncan Keith.
— Carolyn Wilke (@Classlicity) July 30, 2015
[Duncan Keith, summed up in one tweet.]
[See: D is for Detroit Sucks, E is for Early ‘90s, H is for Hull and Mikita, O is for Original Six, R is for Rivalry, W is for Wirtzes]
O. Original Six
As an Original Six team, having joined the league in 1926, the Chicago Blackhawks have an incredible, and incredibly lengthy, history. In my writeup, I’ve tried to be thorough, and attempted to give you an idea of the major eras of the team’s history and some of the larger than life figures who make the history of the Blackhawks such a fascinating one. I’ve also tried to touch on the quirks that make the Blackhawks such a great team to be a fan of in the present day.
That being said: I’ve had to miss out on stuff that others would argue should have been included. But hey, this gives you, Blackhawks fan (or person who hate-reads articles about the Blackhawks - I know y’all are out there!) the chance to do your own digging and decide what defines the team for you. Who knows - maybe there will be an even weirder story than the Curse of the Muldoon that you’ll be able to tell me all about. [See: J is for Jim Coleman’s Made-Up Curse, N is for Norris]
Okay, guys, here’s the thing. The debate on whether the logo is racist will continue to rage on unless the logo gets changed, at which point there will be a debate on whether the logo should have been changed. (I, for one, come down on the side of the logo being racist, but honestly it’s not really up to me whether it is or isn’t - it’s up to the Native American community.) That being said, there are a ton of great, non-problematic alternate logos created by some very talented fans which have the added benefit of not encouraging ignorant folks to wear headdresses to games.
[This one, from Kat of Runs On Duncan, is my personal favorite.]
It should be noted, for the record, that name doesn’t derive from Chief Black Hawk himself but from a World War I regiment named after Chief Black Hawk. It should also be noted that this doesn’t have any bearing on whether the logo itself is racist. In fact, knowing that the name actually derives from a military regiment rather than a person should, in this author’s opinion, make it easier to change the logo to something that isn’t a caricature of a person.
There are other aspects of the Blackhawks’ history beyond the logo that are problematic. Chief among these is the continued involvement of Bobby Hull in the team - and if you don’t know why that’s problematic, please go ahead and Google “Bobby Hull domestic violence” or read this post from The Committed Indian (who have thankfully changed their own formerly problematic logo, and good on them for it!) on Bobby Hull, “a wife-beating piece of shit.” While you’re at it, Google “Bobby Hull Hitler”.
Bobby Hull isn’t the only Blackhawk, former or current, with a history of doing bad things to women. As mentioned earlier, current Blackhawks face of the franchise Patrick Kane is under investigation (at the time of publication) for sexual assault in his hometown of Buffalo. It remains to be seen what will come of the investigation. That being said - if you’re a Hawks fan, you should at least be aware of what’s going on, and looking for the Blackhawks to respond to whatever happens in a manner befitting the kind of team you want to be a fan of.
Blackhawks fans, you need to know about the problematic parts of our team’s past and present - not so you can defend them, though if you want to I guess that’s your choice. See, the Blackhawks fanbase has an awesome contingent of people who are really vocal about voting with their wallets and are happy to make noise to get change to happen. Sometimes it works (e.g. “The Stripper” during Shoot The Puck) and sometimes it doesn’t (e.g. the Ice Girls and their uniforms) but the fact is that as the fanbase grows, so too does the desire to make it inclusive and a reflection of what we as fans value. Blackhawks fans can be a part of the change if they want, and that’s pretty cool. [See: H is for Hull and Mikita, U is for Uniforms]
Q. Quenneville, Joel
Joel Quenneville, first round draft pick from the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1978, is not technically the winningest coach in Blackhawks history, at least in terms of the win-loss record. That honor belongs to Bill Reay, who coached for 14 seasons during the Hull-Mikita era, beginning in 1963, with a record of 516-335-161. He does, however, hold the highest win percentage of any coach in the Blackhawks’ storied history - oh, and he’s been behind the bench for three Stanley Cup victories.
Quenneville, who was the head coach for St. Louis as well as a thoroughly overachieving Colorado team before taking the gig in Chicago, is known for a few things among the Blackhawks faithful. First, the moustache:
[Q’s mustache, pictured here on a small child, tweets from @CoachQsMustache and has over 35,000 followers.]
He’s also known for some great catchphrases, including coining the nickname "Picklehead" for Bryan Bickell, and yelling “PEANUT BUTTER” whenever someone scores a great goal:
Most importantly, though, he’s known for winning. He’s never been the most popular guy in Chicago, and there have been a vocal contingent of fans who seem to be a little quick to suggest firing him if the team goes through a slump. But in the end, he’s worked well with the fantastic players he has at his disposal. Rarely has he ever been out-coached, even in losses. Whether he can last as long as Bill Reay, he’ll always be remembered as the man who coached the Blackhawks to (at least) three Cup victories. [See: K is Kane and Toews, L is for Lord Stanley’s Cup, X is for X-Factor]
Rivalries come and go for a team with a history as old as the Blackhawks across each era of hockey, as teams’ fortunes ebb and rise, as teams are added to the league, and as divisions and conferences are realigned. Here’s what you need to know:
As previously mentioned, Detroit sucks. Then, now, and always. They may suck more nostalgically now that they’re no longer in our conference, but you can’t have two teams that close to each other geographically with that long of a history without there still being a rivalry. It will never fade.
Current rivals include the LA Kings and much of the Central Division. The LA Kings we hate for many reasons, from the petty (they get all the good celeb fans!) to the very, very serious (“My biggest concern is that if he is charged with a felony, this one incident could jeopardize Slava’s entire career.’’ - Dean Lombardi).
Of the Central Division, the only two teams worth really hating at the moment are the St. Louis Blues and the Nashville Predators. The Blues we hate because it gives every Hawks fan pure unadulterated joy to watch them implode in the first round every year (for my feelings on the subject, see this year’s St. Louis Blues Eulogy on this fine website).
The Predators we hate because, much like the LA Kings, they have recently proven themselves to value an attempt at winning over alienating every fan who would prefer their team not knowingly encourage human-shaped piles of abusive garbage to play for their team.
(Shoutout to the awesome Preds and Kings fans who are trying to badger their teams into listening, by the way. You all deserve better.)
Potential future rivals include Minnesota if they ever manage to beat us in a playoff series in this decade, Dallas if they keep improving and do the same, and Anaheim if Ryan Kesler ever figures out that Duncan Keith is not actually human and the Ducks adjust their game plans accordingly. [See: D is for Detroit Sucks, N is for Norris, P is for Problematic]
The Spinorama was popularized by Denis Savard, Blackhawks legend, spokesman for a chain of Chicagoland liquor stores, and the subject of an awesome sweatshirt I wear around the house that my husband absolutely loathes. (Shoutout to 26 Shirts for the sweatshirt, and to my husband for not throwing the sweatshirt away and telling me it “got lost”.)
This move has a name befitting how freaking cool it looks when it’s done by someone with hands like a magician. Patrick Kane, current wielder of the magic hands on the Blackhawks, sometimes blesses us all with a spinorama goal and then we have to go watch the replays of it somewhere far away from anyone because they’re NSFW.
What the hell, guys, live dangerously. But go close your office door, just in case:
[See: B is for Binny’s Beverage Depot, K is for Kane and Toews]
T. Those Bad Years
Friends, I’m not gonna try to talk around this. A team with as long a history as the Blackhawks have is bound to have a few really awful years. In the case of the Hawks, well, there have been more than a few. Through a few stretches of team history, Chicago hockey has been synonymous with total, systemic failure.
It happened in the 1940s, when Chicago’s best assets were picked over by Detroit thanks to owner James Norris. It happened in the Norris Division years, when Chicago was busy brawling with other division rivals and the Islanders, and then the Oilers, won lots of stuff.
But the Bad Years most Hawks fans alive today remember were the ones in the decade and a half spanning the mid-1990s to the late 2000s. This is the era that, famously, the Hawks were declared the worst franchise in professional sports, where draft pick after draft pick was a bust, where the fans at the United Center usually dressed in costume as empty seats, where Hawks fans had to sit back and watch - or more often, listen on the radio - as their team fell further and further even as Detroit and Nick Lidstrom won multiple Cups.
If, like me, you came to being a Hawks fan in this era, you probably were either incepted into it by family or proximity, or you’re someone who enjoys pain. (Possibly, you learned to enjoy pain by being a Hawks fan during this era.) Thankfully, Hawks history has taught us that all eras must end eventually, and the most recent Bad Years came to a halt in 2008.
Long may these Good Years last. [See: E is for Early 90s, K is for Kane and Toews, W is for Wirtzes]
Widely acknowledged as one of the best uniforms in the North American sports world, the Chicago Blackhawks’ classic red, white, and black uniforms have undergone only minor alterations since 1955. A third, alternate uniform in black was introduced in the 90s, and a throwback uniform, used in the 2009 Winter Classic, references the uniform worn from 1935 to 1937. The alternate uniforms don’t get worn much, though, and nobody really complains.
There’s also an eye-searingly awful St. Patrick’s Day green uniform that I understand in concept and object to on every single level. Thankfully it only gets worn for warmups on St. Patrick’s Day and then also by the few people who like them on a regular basis.
[Thank god St. Patrick’s Day is only one day a year. Ugh.]
The logo has also changed very little since 1955, mostly getting larger or smaller in size or changing position. Unlike the rest of the uniform, this is not without controversy, and voices are passionate on both sides regarding changing it. So far, though, it remains as is. [See P is for Problematic]
V. Vince Vaughn (et. al)
This is more about “celebrity” Blackhawks fans than Vince Vaughn specifically, though he is among the famous-ish people that count themselves among the Blackhawks faithful.
The thing is - we don’t have a lot of real celebrity fans. The Rangers and the Kings, between them, have most of the good celebrities. The Blackhawks are left with a few others who either grew up around Chicago, like Vaughn, actor siblings John and Joan Cusack, and wrestler CM Punk - or those who have spent a significant amount of time working around Chicago. Admittedly, Illinois native Jim Belushi may not be the swankiest celeb, but what we lack in swanky A-listers, we make up for in not having missed the playoffs last year. (I see you, Tom Hanks.)
Besides, we’ve also got Mr. T:
[Mr. T: surprisingly decent at shoot the puck.]
Mr. T’s pretty cool, right? (Mr. T pities the fool who doesn’t agree with this.) [See: R is for Rivalry]
The family that has owned the Chicago Blackhawks since the death of James Norris, Jr, the Wirtzes have holdings in real estate, banking, and insurance. Wirtz Corp. also owns one of the largest liquor distributors in Illinois - in fact, if you’re drinking in Illinois, there’s about a 1 in 3 chance that it was brought to you by the Wirtz family (below).
Arthur Wirtz, his son Bill, and grandson Rocky have all served as chairman and principal owner of the Chicago Blackhawks - to varying degrees of success. Arthur, alongside James D. Norris, was the impetus for the rebirth of the franchise after James E. Norris had used the club as the Detroit Red Wings’ unofficial farm team, and during his years with the club, the Hawks won one cup and spent most of the 1960s being scary good. He ceded the position of president and principal owner of the Blackhawks to Bill in 1966, though remained interested in the team. In fact, Blackhawks historian Bob Verdi has said that it was Arthur, not Bill, who was to blame for letting Bobby Hull leave the Blackhawks for the WHA in 1972.
But over the years, there were plenty of other things to blame the man known as Dollar Bill for. Bill, who was chairman and president of the Chicago Blackhawks for 41 years, saw the Blackhawks through the vast majority of their 49-year Cup drought, which included every single league expansion. Blackhawks fans, whether fairly or not, blame Bill for trading away players when they threatened to become too expensive, as well as keeping the Blackhawks off local television, and many other gripes. Bill, who served as president of the NHL Board of Governors several times over his years as Blackhawks owner, was named as the third greediest owner in all of professional sports by ESPN in 2002.
To say that the Chicago Blackhawks faithful don’t care for Bill Wirtz, even years after his death, would be to kindly understate the matter. Famously, the crowd at the United Center booed during the moment of silence in his honor at the first Blackhawks game after his death.
On the other hand, Bill’s son Rocky - full name William Rockwell Wirtz - is almost universally beloved in the city of Chicago. After taking over the principal ownership of the team upon his father’s death in 2007, Rocky reversed many of the longstanding skinflint policies that Dollar Bill failed to recognize were relics from a bygone era that had driven the team into the ground. He brought on John McDonough as president of the team, signed deals with CSN and WGN that would broadcast Blackhawks games not shown nationally into homes around Chicago, and rehired beloved commentator Pat Foley.
If three Cup rings and a thriving team weren’t enough to speak to Rocky Wirtz’s success, he was also awarded the 2014 Wine and Spirits of America Lifetime Achievement Award. I mean, it doesn’t say anything about his qualities as an owner, but it does let you know that he’s achieved a lot in adult beverage distribution. [See: B is for Binny’s Beverage Depot, F is for Foley, Pat, G is for Games on Televison, N is for Norris, T is for Those Bad Years]
Listen, by now you’ve seen that almost everyone who’s doing this A-Z thing - except for Pittsburgh, who I hope do “X is for Xavier LaFlamme aka Kris Letang” - is kind of cheating a tiny bit on X. That being said, the Blackhawks team in the Kane-Toews era owns the X-Factor. This year Chicago were not at their sparkling best through much of the regular season and looked supremely beatable at times in the Playoffs. Despite setbacks, injuries, and sluggish play, this team has had an X-factor that has carried them past teams that, arguably, should have beaten them.
Part of this is attributable to the crucible that is the Central division, which has grown into the scariest division in the NHL in recent years. Chicago have emerged victorious from the Central in the Playoffs every year since realignment, despite the metaphorical arms race that teams like Minnesota, Dallas, and Nashville have set off in an effort to challenge Chicago and St. Louis. Part of the X-Factor the Blackhawks bring to the table, then, is the attitude that comes from facing big, tough, fast teams that see them frequently. Their experience with these teams makes them nigh on impossible to intimidate.
But there’s something else that the Blackhawks had even before they became the team that just wins stuff. They’ve got a group of players at their core who either don’t know or don’t care when they’re expected to lose, and this attitude has taken the mind games teams sometimes like to play largely out of the picture. It was true in their first Stanley Cup run, when they were a group of mostly young kids going up against teams that had far more experience than they did; it was true when they came back to beat Detroit in their second Cup run; and it was true in their third Cup run when they brought four defensemen to play against a brutal Anaheim team who outmuscled them all over the ice.
The X-Factor has held up through one cap-space culling, and - hockey gods willing - it will continue to hold up through this next one. [See: I is for Imagine Dragons, K is for Kane and Toews, V is for Victory]
Y. You Probably Can't Get Tickets
I mean, I guess you could sell a kidney on the black market or something? But seriously, they’re crazy expensive. Back in the early 2000s, Hawks players literally were giving away tickets on the streets of Chicago. Now? You probably can’t get tickets.
[That’s $330 for the privilege of standing for the entire Blackhawks home opener, along with the very cheapest actual seats.]
The general consensus among fans is that if it’s a choice between watching this team win lots of cups and having really cheap tickets, we’d prefer the Cups. If we want cheap tickets, there’s always a road trip. Anyone wanna drive to Nashville? I’ll go halvsies on gas… [See: M is for Madhouse, K is for Kane and Toews]
Z. Zhamnov, Alexei
Zhamnov was one piece of Chicago’s return on the Jeremy Roenick trade, one of the many moves made under Bill Wirtz’s leadership that Blackhawks fans held against him. Roenick had consistently been the team leader in goals - at least when not injured - and his trade marked the end of the strong Hawks team of the Early 90s an the beginning of the bad years.
As for Zhamnov, he captained the Blackhawks during the worst of the bad years, including most of the 2003-04 Season - the worst season in Blackhawks history, when the Hawks took 59 points out of an 82-game season. His trade has become emblematic of the issues with the Blackhawks of the late 90s/early 2000s. Incidentally, he himself was traded at the deadline to the Flyers for, Jim Vandermeer, Colin Fraser, and the pick that became Bryan Bickell. Both Fraser and Bickell would win Cups with the Blackhawks. [See: E is for Early 90s, Q is for Quenneville, T is for Those Bad Years, W is for Wirtzes]
Meet the author: Eliza Eaton-Stern is the editor-in-chief of The Other Half and has been a Blackhawks fan since 1997. Her hobbies are constructing elaborate conspiracy theories about the possible location of Patrick Kane’s Cup-winning puck (current favorite: Chris Pronger sleeps with it under his pillow) and writing strongly-worded letters to the PHWA on behalf of Marian Hossa’s Selke Campaign. Follow her on Twitter @ElizaEatonStern.