December 13, 2009
(Ed. Note: Our series "5 Reasons I Love Hockey" features puckheads from all walks of life revealing five things that either made them a fan or that keep them watching hockey. It will run every weekend. Have a suggestion for a "5 Reasons" guest blogger? Hit us on email. Enjoy!)
While many of us inherited The Game from our families, Jeff Bartl is a "self-taught" hockey fan. "My family wasn't into it and I learned the game from watching Roenick, Chelios, Larmer and Belfour keep hockey relevant in Chicago during the Michael Jordan years -- which was tough to do," he said.
Bartl, who turns 28 this week, has been a season-ticket holder for the Chicago Blackhawks for the last two seasons. This year, he decided to begin blogging about the 'Hawks at Blackhawk Up, part of the FanSided network for which he serves as NHL Director.
"I felt my rants in Section 326 should be heard by more than just other season ticket holders and random innocent bystanders," he said.
To that end, we present his Five Reasons I Love Hockey; a list that really captures an experience that other Blackhawks fans around his age likely have shared. Although most probably don't have a killer Mario Lemieux story like Jeff does.
First, he Commits To The Indian:
1. The Indian-head sweater
Hands down, the best uniform in sports. So what? I'm biased.
But the mixture of a classic yet complex design with the red, white and black colors makes the Blackhawks one of the most recognizable teams in the NHL. Barry Melrose even said it, so there.
Mostly, I'm dying to see a Blackhawks captain (please let it be Jonathan Toews(notes)) do his victory lap wearing this sweater and hoisting the Stanley Cup. A Blackhawk wearing the best uniform in sports carrying the greatest trophy in sports? Not another sight in hockey could ever be more beautiful to these eyes.
2. Chicago's National Anthem tradition
I get chills discussing what this feels like. I even interviewed current Anthem singer Jim Cornelison for my blog before the season because I needed to know what goes through his mind attempting to sing over 20,000 screaming fans before each home game.
The tradition started when the Blackhawks returned home for Game 3 of the 1985 Campbell Conference Finals trailing mighty Edmonton 2-0. The fans were so ecstatic, they began cheering during warm-ups and didn't stop. They cheered through the National Anthem, throughout the entire game and saw their Blackhawks get back into the series.
When Chicago hosted the 1991 NHL All-Star Game just days after the Gulf War began, the tradition reached its pinnacle and inspired the country when Wayne Messmer bellowed out the tune over a packed house waving American flags and displaying signs supporting the troops.
I've never heard a stadium so loud than when I was in attendance for Game 1 against the Calgary Flames in last season's playoffs. I couldn't even hear Cornelison, it was THAT crazy at the United Center. Over 20,000 people standing, clapping and cheering at the top of their lungs to get behind their team is inspiring. It's a tradition that's stuck for nearly 25 years and will continue before each game as long the franchise exists. If you've never experienced this, you need to.
3. Game 4, 1992 Stanley Cup Finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins
I had never attended a Blackhawks game in Chicago Stadium, so during pre-game warm-ups I got as close as possible. I was acting like a typical 10-year-old kid in awe, pressing my face and palms against the glass with my mouth wide open. I saw Mario Lemieux skating my direction, and even though he drove me crazy for the first three games of the series, I couldn't help but smirk.
He noticed, lofted a puck over the glass and watched me catch it. When I turned back with my eyes popping out of my head attempting to utter a "thank you," he winked and skated away. If I close my eyes and think about that moment, I can actually feel the snow melting off the puck and through my tiny fingers.
I don't tell this story too often. It's a moment in my life as a dedicated hockey fan that I've often just wanted to keep to myself. Lemieux will never know it, but tossing that puck over the glass 17-plus years ago changed the life of kid who kind of liked hockey and made him love it. I hope one day I will be able to tell him that in person.
4. Chicago Stadium
Your feet stuck to the cement floors and by the time the third period began, the cigarette smoke from the concourse rolled over the ice and created a distinct haze. I'm fully convinced they never once swept or mopped the place. The only time any cleaning was involved with Chicago Stadium was when they tore it down and had to make room for the United Center.
The nuances of Chicago Stadium were unmistakable. The smell, the blaring horn after each Blackhawks goal and most importantly the talented players who donned the Indian-head sweater made it one of the classic venues to watch a hockey game.
5. Section 326, Row 12, Seat 11
My best friend who I share this season ticket with might say the bathroom, since he's set an NHL record for most goals missed while urinating; but I'm fortunate enough to witness most Blackhawks home games from this seat.
It's directly behind the net, close enough to hear the puck hitting the tape and provides a great view to see all the action on the ice.
The section itself will get on you if you're walking up or down the isle while the puck is in play by shouting, "Wait for the whistle!" The other season ticket holders I've met in this section are some of the most passionate fans I've had the privilege to be around, and I've heard on numerous occasions from people sitting in the section for the first time that we remind them of the old Chicago Stadium atmosphere.
Buy a ticket up there -- you'll laugh, get to watch hockey with knowledgeable, passionate fans and get a perfect view.