Thursday, January 1, 2009

Blackhawks gain national attention, but outdoor hockey still a cheap stunt

Perhaps it is the ultimate evidence of how low the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team had sunk in the early years of the 21st Century.

A team that is one of the National Hockey League’s “Original Six” and has been a part of Chicago’s sporting scene since 1926 is having to rely on the novelty of playing a hockey match outdoors, and is trying to pass the event off as some major event in the history of Chicago.

NOW I CAN appreciate this is a novelty.

The idea of placing an ice rink on the grass and infield dirt of Wrigley Field so that roughly 40,000 people can watch the Blackhawks take on their rival Detroit Red Wings is something that likely will never happen again – just like the Chicago Bears once played a football game many decades ago in the same arena where the Blackhawks used to play.

But the reality is that football game was played on an off-sized football grid, and this hockey match will take place in an outdoor stadium whose seats were in no way configured to accommodate a hockey rink.

Just about everybody who braves the winter elements (even if they remain as mild at game time Thursday as they have been in recent days) is going to get a terrible view of the ice.

EITHER THE ANGLE of the seat will be all wrong, or there will be one of those posts (the bane of any baseball fan who watches a game in an old stadium) blocking the view.

Considering the fact that the game did manage to sell out, people who are still trying to get seats will wind up paying exorbitant fees to get into Wrigley Field.

This will really be one occasion where a sports fan would be better off watching the game on television (to be broadcast via WMAQ-TV and NBC affiliates across the country). That way, you will be able to see what is really happening.

When I look at the photographs and diagrams depicting how Wrigley Field is being used to accommodate a hockey rink, I can’t help but think there will be thousands of people who will be able to say “I was there” for the game, but can’t tell you a thing about what happened because they couldn’t see it.

I’M ALSO SKEPTICAL of those people who claim that the staging of this event will give Chicago a rehearsal, of sorts, for the city’s dreams of hosting the summer Olympic games in 2016. It’s not a rehearsal any more than any Cubs or White Sox game would be during the summer months.

I can’t help but think many of us in Chicago are making ourselves look like rubes by getting that worked up over Thursday’s game – which is important to the Blackhawks in that they need a victory over Detroit if they’re to claim that the Red Wings didn’t walk all over them this season.

Aside from that, I don’t see the significance of what could turn out to be a badly-played game on a makeshift ice rink in a building whose seating configuration was so awkward that no one could see what was happening.

Now I will be the first to admit, I have only been to one professional hockey game in my life, and that was several decades ago when I saw the old Chicago Cougars of the now-defunct World Hockey Association play at the now-demolished International Amphitheater.

SO I’M NOT the hard-core hockey junkie who might think that the game played under any circumstances is worth watching.

But much of the hype being tossed on this particular game (which is part of an NHL stunt to make professional hockey in this country seem larger-than-life by playing occasional matches in huge outdoor stadiums) just strikes me as overkill.

Learning from broadcast reports that the Zamboni machine that keeps the ice smooth tipped over upon its arrival at Wrigley Field struck me as journalistic overkill.

Hearing people try to claim that this is the first hockey match played in a baseball park strikes me as being about as relevant as those sports broadcasters who inform us that a ballplayer’s bunt single is the first of the season by a left-handed hitter in the third inning of a Tuesday afternoon baseball game.

BESIDES, THE ARENA in which the American League champion Tampa Bay Rays play was once configured for hockey and was the home stadium of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In fact, about the only aspect of this match that particularly interests me is the team the Blackhawks will play.

Detroit vs. Chicago in any sport always has the potential for an intriguing match-up. There is enough rivalry among the sports fans of the two cities (only about a four-hour drive from each other) that the hardcore fans will care about the game, regardless of the surroundings.

Also, one must consider that both cities have old-line professional hockey teams. Let’s just say that Blackhawks vs. Red Wings sounds a lot more interesting than (Phoenix) Coyotes vs. (Anaheim, Calif.) Ducks.

-30-

EDITOR’S NOTES: Richard M. Daley is caught up in the hype surrounding Thursday’s (http://www.suntimes.com/sports/hockey/blackhawks/1344482,CST-SPT-wint23.article) outdoor match between the Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings.

The Chicago Tribune managed to offend many of its Internet-based readers (read the comments section) with this story (http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/hockey/blackhawks/chi-31-winter-classic-blackhawks-chidec3,0,1637386.story) that tells the hockey-clueless just what the sport is about.

Am I the only one who sees something eerie about a sports team that hasn’t won its championship since 1961 (the Blackhawks and the Stanley Cup) playing a match on the (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=wojciechowski_gene&id=3798186&sportCat=nhl) field of the Chicago team with the longest championship draught?

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