As a devoted Chicago Blackhawks fan, I marked off March 1, 2014 as a day of excitement as soon as it was announced that the team would play in one of the NHL’s Stadium Series games that day against the Pittsburgh Penguins in none other place but Soldier Field.
As was the case for pretty much everyone, I was highly looking forward to the first ever match-up between captains Jonathan Toews (CHI) and Sidney Crosby (PIT), who also just teamed up to help Team Canada to another Winter Olympic gold medal. One thing that I feared when this season started was that one or more of the multiple key players that could play in this game were going to be injured (Crosby, for instance, has missed wide swaths of time in the pass due to issues with concussions among other injuries) and miss out on the chance to participate in this historic game.
Fortunately, injuries would not spoil anything and I got my wish to see these two great teams bring out some of the most skilled players in the NHL on what would be one snowy patch of ice. Along with Crosby and Toews you also had Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa just to name a few. It was a feat to get this game off and execute it under a constant snow shower but the weather could not be seen as a negative — news reports afterward caught fans exiting Soldier Field and at least everyone the stations showed attested to Saturday night being one they’ll long remember and I think the same will go for the two teams and the NHL in general.
Sitting in with Regal’s “D & Davis Show” earlier in the day, I was privileged to get a taste of the excitement surrounding the game in Chicago’s downtown area and I couldn’t help but indulge when I encountered a few Penguins fans,welcoming them to Chicago while also stating, “you’re not winning tonight.” Hey, I was kind enough to offer a “see you in the Finals in June,” which I would prefer to see happen.
Being around the atmosphere made me proud as a Chicagoan and a sports fan in general. Watching the snow steadily fall on the ice was beautiful and I could only imagine that the NHL was very happy with that result being captured for television. Though I couldn’t attend the game at Soldier Field, it was a beautiful experience watching the game from the comfort of my home — from Jim Cornelison singing the National Anthem to the final buzzer, I couldn’t have been more happy as a fan witnessing this great event, if the temperature was a few degrees warmer, I would’ve been the first fan at the gate in Soldier Field.
It didn’t hurt, as far as happiness is concerned, that the result of the game was so kind to the Hawks — a 5-1 domination that was every bit unlike New Years Day 2009, when they lost to the Detroit Red Wings in the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field. The game wasn’t much of a contest but the simple exhibition of a game of hockey under the lights in prime time with the world’s best players was a treat to see. I hope that the NHL continues the Outdoor Series games in an effort to provide more spectacle to the sport, which should help grow the sport.
To wrap up, a big two thumbs up to the city of Chicago, Soldier Field, NBC and to most importantly to the fans, who numbered nearly 63,000 and showed their enthusiasm from start to finish. Already there is talk of where the Hawks should play their next outdoor game. I think it is a no-brainer myself, it has to go to US Cellular Field on 35th and Shields on the South Side of Chicago.
A lot of negative perception gets thrown about the South Side, especially regarding North Siders who never ever venture to this area of town, the positive often gets ignored and the devotion to the Hawks probably gets underplayed. To have the Hawks play inside of Sox Park, there would be a chance to display a true sense of outreach by the franchise and the League to our area of the city and the people in it.
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