Blackhawks land back in West Loop
10/12/2011 10:00 PM
Autumn is fully upon us, and Chicago Blackhawks hockey is back on the West Side. After nearly five months, it is time for us fans to reap the fruits of the teamís offseason labor.
If you follow me on Twitter, you know I am a huge Hawks fan and an amateur hockey player to boot. I tweeted out the Hawks prospect camp this summer, and I keep up with player trades and injuries by having the teamís official tweets texted to my phone. Itís fans like me who fill the West Loopís bars, soaking in the excitement of ticket holders meeting up for a beer before heading off to the United Center. And the player in me gets to enjoy games with other players who can appreciate the simple things like a smooth line change, and seamless backwards cross overs.
With a pre-season that begins each September, the return of National Hockey League action is important to our neighborhood. Iíve mentioned here before that we all benefit from these visitors, because they help to keep our local entertainment and gastronomic options plentiful throughout the rest of the year.
Most restaurants and bars from Fulton Market to Van Buren, and Halsted to Damen count on business from Hawks fans. As the West Loop connection for many of my friends and family, I get to play host when they come through for a game, choosing the best place to meet the group before, and the best place for what we hope to be a celebratory beer after.
For visitors with cars, Union Tap, Ethylís, The Palace Grill, and the Billy Goat boast parking lots. Choosing Jakís Tap or the Greektown restaurants means a quicker route to the stadium. For those who prefer to take a shuttle, Carmichaelís, Beer Bistro, Crossroads, Market and Bottom Lounge among others will drop you off and pick you up in a mini-bus.
Although we must deal with the crowds, living close to the stadium has its perks. The best perk by far is getting the coveted last-minute call to use an extra ticket. Last year I sat in the 100-level for both a Hawks and Bulls game just because I lived in the íhood.
Tonight I am one of the lucky ticket holders who will push past the UC turnstile into the lights and excitement now known as the Madhouse on Madison. The Winnipeg Jets face the Blackhawks for the first time in more than 15 years which makes the match-up that much more exciting. I popped for 200-level seats for this game, thinking about how I would be witnessing the Jets return to the NHL rather than what I was truly going to see ó the Atlanta Thrashers in new jerseys. You see, owners with the Winnipeg franchise, which was shuttered in the mid-1990ís, purchased the Thrashers after last season and moved them north. But heck, every Hawks game is exciting nowadays.
Fans canít fixate on the price of Hawks tickets. Now averaging $75 for 300-level, itís painful to recall the time not so long ago when people could not give those tickets away. Today there is a years-long waiting list for season tickets, and a simple t-shirt runs $35-40 at the Blackhawks store. Like most, I am a sucker for all of it. When considering how to make myself feel better after a tough doctorís visit for example, the best gift I could think to give myself was a new Hawks jersey. Now Iím $100 lighter ó thank goodness I fit youth sizes ó and I look forward to debuting it tonight.
Iíve been volunteering with a fledgling youth hockey foundation in Chicago. While discussing goals for the foundation, a board member and former NHL player told me the story of a 15-year-old whoís working a full-time job while attending high school ó and is living in a friendís basement ó so he can continue to play hockey. He has his own stories of long bus rides to early morning and late evening practices, and the sacrifices most players make to begin traveling with teams in their early teens.
Embrace the ease by which you get to enjoy the excitement the Chicago Blackhawks bring to Chicago and to the West Loop. When the Hawks take the ice at the UC, we are witnessing the fruits of so much labor.