It maybe almost exactly 5 years to the day that I left Chicago, but the city is still very much in my heart and last night I sat up late and cheered on the Chicago Blackhawks to a late, late victory in Boston to beat the Bruins and win the Stanley Cup.
The Blackhawks trailed Boston Bruins 2-1 with less than 76 seconds left on the clock in the final period. The Bostonian’s were rocking the stadium after a dominating performance and I was expecting it all to come down to a title deciding game 7 back in Chicago later in the week.
But this Blackhawks team, which had alreadyhad a record-breaking season, is resilient. Bryan Bickell scored first to equalise and sombre the mood in the TD Garden and then just 17 seconds later Dave Bolland wrote a new paragraph in the history books as smashed in a deflection to put the Blackhawks ahead.
Bruins fans sunk into their seats and at the end whilst back in Chicago thousands turned out into the streets to celebrate, back in Boston I witnessed on the television the weird scene of an away team celebrating in front of none of it’s fans.
It was Chicago’s 2nd title in 4 years and respresents a remarkable turnaround by the famed ice hockey team. When I was living in the windy city, the Hawks when not on strike were mostly an embarrassment. I remember on the odd occasion when I would go and watch them, the crowd would boo them onto the ice. The reviled previous owner Bill Wirtz priced tickets well over the top for what is the most working class sport in the city and sparse crowds would spread themselves around the 23,000 capacity arena.
Nicknamed Dollar Bill, Wirtz also banned the Hawks from being shown on live television and the result was that no one cared a jot about one of the NHL’s first six. There was no love of the team that were founded in 1926, just distant memories of the old days passed down from fathers and grandfathers. The Chicago media relegated them to also rans and to rub salt ESPN dismissed the Blackhawks with the humiliating title of “worst franchise in sports” in 2006. Quite a feat.
But at the start of the 2007 season owner Bill Wirtz died after a brief battle with cancer. He had served as president for 40 years and few tears were shed amongst Chicago’s sports fans. At the minute’s silence to mark his death the crowd booed loudly and his replacement Rocky Wirtz, Bill’s son appointment was met with intial dismay, however just over 5 years later he’s put together a team that the city with big shoulders can be proud off and the photo at the top was how the skyscrapers in downtown Chicago took to the news late last night.
Rocky Wirtz was also responsible for bringing in Coach Joel Quenneville, who last night became only the second sports coach in the city to lead teams to two titles, the others being legendary Bulls Coach Phil Jackson, Bears’ George Halas and Cubs’ Frank Chance way back in the early 1900’s.
Now Wirtz in the modern era has done what the other sport’s teams in Chicago are unable to do. Not since Michael Jordan’s Bulls in the 1990’s has a Chicago team dominated it’s sport. The Bears failed to live up to their mid-80’s peak, the White Sox disappeared from the top of the tree as quick as they got there in 2005, soccer’s Fire have consistently disappointed and as for the Cubs, well they sadly remain the butt of all the jokes.
The team’s plane taxied back into O’Hare airport with the championship trophy on board shortly after 4 a.m. with fire trucks shooting water into the air and around a 1,000 or so fans greeting them at arrivals.
Those 1,000 fans will be in the millions when the Blackhawks players, Quenneville and Rocky Wirtz, now Chicago’s favourite sons, go on a victory parade in the city on Friday.