The Little Guy's First Blackhawks Game

The Little Guy's First Blackhawks Game

The whole evening was planned.

Jack and I would leave our house, get parking in the west side lot, make one quick run through the lower concourse, and then enter the 100 level just before 7:00.

I'd be able to record his first looks into the United Center before a Hawks game.  We'd share a moment, walk down toward the glass, the players would come out for their pre-game skate, and he'd finally get to see his favorite players up close.

After the players returned, we'd go up to our seats in the 300 level, get some food, sit down, and then we'd have a teary-eyed emotional father-son moment as he listens to the national anthem for the first time. It would be a moment cemented in time, something I w0uld remember for the rest of my life.

You know what happened instead?

Well, real life happened.  That's just how it works in the parenting world.

I forgot that I was low on gas, forgot that I had to pick up medication, forgot that I didn't go to the ATM, and THEN wound up showing up too late to get into the west lot.  Soooooooo, we settled for street parking on Madison (yes, it exists), and hustled into the UC just in time for...the players leaving the ice.

I was in such a rush to see if the players were still there, that I forgot to record the uber-corny moment of entering the stadium.  Instead of it being 7:00, it was 7:15, Jack had to pee, and we still weren't by our seats.

After the rush, we plopped down at about 7:25 for one of those 'The Blackhawks are Skating through the City and this Might be a Movie or Not' montages that run prior to puck drop.  The little guy sat; stunned.  Who could blame him?

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Jack wasn't supposed to go to his first game this young.  My feeling has always been that a kid should always remember their first game; it shouldn't be something forced upon by a parent.  There's nothing more uncomfortable than seeing squeamish kids, with two over-worked parents, unable to enjoy a night out.

However, this winter, a hockey bug bit my son.  Ever since the season started, Jack has been taking the magnets off our NHL standings board and creating fake nightly matchups.  He plays imaginary games where he 'skates' around the living room scoring goals, checking imaginary players, and going in the penalty box.  He started memorizing all of the team names.  He started demanding that hockey be on the television.  Then, he started demanding that I turn off children's programming that my daughter was enjoying so that he could watch hockey.  Obviously, I wouldn't do that...so he'd go upstairs and demand that I turn it on up there.  'Jack, it's Islanders/Jets...we'll watch the highlights later...we can't watch hockey all the time."

Jesus.  What did I just say?  'We can't watch hockey all the time?'  How did this happen?

You see, Jack is only 3 1/2. He's 3 1/2.  3 1/2.  Three and a half.  Not 10.  3 1/2.  Most parents are dying from watching old episodes of Thomas with their 3 year olds.  Me? I got Jack yelling at me to turn on Sharks vs. Blues.

How did it happen?  I never put a hockey stick in his hand, never dressed him up in Blackhawks clothing (hell, he still doesn't have any Hawks apparel), never told him what teams to like...this was all on his own.

So, back to the question of 'when to send your child to their first game'...Luckily, I'm a part of a season-ticket group.  Getting Jack to a game wasn't going to be an issue.  Explaining to Jack that I was going to a hockey game and that he wasn't going to go with me was going to be a problem.  I'm too honest.  I can't lie.  Jack took the first couple games in stride...but when I told him last week that I was going to Blackhawks/Canucks without him...well, that was enough.

"Dad...when are weeeee gonna go to the hockey game?"

Oh, shit.

You ever had a 3 1/2 year old give you that look?  The 'Gosh, Daddy, You Wouldn't Want to be the Meanest Dadddy in the Whole Wide World, Would You?' look? It was sealed.  A response jumped out of my mouth before I could think.

"Uhhhhh...Monday!  We'll go Monday, Jack!  The Blackhawks are playing the Oilers.  Sound good?"

"The Oilers?  Okay!"

Yeah...soooo...try fighting that one off.  The little kid won again.  I'm a sucker.

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So, I got the times mixed up.  For some reason, in my head, I had the start time to Monday's game as 7:00 p.m.  Unfortunately, it was a 7:30 p.m. game.  That's not usually a big deal, but when you're dealing with a kid his age that half-hour is big.  The whole time I'm thinking to myself, '...great, now I'm gonna look like the irresponsible jagoff dad who doesn't care about his son and keeps him out until whenever the hell I feel like it...'

Crisis somewhat averted: Jack fell asleep on the way to the United Center.  One problem, though: He woke up to being rushed through cold air, security, multiple escalators, and then thrust before 21,000 people.  Freak out city awaited.

Jack didn't budge.  He clung tight.  I tried to get him to look at the whole rink while we stood by the exit, but he wouldn't turn.

When we got to our seats, I plopped him down in the seat next to me.  He sat rigidly; his eyes fixated on the scoreboard's dramatic showing of the previously-mentioned highlights montage.

It was pretty comedic.  I didn't take off his hat, glove, or jacket.  He looked like the little kid from A Christmas Story.  His legs barely stretched over the bottom of the seat.  He was frozen.  Total shock.  Couldn't move.

I'd get slight nods of acknowledgment from basic questions, but that was it.  It would take a while for him to take it all in.

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I've cheered the anthem at every Chicago Blackhawks game I've attended.  This, however, would be the first time that I wouldn't.

I have one son.  I don't know what lies in the future, but I know that nothing is guaranteed.

We might just get this one anthem.  So, while we're standing (and kindly removing all caps), I'm about to reach for my phone for a quick picture, but...

Screw it.  I'd been rushing all night.  I was going to take this in.  My son, me, the national anthem; my phone isn't going to do it justice.

It's amazing how loud it feels when you don't cheer.

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The little guy was still a bit shell-shocked.  However, when the Oilers put up an early tally to go up 1-0, he perked up.

"They scored?! Dad, it's 1-0!  The Blackhawks better score!"

What can I say, he has a high-level of hockey accumen.

Moments later, his favorite player, Patrick Kane scored to tie the game at 1.  Jack gave high fives to everybody in front and behind him.

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Now a hockey veteran, Jack was making demands.

"I want ice cream!"  My fault.  I promised.

I had not eaten.  This was a problem.  For anybody with a kid under 5, you know that asking your child to navigate while holding food through throngs of people is not to be advised.

For some reason, I didn't calculate that holding an ice cream, a slice of pizza, and two pops would be an issue.

God bless the older lady in line who noticed that I couldn't get to a trash can without abandoning my son; she grabbed my trash for me.  Good people are still in the world.

When we got back to our seats, Jack promptly kicked his Sprite on the ground.  This quickly spread down section 325 creating problems for everybody.

However, I viewed it as a baptism of sorts.  Our feet would now stick to the ground the same way that my feet used to stick to the ground at the old Chicago Stadium back in February of 1987!  Ah, yes!  Recreated history!  So easy!

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The plan was to get through two periods.  Jack did it with no fuss.  It was about 9:15, and time for this little guy to get on his way.

"We need to get back home so we can watch the third period!"  What?  Ha!  Nice try, kid!  You'll be looooooong asleep...

As we left, Jack advised me (with the Hawks down 2-1), "I think the Blackhawks will have THREE goals and the Oilers will have TWO goals and the Blackhawks will win!"

They're so cute at this age.  I asked him if he enjoyed his stay.

"Dad, next time we have to go watch them play the Blues...or the Sharks...or the Kings...or maybe the Blue Jackets!"

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"We need to turn the TV on."

Jack didn't just last through the game, he amazingly lasted through the car ride, through the last moments of regulation, and into overtime.

We sat on our couch and celebrated Marian Hossa's game winner that would extend the Blackhawks' record-setting/season-starting point streak to 19 games.

He's never made it past 9.  Now, it was 10:15.

Crumpled up on our bed, Jack fell asleep wearing his USA Hockey jersey.

He is now officially 1-0-0 while watching the Blackhawks live.

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Nothing went according to my plan.  The whole night was a microcosm of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants early parenthood.

Instead of rushing pictures and grabbing souvenirs, I settled for relishing time and holding conversation.

In the end, my son, the Hawks, and myself all wound up big winners.

 

CHICAGO TRIBUNE VIDEO

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