The Chicago Blackhawks are Stanley Cup Champions for 2013. Wow, it feels good to say it and hear it and to see it. It also feels good to know that there is a professional sports franchise in Chicago that knows how to win and how to sustain winning.
Isn't that what professional sports should be about? It's nice to have sellout crowds. It's nice to have a beautiful place to play. It's nice to have loyal fans and players who are dedicated to a team. But, through it all, as fans who buy tickets, t-shirts, hats, and hoodies, we want to see a winning product on the field or on the ice.
Handzus hoists the Cup (Chicago Tribune)
In that sense, the Chicago Blackhawks get it. They get the fact that you can market a product and become synonymous with a city or a sport, but they also get the fact that the fans in Chicago will be far more likely to come out to games and to go to official "Roadwatch" bars, and to buy $200 sweaters if the product is superior. Do you hear that Jerry Reinsdorf? Do you hear that Ted Phillips? Do you hear that Theo Epstein and Tom Ricketts?
The Blackhawks have provided Chicago with a superior product for several years now. In the late 1990's and early 2000's, it is fair to say that the Blackhawks were a broken franchise and a lousy product. When owner Bill Wirtz died and his son Rocky took over the team, things changed and the emphasis changed. The Blackhawks moved from being the "oh yeah, the Blackhawks are playing tonight" team in town to the "I gotta get home to see the Hawks play tonight" team. Before Rocky Wirtz took over, fans could not watch their team on television when they played at home, and, more importantly, there was no buzz, no interest and no one for kids to love and to follow as fans into adulthood.
As someone who saw Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita play as a little kid at the old Chicago Stadium, I can say without hesitation that the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and the team that did it again last night raised the goosebump level to heights that even a 2005 White Sox fan has never felt before.
Most importantly and what now separates the Blackhawks from Chicago sports champions of the recent past, notably the 1985 Bears and the 2005 White Sox has been management and players' ability to "keep the window open." Sports enthusiasts often hear about a team whose window to winning is closing. Fans heard it about the Bears as they were successful after 1985, but could not win another championship. Similarly, the White Sox had a couple of good seasons after 2005, but could not repeat.
Even after dismantling a significant portion of the 2010 team due to contract and salary cap issues, the Rocky Wirtz, Stan Bowman, John McDonough, and Joel Queenville brain trust of the Blackhawks front office continued to put a winning team on the ice, continued to make the playoffs, and continued to stoke interest through smart marketing and product growth. This is, after all, a business and as those of us who have succeeded and not succeeded in business know - it's all about winning. Whether you're winning deals, winning customers, or winning awards, you've got to win.
Bolland with the winner. (Chicago Tribune)
The Blackhawks would not let the winning window close. By maintaining a core of players - Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Bolland, Kjallmarson, etc. - and supplementing with veterans and youth, the Blackhawks have written a script on how to succeed in the world of 21st century professional sports.
2010 was great for the thrill of the Blackhawks first championship since 1961. 2013 is even better to me as Game 6 concluded in such stunning fashion and fans are able to see how well-constructed and well-managed this team truly is. As the Blackhawks' players travel throughout Chicago's bars and restaurants with the Stanley Cup on the day after the night of their championship, a grown man can't help but smile and feel that, as a fan, he is just a little part of that success.
As Blackhawks fans, we are fortunate that there is no more looking out over a losing horizon and saying, "Wait 'til next year." Instead, we can look out of the open window and say, "the future still looks very bright."
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