I Am Black & I Love Hockey

My hockey story starts around 1986 or so on the south side, I was 10 years old and my dad was a CTA mechanic and he worked with a interesting group of guys from all backgrounds and all parts of the city. Its how I came to appreciate gyros, the blues and so many other things dad would bring home.

But back to cold steel on ice, a few of my dad's co workers were hockey fans, some Chicago Blackhawks fans, a few Philadelphia Flyers "Broad Street Bullies" fans. And me being all about sports, I started to follow the Blackhawks who had Dennis Savard, Ed Olczyk & Al Secord.

Fast forward to the fall of 1988 and we first got cable at home, so dad & I could watch NHL (National Hockey League), games. The Edmonton Oilers were the Stanley Cup champs but the Blackhawks were no chumps, it was a great time to learn and start following hockey. Wayne Gretzky "The Great One" had just been traded from the defending champion Edmonton Oilers to the upstart Los Angeles Kings, just a lot going on in pro hockey.

Fast forward another two years until the fall of 1990, I started high school at Brother Rice on the southside, yes where one Eddie "Edzo" Olyzck had attended in the mid 80's and there was still a strong hockey following at the great school at 99th & Pulaski. Though the team was not the most popular, the at the time principal Brother Michael Segvick "The Bonecrusher", was previously the hockey coach. So still hockey had a presence and coinciding with a very good and popular Blackhawks team (that made a Stanley Cup appearance in 1992), with starts like Jeremy "JR" Roenick, Eddie "The Eagle" Belfour, Chris "Cheli" Chelios & Steve Larmer. So hockey was spoken in the hallways of the Christian Brothers institution and I had friends who taught me more about the game as well as got to know a few of the "Ice Crusaders".

Once I got to DePaul University a few years later, I found out they had a "hockey club", not a university sanctioned or sponsored team. But these were a group of guys, passionate about hockey who played other regional teams (UIC, Notre Dame, Ferris State, U of I, Champaign-Urbana), and though they were a ragtag bunch, it was pure hockey. Their home games were at the Chicago Park District McFetridge ice rink on California Ave just south of Irving Park Road at 11 P.M. on Friday & Saturday nights after open skate. They didn't charge admission, but just for showing up there was often free pizza and pop for the hardy 100 or so fans. The hockey was decent, hard hitting, good line changes but not always crisp passing or scoring and against some of the better opponents it could be a challenge to win but so much heart out on the ice. And the fellow fans and my classmates educated me (and humored me even more), it was time well spent, though often chilly because we were on top of the ice and the heating system kinda sucked. You ever smell a Zamboni ice machine when its running at full throttle? Consider yourself lucky if you haven't inhaled those fumes in, its like smelling the exhaust of your grandmother's Buick.

Once I graduated from DePaul (and by this time the Blackhawks were in fire sale mode and free falling), I became a hard core Chicago Wolves fan who played in the minor league IHL (now AHL), out in Allstate Arena in Rosemont, but it was worth the drive from the south side. But this was championship minor league hockey as the Wolves won Turner Cups in 1998 & 2000 and owner Don Levine has owned the team their whole 20 years of their existence without a losing season and additional Calder Cups in 2002 & 2008. I have been to many of their games including one of the Calder Cup Finals games in 2008, it was an experience. I even went to a game in 2001 as part of a bachelor party and when the guys wanted to leave early to participate in "extracurricular activities", I was the only one sad to have to leave hockey game early.

I've attended two Blackhawks games in my life, one against the very Philadelphia Flyers in January 2001 (that my dad's co-workers followed years before), and that was a great game (Hawks win!), with some friends from Philadelphia. I then attended another game the next month against the much disliked St Louis Blues with one of my groomsmen (who was raised in St Louis), and again great game (Hawks win!), and people were amused since he wore his Blues jersey and I represented with my Indian head sweater as we walked around the concourse at the United Center together.

But I must admit once the Blackhawks were deemed the worst team in all of sports in 2004 (by ESPN), and then the year long NHL lockout in 2005, I totally lost faith in the Blackhawks, I even donated my Chris Chelios & Doug Gilmore Blackhawks jerseys to charity in digust. I bought a new Wolves jersey as a 30th birthday present to myself the next season and followed AHL hockey exclusively. I even took my now wife to Wolves games on dates and got her into AHL hockey.

But then the Blackhawks started a small rebirth with my childhood hero Dennis Savard as coach but that was short lived (and the now legendary Coach Joel "Q" Quenneville was brought in), and once the owner Bill "Dollar Bill" Wirtz passed on and the now great William Rockwell "Rocky" Wirtz, took over and put Blackhawks games TV for the first time in my lifetime and made Blackhawk hockey more accessible (and more importantly a better team on the ice), I came full circle back to the team of my youth. I bought a new Jonathan "Captain Serious" Toews jersey and brought my wife with me (she loves Patrick Sharp), and we are now entrenched with the Hawks as they just won their second Stanley Cup since 2010.

So this past Saturday Lord Stanley's Cup made a visit to the Field Museum of Natural History and several thousand of my closest hockey friends came to see hockey history, it was awesome, a sea of red that was biblical through the museum. The rules were strict (as set by the National Hockey Hall of Fame and the handlers that escort "The Cup"), so just one official picture per fan. We got in line at 9:05 A.M. and the line stretched almost the length of the museum (seemed to stretch past 35th Street), but it was well worth it, at around 11:35 A.M. we got to Lord Stanley's Cup and I was shaking as I climbed the two steps to it. To think this is the same cup held by Wayne Gretzky, Patrick Roy, Mark, Messier, Bobby Hull, Tony Esposito and all the greats.

I was able to see and touch the AHL Calder Cup when the Wolves won in 2008 and it was nice and I was also able to see the World Series trophy after the White Sox won in 2005 but NHL hockey is special, the history, mystique and complexity of the game.

And to be able to get to touch hockey royalty as my childhood team is the defending Stanley Cup Champion brings it back to the little guy back in West Pullman watching hockey games with my dad over 25 years ago.

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Filed under: Chicago, Sports

Tags: Chicago Blackhawks

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    Charles W. Johnson

    I'm a lifelong writer (since I was 8 years old), and have been doing this blog in some form or fashion since 2004. I'm a DePaul University alum, class of 1999 and prior to that Brother Rice class of 1994. . And I appreciate you taking to the time to read what I have to say, feel free to email charles.w.johnson@hotmail.com

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