The following is excerpted from the December 2014 issue of Blackhawks Magazine. Pick up the newest issue of the magazine at the next Blackhawks home game, or by calling the Blackhawks Store at 312-759-0079.
These outdoor games, whether on New Year’s Day or other dates, have grown into must-see and must-have occasions throughout the United States and Canada. Obviously, the logistics are daunting. You just don’t build a rink, flood it and drop a puck—especially in Dodger Stadium. But it works, and if atmospheric conditions aren’t conducive to tape-to-tape passes, well, then bring on the sweepers. Since when is the weather a friend in Chicago during January or March, anyway?
Wrigley Field had staged just about every facet of sports and entertainment, but hockey? In 24 years as an executive with the Cubs, Blackhawks President & CEO John McDonough never gave it a thought. Until the Blackhawks at “The Friendly Confines” struck him as a natural fit. When they emerged from the home dugout along third base, and the Detroit Red Wings from their clubhouse by first base, everything seemed to be picture-perfect. Lights, action, flashbulbs.
“Then, like central casting, it’s like the producer called and said, let’s have some snow falling as soon as the game starts,” recalled Chairman Rocky Wirtz. “At the time, in 2009, the Blackhawks were not as popular as they are now. That game kind of piqued people’s interest. Our job is to grow this great sport, and these outdoor games are a very, very smart way for the league to do it. It’s just terrific.”
The 2009 Winter Classic registered the highest TV ratings for any game in 33 years – another way, according to Blackhawks Executive Vice President Jay Blunk, of “expanding the brand.” Yet for all the joy it brought 40,818 spectators, the scene and the ambiance thrilled the participants.
“Amazing,” Patrick Kane said. “That’s one of the first things I did in Chicago, after I was drafted by the Blackhawks – I threw out the first pitch at a Cubs game and sang ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ during the seventh-inning stretch. Little did I know I’d be playing a hockey game at Wrigley Field a couple years later.”
Marian Hossa brought his parents and wife to the game. Patrick Sharp remembers the flyover by the planes. For all the guys, on either side, it was a trip back in time to when they were kids, falling in love with the sport amidst the elements. Bundles of energy, bundled up. Also, that red-letter day had meaning.
“I have to say, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Wrigley Field is the rebirth of our franchise,” said Jonathan Toews. “I think that was the first big step that we took as far as reestablishing ourselves in Chicago as a competitive team around the league. So many things have happened since then, including two championships, but I think that was one of the things that stood out. I was in my second year here, and Wrigley Field showed us the amount of people who were watching hockey and how many fans cared about the Blackhawks.”