Each November the United Center swaps the dignified elegance of Hawk jerseys and the distinct smell of Freon for the chaotic rainbow of clownsuits and the equally distinct smell of elephant dung. The annual two-week presence of the Barnum and Bailey circus means the annual two-week absence of the Blackhawks as they make their first extended trip to the west coast each season.
One is tempted to say that it’s a good thing the team has been on the road because you wouldn’t want the hometown fans to see how poorly the Hawks have played going back to 1996. To be blunt, the last half of November has been the bleakest part of a dark decade for the team and its fans.
Since 1996 the Blackhawk have played 55 total Barnum and Bailey road games, winning just 15 (their complete record during the period is 15 wins, 35 losses, 3 ties, and seven overtime losses), a ‘winning’ percentage of just .272. Hawk fans have been giving thanks that the team is on the road.
Enough with the numbers. There is reason to believe things may be different this season. To begin with, many of the team’s better players are too young to know or care much about this uninspiring history. Even more important, the schedule is quite a bit different this year than it has been at any time since 1996.
The circus trip has customarily seen the Hawks travel to the west coast and western Canada for between five and seven consecutive road games during the two weeks the circus is at the U.C.
Granted, the travel burdens placed on a contemporary NHL player are not particularly arduous. They’re not riding unheated buses in near-zero weather clattering down unlit two-lane highways during a three-game swing through Saskatoon, Medicine Hat, and Swift Current. They travel on charter jets to many of North America’s nicer cities and stay in comfortable accommodations while there.
Having said that, travel is travel. League wide, the road teams win fewer than 45% of the games played.
The Blackhawks are playing six straight road games this month, but three of them have been ‘neighborhood’ contests in Detroit, Columbus, and Nashville. The circus trip itself consists of just three games, all in Canada, but all three opponents have historically inflicted bruises on the Hawks during the annual November road trip.
This season’s circus trip isn’t the early season odyssey that it traditionally has been. However, the Blackhawks will pay a scheduling price for this uncharacteristically quiet November; this year’s epic journey comes after the holidays, when they’re on the road for seven consecutive games in 15 days from January 30 and February 15.
Although it’s a challenge, one can’t say that it’s unfair. The other Central Division teams have similar trips scheduled; it’s just the price teams pay for being the easternmost members of the Western Conference.
Besides, who wouldn’t want to spend a week in Canada in February?
Van Oler is a freelance writer and Blackhawks fan who grew up in Wheaton and currently resides in Cincinnati, OH.