Come back with us to New Year's Day 2008, when the Blackhawks were just starting to feel like a breath of fresh air.
Rocky Wirtz was new in his role as Chairman of a troubled family heirloom, requiring a complete teardown he commissioned John McDonough to produce and direct. At home on that holiday, less than two months into his role as franchise President, McDonough watched the first Winter Classic featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the NFL's Bills.
McDonough, after a decorated career with the Chicago Cubs, was new to hockey, but not new to new. As snowflakes danced across his TV screen and Sidney Crosby scored in the shootout to provide the visitors a 2-1 victory before 71,217 fans, McDonough was enthralled. Why, he wondered, don't we get one of those?
McDonough broached the concept to National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman, who noted that the idea did not float unattended. McDonough, quipped Bettman, was politely persistent. Phone calls brought traction, then action. On New Year's Day 2009, the Blackhawks hosted the defending Stanley Cup champions and Marian Hossa at Wrigley Field. The Detroit Red Wings won 6-4, with 40,818 in attendance on a crisp afternoon.
"We lost," recalled captain Jonathan Toews, "but it was the rebirth of the Blackhawks."