I went to a hockey game Thursday night and a scoreboard broke out.
The Blackhawks misspent four different one-goal leads and dropped their home opener to the San Jose Sharks, 5-4, before 21,455 at the United Center. It was not a defensive gem for either squad, but rather the kind of track meet that finds coaches mulling strange thoughts about their career paths.
Otherwise, the star of the show was the new scoreboard, a stunning addition that got a workout. This amazing structure, hovering above center ice, dispenses puffs of smoke, or fog, whenever the Blackhawks score a goal. That, coupled with a throbbing sound system, offers customers everything they could possibly want, except maybe a beer tap. You might even go two or three hours without checking your phone.
"That thing is huge, isn't it?" said Andrew Shaw, who bagged two goals, back in a city he loves and the feeling is mutual.
Actually, to describe the new United Center centerpiece as a scoreboard is like saying a Bentley has four wheels that will get you to the grocery store. As a few Blackhawk players remarked, there was nothing wrong with the previous scoreboard. But that's what Chairman Rocky Wirtz and his UC partner, Bulls' Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, are all about. Every year, they pour big money to upgrade the facility which debuted in 1994 but feels and looks a lot younger. The new scoreboard cost them $14.5 million. And check out the neighborhood. Wirtz and Reinsdorf don't just build championship teams. They build buildings.
"John McDonough always said fans watching a hockey game on TV at home get more information than fans at the game," mentioned Wirtz, citing the Blackhawks President and CEO. "And he's right. Our new scoreboard tells and shows fans everything they'd want to know about what's going on. And the screen is high-def. I don't know if it's the biggest of its kind in North America, but I bet it's the clearest."
Jerry Jones, who owns the Dallas Cowboys, put up a scoreboard at AT&T Stadium that extends between the 20-yard lines with all the trimmings. It is so overwhelming, however, that some fans buy tickets to a football game and wind up watching it on the giant board.
"I don't think ours will be a distraction," said Wirtz. "It fits the shape of the building and gives you everything you want, but it won't take away from being at the game in person. Nothing does."
At the bygone Stadium, the scoreboard/clock for decades was an analog curio. You had a better chance of deciphering the time of game, or penalties, by consulting a sun dial. Indoors.
"I saw a lot of hockey there and never quite figured it out," said Wirtz. "And I think visiting teams had the same problem. If you were a cynic, you might say that was by design. But of course, only if you were a cynic."
Not only is the scoreboard new. So are the Blackhawks. Senior Vice-President/General Manager Stan Bowman, emboldened and frustrated by two straight playoff absences, conducted a massive personnel overhaul during the summer. Only ten players from last October's opening roster remain on this October's: forwards Alex DeBrincat, David Kampf, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews; defensemen Erik Gustafsson, Duncan Keith, Connor Murphy, Brent Seabrook; and goalie Corey Crawford. (A year ago, Murphy and Crawford were injured.)
What do Artem Anisimov, Brandon Davidson, Anton Forsberg, John Hayden, Luke Johnson, Henri Jokiharu, Dominik Kahun, Marcus Kruger, Chris Kunitz, Brandon Manning, Andreas Martinsen, Jan Rutta, Nick Schmaltz and Cam Ward have in common? They're all elsewhere. As is Gustav Forsling, also among last October's wounded.
Meanwhile the Sharks, 0-4 before Thursday night, should contend again for their elusive first Stanley Cup. Since Doug Wilson, the former Blackhawk star, took over as General Manager in 2003, San Jose has won 682 regular season games and amassed 1,504 points - by far more than any other NHL franchise. They've also partaken of 173 playoff games in 30 rounds. No team can top either category, even the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have captured three Cups during that span.
In closing, a mention of the Minnesota Twins, recent losers of their 16th consecutive post-season game. That tied a record among the four major sports held by the Blackhawks, who endured a similar parched patch starting with the playoffs in 1975. That was the same year the ambiguous analog was mothballed for a scoreboard fans could understand, like it or not.