-- If the NHL wants friends in high places, it would be hard-pressed to find a more dedicated one that U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley.
Quigley (D-Ill.) is an unapologetic Chicago Blackhawks
fan, one so dedicated that he traveled to Philadelphia for Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final with fellow congressman and friend, U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY). Together they watched Quigley's beloved Hawks win the organization's first Cup in 49 years.
While Quigley grew up a Blackhawks fan and is still an avid follower. He also plays hockey twice a week and is a passionate supporter of the sport. He's a co-chair of the Congressional Hockey Caucus along with Higgins and U.S. Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) -- with the caucus aimed at fostering expansion of youth hockey programs throughout the country.
On Tuesday, Quigley was in full hockey mode at the youth hockey clinic to kick off a new "sock" hockey program at Center on Halsted -- a comprehensive Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community center. Wearing that bright red Mikita jersey, Quigley helped kids learn the shoes-and-socks version of the sport -- something he hopes to see more often at recreational centers and gyms around Chicago.
2011 NHL OFFSEASON NEWS
Burke believes Leafs' roster is almost set
Toronto Maple Leafs
GM Brian Burke
told reporters Tuesday that he doesn't expect many battles for jobs when training camp opens Sept. 16, but he does expect his team to be in the playoff hunt this season. READ MORE ›
"The motto of the NHL and the Blackhawks is that hockey is for everyone, and I just thought that means you have to have access for everyone," Quigley said. "So, my goal is to help any gym in the city of Chicago that wants to play street hockey. If they want to play it, we're going to find a way to get it to them. The Center on Halsted represents a very diverse clientele and we thought it was appropriate to provide one of the first hockey programs here."
The Hawks, in conjunction with the NHL, also did some providing for the new program via the StreetHawks hockey program -- donating the equipment to get it started.
Quigley, meanwhile, wasn't the only Chicago dignitary in attendance.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts and Cubs front office members plus several members of the Blackhawks were also on hand -- including Hawks legend Denis Savard
, Executive Vice President Jay Blunk, defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson
and newly acquired forward Brett McLean
Quigley, however, was the only non-Hawks player proudly wearing a hockey sweater. Even Savard wore a suit -- but it didn't matter to Quigley, whose inner hockey fan had already taken over.
"This is the perfect event for Mike Quigley," said Emanuel, who quickly realized while working as President Obama's Chief of Staff that calls from Quigley usually had something to do with hockey. "You can talk about a wide variety of topics with him, but somehow the road always seems to wind back to hockey."
That's exactly what happened just a few minutes later.
After promoting the benefits of youth hockey programs, Quigley was asked what he thought of the Blackhawks for the coming season -- which will start with training camp in a little more than a week. Chicago shuffled the roster for the second straight off-season, but this time brought in a slew of veteran free agents on one-year contracts -- guys who are largely known for their "sandpaper" grit and tenacity.
Welcome additions, all, according to Quigley.
"I thought at the end (of last season), the Hawks were getting manhandled a little bit," he said. "Their better players can't be their own enforcer. It's still a tough game, despite the rule changes, and they've got some guys (now) that can at least protect the other guys so they can play hockey."