Bob Pulford and Tony Rossi have seen the rise and fall and rise again of the Chicago Blackhawks franchise a few times over in their decades of being connected with hockey in the area.
Count them among the many people in the area who are ecstatic about the current state of the Blackhawks.
“I go to a lot of games,” Pulford, a longtime executive with the club, said. “Certainly Rocky Wirtz and John McDonough and Stan Bowman have done an outstanding job with hockey in Chicago. It is as popular or more popular as it has ever been.”
Added Rossi: “Right now their marketing is so good, you see kids in the stores wearing Blackhawks shirts instead of Bears shirts. It has really changed.”
Rossi was in the stands during Pulford’s tenure with the organization, but his devotion to the team goes back much further.
“I’ve always been a big fan of the game,” Rossi said. “I used to go down to the Blackhawks games with friends from high school and we’d go up to the third balcony and buy standing-room only at the time. This was in the 50s, so times have significantly changed since then.”
Pulford joined the Blackhawks from Los Angeles in 1977 and helped guide the franchise to a pair of appearances in the conference finals in the 1980s.
“Hockey goes in cycles. There’s ups and downs, peaks and valleys,” Pulford said. “When I first went there in ’77, they were in a valley. It was after the Mikita-Hull Era and hockey was down and not drawing very well at all. We were fortunate to have some great drafts, and by the early ‘80s we were a very good hockey team and selling out every night. Hockey was popular again and very good.
"Eventually those players got older and moved on in their lives as hockey players, but now it is back. It has gone through another cycle and it is as strong in Chicago as it has ever been -- maybe better."
Rossi has done so much work with youth hockey in the state of Illinois, and it is big part of why he’s being recognized this evening. Participation has grown tremendously in the state, as has the number of talented players who go on to college and professional careers.
He thinks the Blackhawks have had a lot to do with that.
“Frankly, the financial support from the Blackhawks in the last 20 years has been terrific with Illinois hockey,” Rossi said. “They just never got it out in the public. They got a lot of shots about “Dollar” Bill Wirtz and everything, but all that time people were criticizing them, nobody helped Illinois hockey financially as much as Bill Wirtz and the Blackhawks foundations. We are fortunate and blessed with what the Blackhawks have done from a marketing point of view in the past few years,” Rossi said. “They are really selling the hell out of the sport. Registrations are up, and there are just a ton of little kids who are telling mom and dad they want to play. They’ve gotten the sport out of the United Center. It is still there obviously, but they’ve got players going to youth arenas, they’ve got signs in all the arenas. They’re terrific with that.
"I’ve probably had season tickets for 30 years, and I’ve been there when the stadium was empty and the United Center was empty. It is just a whole new ballgame now."