The United Center isn't the drawing card the old Chicago Stadium, affectionately called the "Madhouse on Madison," used to be. But it does provide more seating for those great Blackhawks-Red Wings games, and they sure do pack them in when Detroit visits. Of the 10 largest crowds in United Center history (since 1994-95), seven are for Hawks-Wings clashes.
Give credit to a number of factors. Original Six status, proximity (the cities are separated by just 283 miles), a bushel of Hall-of-Fame builders, players and colorful personalities that fell short of immortality, intimidating home arenas, and classic jerseys that never have gone out of style and remain best-sellers today.
"That's a tough one to answer," was the initial answer from former Blackhawk and current Red Wing Dan Cleary, who finally made the safe call from a good-employee perspective. "I gotta go with the winged wheel, though Chicago has great colors and uniforms, as well."
The two get together again Saturday night in Detroit as a preamble to the 2009 Winter Classic, Jan. 1 at Wrigley Field. There will be another meeting in Detroit on Dec. 30 to really ratchet up the rivalry for the Winter Classic.
Chicago and Detroit already have played the most regular-season games between two teams in NHL history, and when they resume their storied rivalry at Chicago's famed Wrigley Field to ring in 2009, it will be their 701st clash.
Through Oct. 25, when the Blackhawks and Red Wings met for the 698th time in their regular-season history, Detroit has posted the better head-to-head record with 353 wins, 254 losses, 84 ties and seven overtime losses. The Wings hold a 2,192-1,913 advantage in goals, as well.
The postseason is a different story, with the Blackhawks holding a slight edge in victories (38-31), goals (210-190) and series wins (8-6).
It all started Nov. 24, 1926. The NHL's two Midwest expansion teams met for the first time, and the Detroit Cougars (they didn't become Red Wings until 1932) earned a 1-0 victory against the Chicago Black Hawks (they didn't become Blackhawks until 1986) at Chicago Coliseum, the arena that preceded the Madhouse. Frank Frederickson scored the only goal with five minutes remaining in the third period, assisted by defenseman Hobie Kitchen, and goaltender Hap Holmes recorded the first shutout of his rookie season. It was the first win in Detroit franchise history, and the first loss in Chicago franchise history.
And they've been battling ever since.
A Stanley Cup rematch would not occur until 1961, and again Chicago bested their Midwest counterparts in six games. The clincher came April 16, when the Blackhawks scored a 5-1 victory at Detroit's Olympia Stadium. Chicago's Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita each tallied 7 points in the series, and defenseman and captain Pierre Pilote had eight. The Red Wings were led by Gordie Howe's 8 points. That the two teams even met for the Cup was kismet, as they upset stronger Montreal and Toronto clubs in the semifinals.
"We had to beat Montreal to get that far, and our goalie, Glenn Hall, stood on his butt. I had never seen a goalie play that well in my life," said Mikita. "Against Detroit we had the better of the play. We finished the season in third place, and they were fourth place.
"In Game 6, they went up 1-0. Reg Fleming scored the tying goal, shorthanded, and Ab McDonald scored the winning goal.
"I didn't believe in the handshakes. After a game I went to the dressing room and sat in the shower. On my way out of the arena I would walk past the visiting dressing room and find the captain and say congrats and look for the coaches and do the same thing. I did this an hour later when I was cooled off.
"In the days of the six-team League, we saw each other 14 times a year, so you could really build up a rivalry without going overboard."
Chicago and Detroit met in the postseason five times in the next nine seasons, with the Red Wings prevailing in three of the matchups.
Starting in 1970-71, Chicago was transferred to the West Division while Detroit remained in the East. In 1981-82, they were reunited in the reconfigured Norris Division and have been together ever since. Despite the time apart, the rivalry did not lose its steam.
"When I first started playing, going to Olympia, Howe was still playing and Alex Delvecchio was there," said Chicago Hall-of-Fame goaltender Tony Esposito when recalling his 1969-70 rookie season. "Hull was still with us. I was a young guy playing against 40-year-olds, so it was unique. We met Detroit in the playoffs in '70, beat them in four games, I remember that. As the years went on, I can remember the transition to Joe Louis Arena. It was a little different feel from Olympia.
"I had good success against Detroit. They were a division rival, so we needed those points. We played some great games."
Chicago native Eddie Olczyk played for the Blackhawks from 1984-85 through 1986-87 and now is a color commentator for NBC, which will broadcast the Winter Classic from Wrigley. His history with the Blackhawks-Red Wings rivalry goes back to the days when he first dreamed of playing in the NHL.
"This is an Original Six matchup, and where would this League be today without the Original Six teams?" Olczyk asked. "It was always an intense game, and as a fan you looked ahead to the schedule to see when the Red Wings would be coming in and think of the tradition they had, great players like Howe and Lindsay. I turned pro in '84 and Joe Louis Arena was always a favorite building for me to play in. It was always an intense rivalry. You knew you had to strap it on and be ready to go because you didn't know what direction those games would go, but you knew you had to bring your best. It's a special rivalry for both teams.
"For the Red Wings in the late '70s and early '80s, there was some tough sledding until (Steve) Yzerman came around and (Detroit owner Mike) Ilitch took over and the momentum turned, and then the Hawks went through tough times. But for those games, for sure you could throw out the current records. You knew you would get the best of both teams. I feel lucky to have played in that rivalry a handful of times. My rookie year we played Detroit in the playoffs, as well, and it was a real honor and privilege."
On Oct. 25, a crowd of 22,690 -- the fourth-largest in franchise history -- packed the United Center to witness a 6-5 shootout victory for the Red Wings, the first matchup of the current season. It was a barn-burner of a contest that saw the Blackhawks lead for most of the way until Detroit scored three third-period goals to briefly go in front. A 5-on-3 power-play goal by wunderkind Patrick Kane with 7:27 remaining in regulation forced overtime, which gave way to the shootout. On the final attempt, Marian Hossa blistered a point-blank slap shot past Blackhawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin to end another chapter in this storied rivalry, game No. 698.
"We've had some good battles," Cleary said. "That 6-5 shootout was an unbelievable game."
Here's hoping for another 700.Contact Rocky Bonanno at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author: Rocky Bonanno | NHL.com Staff Writer