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Black Hawks vs. Red Wings


Another hockey post (following my post this morning on Zambonis). There’s an article in tomorrow’s NYT on the meeting of the Chicago Black Hawks and Detroit Red Wings in the conference championship round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Red Wings are currently ahead 2 games to 1 in the series, after losing in overtime last night to the Black Hawks in Chicago.

The article describes the excitement generated in both cities by having two of the Original Six hockey clubs meeting in a late round of the playoffs, something that happens rarely. Indeed, this is only the third such series since 1980. And not just any two Original Six clubs, but Detroit and Chicago, with their rich history against each other: no other pair of teams has played each other as often, 775 games going back to 1926. And starting in 1961, they met in the playoffs five times in six years.

That’s about the time when I first started paying attention to hockey. Not 1961, but somewhere in the midst of those six years. The Original Six were just the Six at that point, since expansion hadn’t occurred yet. And really there were the Four real hockey teams and the two Jokes. I was a fan of one of the jokes, the New York Rangers. They shared cellar status with the Boston Bruins. The top four in the standings each year got to meet in the playoffs, one round to narrow it to two teams and then the round for the Stanley Cup. Not having any sense of hockey history, I just assumed this was the way of the world. The Red Wings and Black Hawks got to mix it up with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, and the Rangers and Bruins, after a regular season of embarrassment, got to go home. I didn’t even understand that the Rangers and Bruins had some great players. I just figured we had all the turkeys. But of course, given the existence of only six teams, they were all great players. What I did know was that Stan Mikita was the greatest. He didn’t get the goals. Bobby Hull did. But he made them possible. I didn’t root for the Black Hawks, but I admired them. And just last week, when Joel was home and we were talking about the upcoming Detroit-Chicago series, I thought immediately of Mikita. I then thought that if I ever were to get a hockey jersey to wear (I’m not sure when I would be wearing it — when I teach?), I would get his.

I found myself re-considering this choice this afternoon. Why Mikita? Why not my real hockey hero, the greatest ever? #4. Bobby Orr. So I went online to see what was available. There are autographed ones, suitable for framing. Not what I had in mind. At the Bruins site, one can get authentic jerseys for $299. There’s a customization option, name and number, but restrictions on names of retired players. You can get a current player’s name or just about anything else, as long as it isn’t too long and isn’t too vulgar. Not retired players though, if they retired from the given team. So maybe, since Orr didn’t retire as a Bruin, his name would be allowed. I don’t know. I didn’t pursue it further. At another site I could buy a replica 1972 jersey with his name on it. Maybe that makes more sense. And for less. But they only have smaller sizes. And then I thought, you know, I really want a Johnny Bucyk jersey. The Chief. He may not be Bobby, but he’s the ultimate Bruin, playing with them in all those bad years, wasting his prime, but hanging on into hockey late middle age and hockey old age, still productive and still great.

Then again, what I’ve really wanted all these years is a St. Louis Cardinal baseball jersey. They’re the best jerseys in all of sport, aren’t they? I could get one with Musial on it. Or so I was thinking.

By the way, one of the wonderful aspects of the Black Hawks’ resurgence is the re-appearance of Mikita and Hull at the games. The article explains:

Mikita, Esposito and Hull have been very visible presences at Blackhawks games over the last two seasons after an absence of many years. They were brought back into the fold after the death in 2007 of the Blackhawks’ longtime owner, Bill Wirtz. The last two decades of Wirtz’s tenure were marked by poor performance on the ice, feuding with the club’s former stars and outdated practices like banning telecasts of home games on the belief that it would hurt attendance. In 2006-7, the team sold only 3,500 season tickets.

After Wirtz’s death, Rocky Wirtz, his son, brought in the former Cubs president John McDonough to revive the Blackhawks, and the transformation has been rapid. The Hawks’ second annual fan convention, set for July 17 to 19, is sold out.

“Detroit’s been on top, Chicago’s been down,” Esposito said. “But now they’re coming back, and it’s pretty even hockey. I suspect that the next several years, the rivalry will be unbelievable. Again.”

Categories: History, Sports
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