I’ve lived in Chicago nearly all of my life and have great pride for the city and surrounding area. Each time a Chicago player enters the NHL it represents how far the hockey renaissance has come here. Hockey was all but dead in this city 5 seasons ago.
As the Hawks prepare to hang another banner at the United Center I realize just how great the hockey has been for the Hawks the those 5 years. Those that live in the city limits and and surrounding suburbs have been treated to some of the most brilliantly played hockey that most of us will ever get to see. This is a very interesting time for hockey here. The game is stronger than it ever has been in my lifetime and a time in which young Chicago athletes might now be choosing hockey over football or baseball.
As cut down day came and went this past week and I prepared to make a few trips to Rockford to scout this season, I couldn’t help but wonder to myself why are the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks and AHL’s Chicago Wolves still not partnered together as affiliates?
Chicago is missing out on growing the game even further.
I get that the rift between Bill Wirtz and Wolves ownership went deep and there was a lot of bad blood between the two parties. I realize that the Wolves of the International Hockey League positioned themselves to take shots at the late-nineties brutal Hawk teams and even position themselves as equals. I get all that. But the Wolves are now firmly entrenched in a minor league that acts as a developmental league and the Blackhawks have boosted themselves into the upper echelon of NHL teams. The bad blood should be long gone because the circumstances have changed. Both sides are missing a huge opportunity to grow the game of hockey in Chicago and Illinois to mass proportions.
The Blackhawks drew close to 23,000 fans for a scrimmage and will sell out each of their 41 home games (Stadium Series included) this season as they have the the past 4 seasons. The demand in the Chicago market is high for hockey right now and the Blackhawks are saturated. Outside of expanding the United Center the Hawks really couldn’t accommodate more fans viewing live games. The live event as most would agree is the best way to cement a fan for life. So, with the Hawks unable to help in that regard they rely on expanding the fan base through television. But why not create a pipeline of future Hawk season ticket holders by incorporating the Chicago Wolves? I understand that the Rockford IceHogs have worked out well for the Blackhawks in terms of a place to grow their players in close proximity but from a stand point of growing the game of hockey in Chicago, Rockford does nothing. 90 miles is a hike for most Chicagoans. The drive is a turn-off for most people I know and deters them from seeing the young Hawk prospects. There is money being left on the table.
From the Wolves side of things a partnership with the Blackhawks would fill the All State Arena every night. Blackhawk fans with large families that cannot afford to or gain access to tickets would be able to take their kids to see the future stars of the Chicago Blackhawks. The increased revenue for the Wolves would allow them to continue to operate as one of the best franchises in the AHL and with the caliber of young talent that the Hawks have the Wolves would contend night in and night out.
It is an incredible win for the Hawks, the Wolves, and the city. Bad blood or not there is money to be made and an opportunity to be had.
The best part of this plan is that Chicago hockey grows. If you’ve watched any of the local telecasts recently for the Blackhawks we’ve heard Ed Olczyk talk about how great the development of young Illinois hockey players is getting. As a state we could one day be on par with Michigan and Minnesota if we continue to grow the game. The Stanley Cups and the dynamic duo of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews is a start but this partnership could go a long way to building the youth game even stronger.
Imagine American kids from Chicago on every NHL roster or a kid from Naperville turning down a baseball scholarship to take a hockey one. That would be a true sign of how well the hockey impact on the city has gone.
For now, the Blackhawks are very happy with their Rockford partner and the Wolves just inked a new deal with the St. Louis Blues so this long over due idea would still be years away but if and when it ever does happen expect to see Chicago hockey rival that of Michigan or even Minnesota.