Lace 'em up, Hawks

Mad? Who's mad? Fans just want hockey back

  • If you're Patrick Kane, or just a Hawks fan, chances are you're pretty excited about NHL season.
If you're Patrick Kane, or just a Hawks fan, chances are you're… (Scott Strazzante/Chicago…)
January 17, 2013|By Ryan Smith | For RedEye

The night after he heard the NHL lockout would end after 113 days, Scott Jeter proudly donned his black fleece Blackhawks hoodie and toured some of his favorite Division Street haunts in Ukrainian Village to celebrate the return of hockey.

"I was so pumped. It honestly felt like something was missing in my life without it," said Jeter, 28.

That ought to make the NHL's day. Since the league and its players squared away a new collective bargaining agreement Jan. 12, a shortened season of 48 games, instead of the normal 82, starts this weekend. And while many fans are ready to forgive and forget the whole lockout mess, not everyone will be won over so easily.

The NHL has prepared for hard feelings. The league released a promotional video on its website called "Hockey Is Back" and several teams have announced initiatives to apologize to fans. The Hawks bought a full-page ad in the Tribune on Monday thanking fans for their "patience and loyalty" and are giving away 1,000 signed jerseys, 250 autographed pucks and 100 signed sticks at blackhawks.nhl.com.

"It was a difficult period for all of us, but we certainly respect and understand that it was particularly difficult for you and we're going to do everything we can to earn [your] allegiance back," Hawks President John McDonough said Sunday in a news conference.

The Hawks' efforts will be enough for some fans, but others aren't jumping back on the bandwagon wholeheartedly.

"They wasted two months on things that could have been compromised on a long time ago," said Andrew Gold, 27, of Albany Park. "I'm not as excited for the season as I would have been. I think I'll be watching less hockey because the NHL couldn't take care of their business."

But many Chicagoans say they already have forgiven the franchise, which says it has sold out 190 consecutive games through the 2012 playoffs. McDonough said the waiting list for season tickets, already close to 11,000 people, actually rose by 250 patrons during the lockout.

The Hawks aren't saying whether any games are sold out this year, but a spin through some of the more popular home games on the team's website shows tickets are available to each of them.

Jeter is ready to put the lockout in the past; he said he plans to attend as many games at the United Center as possible and watch the rest on TV.

"I think maybe people who are on the fence or more of the bandwagon type of fans might say, 'I didn't miss the game that much when it was gone, so whatever,'" he said. "But my feelings haven't changed about the Blackhawks. I will watch no matter what."

Tony Ziemlo, who is "relieved" the season is starting soon, said the lack of hockey the past few months prompted him to dust off his PlayStation 2 and purchase "NHL 2K10."

"I bought a sports video game for the first time and started my own fake season because I missed the Hawks so much," said Ziemlo, 28, of Ukrainian Village. "But now I can go back to the real thing, which is great because I was bummed that I lived within walking distance of the United Center and couldn't go to the games."

Jacqueline Justice, a general manager at West Loop sports bar Market, one of more than 50 official Blackhawks bars in the city, said she hasn't heard anything negative recently about hockey.

"It's been a big topic of conversation lately, and people are just excited about it," she said. "We're having people coming in with their Hawks gear and ask us about what kind of specials we'll have and about our shuttle to the United Center."

Heather Todd, a bartender at Division Ale House in Wicker Park, said some customers have complained about the strike, but she doesn't think it affected their conviction.

"I think part of it is just the Chicago mentality that people like bitching about sports," said Todd, 29, of Logan Square.

After a practice Tuesday at Johnny's Ice House West, Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said he hasn't heard much negative talk from fans.

"We see people here at the rink watching us and waiting for pictures and autographs and haven't heard much except excitement from them," Seabrook said. "I'm sure we'll probably have to work at getting some of them to come back, but we have great fans here in Chicago and so were ready to play for them again."

Hawks forward Brian Bickell said most fans are as hungry for hockey as he is.

"There's going to be some fans who aren't happy, but I think there are more fans who are like us—ready for the games to start again," said Bickell, who spent much of the lockout playing in Austria.

"You know, hockey's been on the up and up for the last few years, so I think they're just as ready as us. I'm sure the United Center will be sold out for every game, especially for how few games there are."

Ryan Smith is a RedEye special contributor.

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