With no Blackhawks, what's a hockey fan to do?
A offer made to players by NHL management Tuesday could bring an end to the hockey league's fourth lockout in 20 years. The six-year deal would give the players and owners a 50-50 split of the approximately $3.3 billion in revenue (the previous deal gave the players 57 percent). If the players approve, the season would begin November 2nd with a full 82-game schedule.
The American Hockey League (the hockey minor leagues) just opened their season over the weekend. Locally, the Chicago Wolves and the Rockford IceHogs just played head-to-head twice over the weekend. Rockford is an affiliate of the Blackhawks and half their roster has several players that have played for the parent club and were placed with the minor league team prior to the lockout. For the price of a minor league ticket you can see Nick Leddy, Brian Bollig, Andrew Shaw, Jimmy Hayes, Ben Smith, Brandon Saad, Marcus Kruger and Kyle Beach. All of them have spent time with the Blackhawks.
And, just because there's no hockey at the United Center doesn’t mean the area is devoid of the game. There is Johnny’s IceHouse East and Johnny’s IceHouse West, both located on Madison just blocks away from the U.C. In fact, that has been the center for work-outs of several locked-out Blackhawk players.
If you want to catch some NCAA Division I hockey, Notre Dame has a program down in South Bend. There are a few Big Ten teams that have ice hockey as part of their school’s athletic programs: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Michigan State and Penn State. The captain of the Nittany Lions has a very familiar name —Tommy Olczyk. He is the son of former Blackhawk and team TV analyst Eddie Olczyk. (Speaking of Eddie, he may not have a broadcast audience to talk to, but he did have an audience at the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. Olczyk was inducted into it on Monday for his long playing career that included winning the Stanley Cup with New York. It’s a shame that the NHL lockout diminished the luster of that event.)
The NHL and the Blackhawks have to realize they are playing with fire if they don't get this deal done. Right now, many people are pre-occupied by plenty of other sports and activities. The Bears are dominating the headlines and could through December and beyond. Northwestern and Notre Dame and other college football are presently enjoying great success. In the next few weeks high school playoff games will occupy many sports fans.
If the proposal on the table doesn't resolve the dispute it will be a blow to the Chicago Blackhawks' relationship with their fans. After years of repair and a championship two years ago, it's doubtful fans will be as forgiving this time around.