Blackhawks throw convention in shadow of labor dispute

Blackhawks throw convention in shadow of labor dispute

Last weekend the Chicago Blackhawks feted fans with a convention at the Hilton Chicago Hotel, hoping to stir up buzz before they hit the ice, open up training camp and launch into the season — that is, if the season opens without a hitch.

It was only eight years ago that the National Hockey League lost a full season to a labor dispute; now, after the NFL and NBA’s own labor issues last year, it seems it’s the NHL’s turn once again. The current contract expires on September 15th. “We’re concerned about reaching a fair deal — that’s our number one goal,” Blackhawk captain Jonathan Towes said of the contract negotiations. “It’s up to the league whenever we get it done.”

The players haven’t expressed concerns about a possible work stoppage, though; nor has Coach Quenneville or General Manager Stan Bowman. The NHL players are represented by Donald Fehr, and if that rings a bell, it might be because he played that same role for Major League Baseball players’ union. Fehr has been quoted saying a strike would be a “last resort.”

But for fans, labor issues were not of concern at the convention. They’re just hoping their team can find a way to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs. That’s been a problem the last two years (of course the ‘Hawks were Stanley Cup winners just three years ago).

Kane, Hossa speak

The Blackhawks' Patrick Kane on the ice in 2012. (AP/Charles Cherney)
A couple of other stories took center stage this weekend, most notably Patrick Kane’s. The Blackhawks star made his first public statement since several pictures documenting his unflattering drinking escapades in Madison, Wis., were posted to Deadspin. A contrite Kane talked told the media, “The disappointment from the ‘Hawks organization, my family and to me — it’s embarrassing.” He vowed to be careful with social media moving forward. “You have to realize you’re in the spotlight no matter where you are,” said Kane. He downplayed the notion that he had a drinking problem when that question was raised.

And, for the first time since his horrible concussion from a Raffi Torres hit, Marian Hossa addressed the media. He is progressing with his recovery, but has not returned to the ice. Hossa said he is biking, lifting and doing some cardio to begin his training for the season. “The way I feel right now, I believe I’ll be ready for the camp,” Hossa said. He spent a lot of his time this summer resting as he recuperated from his head injury.

Olczyk basks

Former Blackhawks great Eddie Olczyk during his tenure as Pittsburgh Penguins coach in 2003. (AP/Keith Srakocic)
While one present Blackhawk explained his off-ice antics, former Blackhawk Eddie Olczyk was basking in the glow of his recent vote into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. When he got the call, Olczyk said, “My whole hockey life flashed before me.”

Olczyk was the Blackhawks first round draft choice in 1984 (3rd overall). He played 16 years in the league with six different teams, and won the Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers in 1994. After his playing career, he was the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins for two seasons. Now Olczyk is the lead analyst for the NHL national broadcasts, and of course, he handles that role locally for the Blackhawks.

Olczyk was humble this weekend about the outpouring of support from his former teammates and the many NHL organizations he was involved with over the years. He doesn’t have to choose one team to represent him in the Hall of Fame. However, if he had to, he said, it would be the Blackhawks.

Olczyk is very proud of his roots: “Growing up in Niles, then Palos Heights, to being an Olympian (1984), to the pros, and now in the broadcast booth, I take great pride being an American-born player and being from Chicago,” he said. He credited all the coaches that helped him have this long, enduring career, as well as his family; his parents, he said, told him to “never sell yourself short.”

The date of the induction will be determined at a later time.