I’m back after some time off for the holidays.
Sports highlight of my break was a trip to Wrigley Field for the Winter Classic. “Props” to brother Peter Maloney for scoring some tickets!
What an atmosphere — 40,818 fans in the house, plus thousands more on rooftops and millions more watching on TV. Chicago trotted out some of its living legends (Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito for the Blackhawks, Billy Williams, Ryne Sandberg and Ferguson Jenkins for the Cubs) for pre-game hype.
And the game was perfect, except for the final score (6-4 for Detroit). Having been raised is suburban Chicago, the Hawks remain “my” team.
Detroit’s first goal came from Mikael Samuelsson, a Swede who came up to the NHL through Lexington as a member of the Kentucky Thoroughblades. (Good to see you again, Sammy!)
Not even the final score could spoil my day. And, for the most part, rival fans were civil in their razzing of one another.
I hope that Gary Bettman and the NHL is wise enough to keep the Winter Classic as a showcase event, rather than dilute the magic by expanding to multiple outdoor games each season.
This one was Classic not only in its location, but in the story line. The top two teams in the Western Division’s Central Conference had plenty at stake. The Stanley Cup champions proved that they still have plenty in the tank, even if they are old. Great for Chris Chelios that he’s still going strong (at 46!).
And the Blackhawks’ horizon appears to be simply radiant, loaded with highly skilled young talent. Aside from goalies Nikolai Khabibulin (35) and Cristobal Huet (33), only two Hawks have reached 30 (and just barely, with Craig Adams and Brent Sopel each a ripe-old 31).
It’s hard to believe that the line of Jonathan Toews (20), Patrick Sharp (27) and Patrick Kane (20) is so young and this good. Kris Versteeg (22) is the leading scorer among NHL rookies. Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd, both 23, are delights. Marty Havlat (27) is showing that, as long as he can stay healthy, he’ll find the net. Then there’s Dave Bolland (22), Troy Brouwer (23), Adam Burish (26), Ben Eager (24) and Colin Fraser (23). That’s spelled Y-o-u-n-g; alternate spelling is h-u-n-g-r-y.
The kiddie corps blue-liners include Duncan Keith (25), Aaron Johnson (25), Brian Campbell (29), Brent Seabrook (23), Cam Barker (22), Matt Walker (28) and James Wisniewski (24).
So, congrats to the Wings, Hawks and the NHL. All were winners on New Year’s Day, and the future is bright.