Growing up in a small town in Newfoundland, Canada, I was constantly asked “how did you end up being a Blackhawks fan?” Well, valid question.
To be honest, I wasn’t always a diehard Blackhawks fan. I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a half-finished painting of a Maple Leaf in my childhood bedroom. But, when I was a kid, it was all I knew.
With a population of just 528,000, Newfoundland is flooded with its share of both Leafs and Habs fans. If you liked one of them, you despised the other. That was just how things rolled.
Things ran a little differently in my house however. My Dad stuck with normality and dawned the Maple Leaf like his father once did. My brother grew up in the Gretzky era, so by default turned into a massive Oilers fan. My mom however, was always the odd one out, wearing her Blackhawks gear proudly, even when she didn’t have much of a reason to be proud.
Despite growing up in a family of 13, with the majority being Canadiens fans, my mom grew up admiring the likes of Keith Magnuson, who still to this day is her favorite player.
Understandably, I didn’t exactly comprehend the hype she had for the ‘Hawks at the time. After all, there’s not much to get excited about in a team that hadn’t won a Cup since 1961 and consistently missed the playoffs.
With Mats Sundin constantly plastered on my TV, my dad brainwashing me, and with Leafs’ farm team in my hometown, it was kind of a no-brainer for me to cheer for Toronto.
But when I was in junior high school, I noticed my interest in hockey and the Leafs start to dwindle. Sundin was on his way to retirement, and hockey in general kind of started to lose its excitement for me. I stopped watching games with my dad, stopped paying attention to SportsCentre with Jay and Dan, and genuinely stopped caring for the sport.
That was until Christmastime in 2006. No matter if you don’t like hockey, there is no escaping the World Juniors in the Wills household.
I still remember it like it was yesterday. Sitting in my living room with my family and neighbors, crowded by wings and nachos, screaming at the television as the World Junior semi-final game between Canada and the USA went into a shootout. Yeah, you know the one I’m talking about.
I always said I hated shootouts. That was until an 18 year old named Jonathan Toews proved to me that shootouts can be fun. Well, when you come out on the winning side at least.
Three shootout goals? Are you kidding me? This kid was the real deal.
I’ll never forget when Pierre McGuire said “Chicago Blackhawk fans, get real excited about Jonathan Toews.” It was probably the only Pierre statement I’ve ever agreed with to be honest.
I remember looking over to my mom to see her eyes completely light up. It was awesome to see her so excited and so hopeful in one particular player.
For the remainder of the 2007 season, my mom continued to pay extra attention to Toews, and kept repeating “this kid is going to be huge.” Her devotion to a team that had been terrible for so many years had me interested. I wanted to feel the hype and excitement for hockey again.
When the Blackhawks drafted Patrick Kane later that year, it dawned on me that Toews and Kane were the kids to watch. I found myself paying extra attention to SportsCentre in the 2007-2008 season, and constantly checking the Blackhawks scores and stats. Watching Chicago games back then was not easy. I was limited to what Canadian sports providers would offer me, but you best believe I made every effort to never miss a televised game. Little did I know at the time, but this was the moment that my love for the sport was re-ignited, and where my love for the team really began.
When I fell in love with one particular player in 2007, did I think I would get to experience the rebuilding of a hockey organization and witness three Cups being hoisted in six years? Hell no. But what a ride it has been.
So you may ask, if the Blackhawks championship window is over, will I change teams to follow the next up-and-coming organization? Maybe revert back to my old ways and hop on the Matthews and Marner bandwagon? Definitely not. The ‘Hawks have me hooked.
Why am I hooked? The sense of community and pride that comes with being a Hawks fans. It may not have always been that way, but it sure is now, and is why I will always follow and route for this team.
I have never experienced anything quite like when I stepped foot in the United Center for the first time. The sound and feeling of passion and true love for a sport in that arena is like no other. I’d be lying if I said I never shed a tear.
I may be new-ish to the SCH community, but in just under a year of writing for Second City, I’ve come to realize why I truly love this sport. The passion and excitement that fans have for it is contagious.