It’s been over three months now since we’ve had a chance to see live Blackhawks hockey, and we’re still 10 weeks away from the opening of the 2017-18 season, when the Hawks will host the Pittsburgh Penguins.
We here at Second City Hockey are going to do our best to help bridge that gap by introducing our weekly Throwback Thursday series, where we’ll take a look back at some of the moments that stood out in our memories from the last decade. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane just completed their 10th seasons in the NHL, and we’ve got 10 weeks til the season starts, so we’re going to do one game from each of those seasons, taking us right up to that Oct. 5 home opener at the United Center.
A lot of those memories are still fresh in our minds: Marian Hossa’s overtime goal in Game 5 against Nashville. Patrick Kane’s cup-clinching goal in 2010. Two goals in 17 seconds. Those aren’t the games we’re going to examine on this list: this album is for more of the deep tracks, the games that don’t get quite as much notoriety as other moments from the last decade.
Up first is the 2007-08 season, and a cold night in Chicago just a few days before Christmas when things finally started looking up for the Blackhawks’ franchise.
Dec. 23, 2007: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers
For much of the early/mid-2000s, the Blackhawks resided in the NHL basement and in relative anonymity on the Chicago sports scene.
But things started feeling different during the first half of the 2007-08 season, largely because of the debuts of Toews and Kane. I was fortunate to be in the building that night on Christmas break, getting a 300 level seat at the United Center for $10 (that’s right, TEN DOLLARS) with a student ID.
The details of that game have largely faded from my memory, except that Brent Seabrook scored a go-ahead goal in the third period. But what I can remember is how loud it was — all game long.
Attendance had been dreadful at Hawks games. They averaged just 13,319 people in the 2005-06 season, and it was down to 12,727 the following year. The Hawks had only cracked 20,000 in attendance three times in those two seasons, all during the 05-06 campaign. Two of those games were against the Detroit Red Wings, with probably half of those fans coming from Detroit, who always took over the UC in those days (similar to what Hawks fans now do on the road). The other game was Sidney Crosby’s United Center debut with the Penguins.
But on that December 23 night back in 2007, 20,151 fans — with the majority of them actually being Chicago fans — packed the United Center for a Sunday night matchup with the Edmonton Oilers.
YouTube has the highlights:
Check out that standard definition!
This game wasn’t even broadcast on local TV, with all Blackhawks home games still subject to the archaic home blackouts that were later lifted by the team.
But my enduring memory from that game is what happened after it.
A few minutes after the ice had been cleared following the final horn, the Hawks came back out on the ice to salute the crowd, and I believe that night was the beginning of that tradition. I remember players skating all over the ice, waving and clapping to the crowd before gathering in the circle for a final salute. I’m pretty sure that players were throwing sticks and gloves and other random items into the crowd for fans to keep as early Christmas gifts.
And the noise? Oh … that beautiful, beautiful noise. It was deafening. It was as loud as I’d heard that building ever get (to that point, at least). And the noise persisted for the entire time that the team was back out on the ice.
There have been plenty of nights worth celebrating since then and I imagine there will be even more in the future. Three particular summer days in June of 2010, 2013 and 2015 spring to mind first. But I know that, among all the crowd roars I’ve heard coming from the United Center over the last decade, it’s hard to forget the one I was fortunate enough to hear on Dec. 23, 2007.