Once In A Lifetime: NHL Winter Classic, Blackhawks vs. Red Wings, Thursday 1/1, noon CT

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I'm the hockey fan John McDonough's been trying real hard to get back for the last year, since he took over as Blackhawks president.

I'm not quite old enough to remember the Hawks' last Stanley Cup in 1961. But when I was a kid, Saturday night Blackhawk games on WGN were must-see TV, with Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita keeping the Hawks perennial contenders, and Lloyd Pettit's "a shot! and a goal!" cries whenever a Hawk scored.

I had to listen to them on the radio in 1971 when the Hawks blew a 2-0 second period lead in game seven of the Stanley Cup finals and lost the series to the Canadiens. Why? Because even for the Finals, the Wirtz family's Neanderthal TV policy prevented fans like me from watching home games. The next year, when Bobby Hull, 33 years old but still a productive player, was allowed to jump to the upstart WHA's Winnipeg Jets, I swore off the Hawks. I became a fan of the WHA's Chicago Cougars, going to games at the International Amphitheatre at 43rd & Halsted -- fun stuff, that, and the Cougars actually made the WHA finals once, before folding when the Oilers, Whalers, Nordiques and Jets were added to the NHL in 1979.

A lot of other people followed the exodus away from the Hawks over the next three decades. The TV policy, plus many years of non-contention (the appearance in the 1992 Stanley Cup Finals, where they were swept by the Penguins, was more a fluke than anything else), chased a couple of generations of fans away from both the old and new buildings on the near West Side.

The death of "Dollar Bill" Wirtz and the takeover of the Hawks by his son Rocky, who wisely snared McDonough away from the Cubs, has begun to bring the Hawks out of these decades of disinterest. McDonough brought his marketing genius to the West Side, and serendipitously, this is all happening right at the time when the Hawks have two young stars, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who could become the Hull and Mikita of their generation.

They're not the only good things on this year's Hawks team, which is a genuine Stanley Cup contender; other fine players including Kris Versteeg, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith are fun to watch, and all of these players just came off a franchise-record nine-game winning streak, broken just two nights ago in Detroit. Even so, they have a real shot at bringing a championship to Chicago. While part of the fun of today's game is seeing it at a place where I've spent so many days and nights watching baseball, the rest of it for me is real interest in the Blackhawks and hockey again.

Welcome back, Blackhawks. Make us proud today and for the rest of this season. Go Hawks!

Today's Probable Starting Goalies
Cristobal Huet
Cristobal Huet
Hawks
vs. Ty Conklin
Ty Conklin
Wings
9-5-3 WLT 12-5-1
2.30 GAA 2.43
1 SO 3
.917 SV% .916
2008-09 splits -- 2008-09 splits

GP MIN W L T EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2008 - Cristobal Huet 17 991 9 5 3 1 38 2.30 460 422 .917 1


GP MIN W L T EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2008 - Ty Conklin 18 1063 12 5 1 1 43 2.43 511 468 .916 3

I would be remiss if I didn't give a plug here for our SBN Blackhawks site, Second City Hockey. Check it out -- good guys over there. And also a shout-out to the Red Wings site, too, Winging It In Motown.

I can't figure out NHL.com's equivalent of MLB Gameday... so here's a live gamecast site from ESPN.com. The weather forecast looks ideal: mostly cloudy, which will eliminate shadows and glare; not-bad temperature (high: 36, which is warmer than many Cubs Opening Days), and a few snow flurries, which will make for pretty TV pictures.

And no doubt, you know you can see the game nationally on NBC. Here's some broadcast info including the announcing team, which will feature Chicago native and former Blackhawk star Eddie Olczyk doing color commentary and former Hawk Darren Pang as an "inside-the-glass reporter". I have no idea how popular this game thread is going to be -- so if it gets slow, please feel free to post an overflow thread in the FanPost section.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

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