During the second period of the Blackhawks' 3-2 victory Wednesday night over the Avalanche at the United Center, my phone buzzed.
"Hawks on their way to 24 straight unbeaten?'' the text from fan Steven Schucker read.
Schucker wasn't the only person in Chicago who didn't know the score of the Blackhawks game. But he might have been the only person in Chicago who intentionally didn't know the score of the Blackhawks game.
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He didn't give up hockey for Lent. He gave it up for 2013.
"I picked the wrong year not to watch the Hawks,'' Schucker acknowledged Thursday.
A 27-year-old graduate of Columbia College, Schucker had my number because I reached out to discuss him carrying out his decision to actively avoid all things Hawks in protest of the NHL lockout he blamed on Commissioner Gary Bettman. It was during the league's 119-day work stoppage when Schucker vowed to pay no attention to the Hawks if the season was saved. That meant no viewing or attending games.
Somehow through an NHL-record start of 24 straight games without a loss in regulation for the 21-0-3 Blackhawks, Schucker has honored that vow in a city obsessed again with Indianhead sweaters. He misses Pat Foley's voice and Joel Quenneville's steely glare. Hawks games have been replaced on Schucker's television by reruns of "House'' or "Monk.'' And he can thank Bettman for expanding his knowledge of NBA rosters and Craig Sager's suits.
"You have an NHL commissioner who doesn't care about his sport and it got to the point it just turned me off hockey,'' Schucker said Thursday. "I can't support watching a sport run by someone like that. I love the Hawks. My issue is with the principle of what's going on with the sport. It would be easy for me to drop my gloves and say, 'OK, I'll go back and watch.' But I'm a man who believes in standing by my principle, tough as it is to do this year.''
Schucker and his best friend, Alex Weldon, recently went to The Rail Bar & Grill to catch the Bulls on a large-screen TV. The Hawks played the same night so, during a commercial, somebody turned the channel to temptation.
"Steven looked up to see hockey and you could tell he was struggling to avert his eyes,'' said Weldon, a counselor at Senn High School. "It's hard because he wants to take part in how much fun this Hawks season is. It has been hard for him to hold back.''
It has been even harder for his buddies to resist razzing Schucker for choosing the best Blackhawks start ever to ignore. In response to Schucker's Facebook post bemoaning his poorly timed stance, a co-worker at Jewel-Osco unloaded.
"Your (sic) a moron for not watching a sport because you don't like the commissioner,'' Steve Lotman replied.
To Schucker, such reactions merely reflect the passion of Chicago sports he embraces. His voice rose remembering the atmosphere inside McGee's Tavern celebrating the 2010 Stanley Cup title. When Schucker recalled his internship at CSN Chicago in 2007, he sounded as if he was describing his dream job. He grew up in West Rogers Park and still cherishes memories of going to Northwestern football games with his late father, David. Like millions of fans in the Chicago area, Schucker loves the Bulls, Bears, Sox and a good sports debate.
Like, is the Hawks' start diminished because the compressed schedule reduced training camp and eliminated Eastern Conference opponents?
"I hate to say it, but yes,'' Schucker said. "The competition is altered by the fact a lot of these guys weren't in shape and not where they would be normally.''
I disagree, but the only dumb sports arguments are ones based on nothing. At least Schucker ably defends his position on a protest that ultimately hurts nobody but himself.
"I respect and understand the logic of criticizing me and why people say, 'You're not a fan if you're not watching the Hawks,''' Schucker said. "I'm not one who likes to be considered fair-weather. If I'm committed to something, I'm committed. When I say I'm going to do something, I do it. This is one of those things.''
Friends say this fits the independent-minded personality of a guy who responded to the 2011 NBA lockout by boycotting televised pro basketball except Bulls games. He once went to high school with half his face unshaven for effect. After six years with a flip-phone, he only recently upgraded to a smart-phone. A conformist, he isn't.
"He's unique and once he has his mind set on something, he commits,'' Weldon said.
A long postseason will test Schucker's commitment to put the Blackhawks on ice.
"I feel like he can make it through the season,'' Weldon said, chuckling. "But I'm skeptical about the playoffs.''