7:53 PM CDT, June 14, 2013
It hasn't been that many years ago that hockey in this city was a relative afterthought — a footnote to more serious sports discussions about the Bears, Bulls, Cubs and White Sox.
Sports talk radio producers and station managers admonished their hosts to limit their on-air discussions about the NHL, and the Blackhawks in particular. Blackhawks jerseys and other memorabilia were tucked in the corner of sports apparel stores and tickets at the United Center were not nearly as difficult to obtain for a long stretch of time.
That all changed, of course, when Rocky Wirtz, John McDonough, Jay Blunk and Stan Bowman took over the Blackhawks front office. The NHL franchise took off to earn a Stanley Cup championship in 2010 and remains in favorable pursuit of another after taking a 1-0 lead over the Bruins in the finals.
Now the whole city is abuzz, and not just the everyday sports fans of what once was considered sort of a niche sport. Players, coaches and management from the other teams in town have taken serious notice of the Hawks' success on the ice and the way they handle their business from top to bottom.
I have spent a lot of time around the Cubs, Sox and Bears the last few months and praise of the Blackhawks as an effective organization is widespread.
"You can learn from the way they have built their team and how they respond, not only to their success, but also to the periodic adversity they had throughout the year," Bears coach Marc Trestman said this week."
Cubs and Sox players have been dashing out of their locker rooms quickly after their day games to watch the Hawks play in person at the United Center.
"You've seen what happens when teams win around here," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "You just have a lot of respect for what they have done. Having started out the season the way they did … Coach Q (Joel Quenneville) has done a great job. I'm happy for him, knowing what you go through. You just pull for him."
After the Blackhawks' three-overtime victory in Game 1 Wednesday night in the Stanley Cup Final, Cubs manager Dale Sveum took notice of the vital total team involvement for the winners.
"You marvel at (it) because in hockey there is no one on the ice who can take one second off or all hell could break lose," he said. "People do that in other sports. Not that you really take it off, but in football if the play isn't going your way, half the line can take it off. In hockey the five guys or sometimes four or three guys are nonstop. That is what makes that sport so great; you can't take one second off."
Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija has been caught up in the Blackhawks' success and would love to have fans transfer their enthusiasm to Wrigley Field.
"To see that excitement and see how people react to those situations, how bad they want to be at those (Hawks) games and how bad they want the playoff games, it makes you realize that this stuff needs to happen as soon as possible (with the Cubs) because it's something special and you don't get too long to get things like that done," he said.
Cubs President Theo Epstein grew up in Brookline, Mass., and doesn't want to predict a winner of the Hawks-Bruins series, but he admires the way the Hawks approach their responsibilities.
Paul Konerko says the Hawks' success is a reminder of the exhilaration he helped generate in Chicago when the White Sox won the World Series in 2005.
Former Bears players such as Richard Dent and Dan Hampton remember vividly how Chicago fans have embraced them forever for winning Super Bowl XX.
Current Cubs players … well, they can only imagine what would happen in Chicago if their franchise won a World Series for the first time since 1908.
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