Blackhawks have turned campustown into hockey-town

By Alex Roux

Even though the University of Illinois doesn’t have a Division I hockey team, from October to June, campustown is hockey-town.

And it isn’t hockey-town because the sport is engrained into local culture, nor are there shiny ice arenas in the area where students and the community can conveniently practice and play the sport. Illinois is not a hockey hotbed.

But over the past six years, one team has single-handedly sparked the Champaign-Urbana campus’ love affair with hockey: the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks are awesome, and everyone knows it. They’ve had an unbelievable stretch of hockey over the past six years, reaching the Stanley Cup Final three times in that span and winning two Cups, with hopefully a third coming to Chicago in the next couple of weeks.

Bright red Hawks jerseys dot the campus by day and dominate the bar scene by night during the school year. The Blackhawks’ goal song, “Chelsea Dagger”, has snuck into the Memorial Stadium and State Farm Center playlists. Even with many students gone for the summer, it’s difficult to get a seat at local sports bars and restaurants when the puck drops.

The players are likable, the team is fun to watch, and they win a lot. It isn’t a groundbreaking revelation that the Blackhawks have a lot of fans 120 miles south of their home city, especially when thousands of Illinois students are from the Chicagoland area. But some other factors have contributed to the Blackhawks’ current reign as this campus’ favorite professional sports team.

In my opinion, the biggest reason the Blackhawks have been able to take hold so quickly in the area is the lack of success from Chicago’s other major teams during the same period. Since the Hawks won their first modern era Cup in 2010, the Bears have come within one game of the Super Bowl in 2011 and the Bulls were blown out of the Eastern Conference Finals a few months later. Since then, both franchises and fan bases have experienced mostly frustration. The Cubs and White Sox have been awful.

With the Illini revenue sports being pretty mediocre overall since the 2008 Rose Bowl, the Blackhawks have assumed the role of semi-local darling. Everyone wants to root for a winner, and we know we can count on the Hawks to deliver.

Another source of swelling Hawks fandom is the fact that it’s relatively easy to jump on the bandwagon. The term “bandwagon fans” can carry a negative connotation, but for a franchise that didn’t even broadcast its home games on TV until the mid-2000s (after many years of bad hockey), it’s hard to blame fans who are only recently becoming interested in the sport.

Hockey is a simple sport on the surface, and it’s easy to follow casually. For those who have decided to follow the sport because seemingly everybody else is, it’s easy to get hooked. The puck goes in, the lamp lights up, everyone goes crazy.

Add in the fact that Hawks games have become more of a social appointment for some students, and you get a lot of kids donning red and black sweaters who couldn’t tell you the difference between a line change and icing. And that’s OK. Sports are supposed to be fun, and the more people cheering alongside you, the more enjoyable it becomes.

The Blackhawks won’t be this good forever (apparently only the St. Louis Cardinals can be good for eternity in the Midwest) so it’s important to enjoy this run while it lasts. But their success has established a hockey obsession in Chicago, along with a bunch of mini-Hawks dens like Champaign-Urbana throughout the Midwest.

Maybe the most impressive effect is how they’ve created a culture where it’s cool to like hockey (even though it’s the nation’s fourth-most popular sport) amongst an entire generation of fans.

Thanks to the Blackhawks, the local sports scene will never be the same.

Alex is a senior in AHS

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@aroux94