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Joe's Opening Story

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Hello. My name's Joe Hass. You may remember me from such Behind The Jersey blog postings as "Every Home Game Of The 2008 Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings" and "The Flaming One On Mitch Albom"

Christy graciously introduced me a couple weeks back around here, and thanks to an insane work load at the office (combined with some sort of sleeping issue), I haven't had a chance to actually post something here, until now.

I want to start with an explanatory post about me that also serves as a bit of a caution to Olympia.

My favorite baseball team (in fact, my favorite sports team in general) is the Chicago Cubs. Living in the Detroit area for more than 90% of my life, I get a rather common response to this fact: "How did you become a Cubs fan if you've lived in Detroit most your life?"

In January, 1983, my parents moved to the northwest suburbs of Chicago after a 14-month stint in suburban Milwaukee. Nine months later, I began fifth grade under a teacher, John Katzel, who was a huge Cubs fan and tipped me off to watching the games on WGN. Over the next two years, I became a Cubs fan while keeping my allegiance to the Tigers. The rationale was simple: I had an American League team and a National League team.

When we moved back to Detroit in September, 1986, I discovered two things: Hockey Night in Canada and the Detroit Red Wings. With that, I started falling in love with hockey. It was also good that, at the same time, Jacques Demers took over the Wings and started the incredible streak the team has been on since then.

Over the past twenty years, my love for the Cubs grew, and I started to care less and less about the Tigers. When they made the move to the new stadium, that pretty much did it for me.

So why do I tell you that story? Well, the one team I didn't mention was the Chicago Blackhawks. I mean, I lived in Chicago for three years. They played in an incredible old barn, with an history that couldn't be beat. Why did I never fall for the Blackhawks when I lived in Chicago?

The short answer is this: the Blackhawks never cared. I never saw the Blackhawks on TV (because they refused to show games on TV, especially home games, because the owner, Bill Wirtz, felt that televising home games threatened ticket sales. They never marketed themselves to anyone (much less kids). I vaguely knew *of* them, but I can tell you that I never watched a single game of hockey when I lived there. And we had cable, so we had the ability to watch the cable games (USA had the cable rights, then ESPN had them).

What's amazing is that, in spite of all this, the Blackhawks fans still cared. I dare you to watch Wayne Messmer perform the National Anthem before the 1991 NHL All-Star Game, played the Sunday after Desert Storm, and not be moved. That was the energy level in that building every night! (For the uninitiated, the fans cheered the Anthem every night, with Messmer singing it every time.) When I went to a game the night after my wedding in 2003 at the mausoleum, I mean, United Center, I knew how badly the franchise had fallen.

By the time Wirtz died at the start of the 2007-8 season (a moment, by the way, that was greeted with lustful boos in the ceremony before the home opener), the franchise was effectively dead in the water. Attendance was abysmal. They had chased off their legendary play-by-play guy, Pat Foley, who was now doing Chicago Wolves games (the AHL franchise that plays in Rosemont). Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, and Tony Esposito one of the legends of the team, would have nothing to do with the club. To put this in perspective: imagine if the Red Wings had fired Mickey Redmond and Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsey, and Steve Yzerman all refused to set foot in Joe Louis Arena. That's how bad it was.

So why do I share this? Because, as I write this, here's what the Red Wings have done in the past year:

* Signed a 10-year deal with FSN to put every game not on NBC or Versus on cable.
* Had exactly one open practice for fans: every other event has been closed to the public or has required $50-$200 admission.
* Watched as their season-ticket waiting list has gone away.
* Continued their circa-1997 in-game presentation for home games.
* Kept John Hahn as their minister of non-information, who one media member refers to as the "PR Nazi" for his miserable treatment of media.

The Olympia management continues to believe that all they have to do is open up the doors and 20,000 people will flock into the building. I'm sure the Blackhawks would be happy to dissuade them of how long that'll last.

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks, in the past year:

* Have gone from no home games broadcast to eight (and the only reason it was that low was because they made the deal after the season started) to all home games on TV, then signed a deal to put 20 games on WGN.
* Announced the first-ever Blackhawk Convention, which proceeded to sell out the day tickets went on sale
* Announced they're bringing back Pat Foley.
* Had an public reconciliation with Mikita and Hull.
* Hired away the president of the Cubs, John McDonough, to take over as the president of the Blackhawks, a stunning move that shocked both the baseball and hockey worlds.

The Blackhawks, in a word, get it. The Red Wings do not.

I promise my next post won't be this wordy, nor this inside baseball. I would love for the Wings to reach out to the fans. I would love this organization to win Stanley Cups and grow their fan base and get the next generation into hockey.

Would, unfortunately, is the key word.