By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) With two Stanley Cup championships in four years, Chicago has been transformed into a Blackhawks city. But could the Midwest actually be transformed into “Blackhawks Country”?
This week, Chicago’s NHL franchise announced that it will be taking its title-winning show on the road later this summer when it opens training camp Sept. 12 on the campus of Notre Dame.
According to the team, the Hawks will train for four days (Sept. 12-15) at the Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend – selling tickets for just $5 a pop – before returning home to the United Center on Sept. 16 for their annual training camp festival.
“We are thankful that Notre Dame is allowing us to host our camp at their new state-of-the-art, world-class facility,” said Hawks general manager Stan Bowman, a Fighting Irish alum. “Opening camp on the road offers our players and coaching staff a unique team bonding atmosphere. We look forward to bringing Blackhawks hockey to our fans in Northwest Indiana.”
That push into the Hoosier State got me thinking about where else the Blackhawks might be able to take their game in order to connect with hockey-deprived fans throughout the region – and potentially turn them into Hawks boosters in the process.
Think about it. In the Midwest, there are only five NHL franchises: the Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, Columbus Blue Jackets, St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings. So exactly who do hockey fans in South Bend and Indianapolis root for? What about Milwaukee and Madison? Or Iowa City and Des Moines?
In an attempt to gain insight into that question, I reached out to my friend Jeremy, who lives in Milwaukee but is a Blackhawks season ticket holder. I asked him who the hockey fans up in Brew City cheer for.
“That’s a great question and frustrating one for me on what the NHL does,” Jeremy explained. “The ‘home team’ that is shown every game (on Fox Sports) is Minnesota, but no one follows them since it’s a six-hour drive (to Minneapolis).
“There’s big hockey interest here and the Admirals team has a ton of support. They are Nashville’s minor league team, so a good chunk of diehards follow the Preds. However, most people are huge Blackhawks fans with, of course, more interest now.”
The Hawks are the first NHL team to win two Stanley Cups in a four-year window since the Red Wings captured back-to-back titles in 1997-98. Obviously, such accomplishments like that don’t happen very often. And while the Blackhawks of course should keep their primary focus on pleasing their own fans in Chicago, they would be foolish to not think bigger at the same time.
“The NHL and the Hawks need to be all over Milwaukee area,” Jeremy said. “Huge miss right now and having the Wild as the ‘home team’ is pointless.”
Hockey fans in Indy, Iowa and elsewhere throughout the Midwest just might feel the same way.
It would be savvy of the Blackhawks to find out.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.