As a kid I would always hear how loud it was in the old Chicago Arena. Last night I finally got to experience a game in Chicago and let me say those stories were not exaggerated.
I was very impressed by the level of hospitality and respect that Hawks fans showed to us and the hundreds of Jets fans that invaded Chicago. As we got to our seats I started to understand that despite the fact that Chicago has the third largest population in North America with round 6.7 Million and Winnipeg is the smallest city in the NHL around 700,000; they are very much alike in a lot of ways.
The atmosphere was like any Jets game that I ever attended. Like Jets fans you can see the passion they have for their team.
After speaking to some at the game it was clear that even despite some lean years where attendance was down the passion remained and it only took an owner who shared their passion to bring them back. Sound familiar? It should because Chicago and Winnipeg have a history together that dates back to the 70′s and the signing of Bobby Hull.
This time around the Jets raided the front office by offering Kevin Cheveldayoff the position of GM to run their new franchise and three of the Hawks top stars once called Winnipeg home before heading to the Windy city.
Like Winnipeg, Chicago fans love their stars. While it wasn’t quite the reception that Teemu will get when he makes his first return to Winnipeg since leaving town back in ’96. Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien made their return to Chicago since being traded away in the off season after helping the Hawks win the Stanley Cup. Fans were very warm, but shared a sentiment similar to what we heard in Winnipeg. They want the player to do well and would cheer if he scored as long as it wasn’t the winner.
The fans in Chicago were also very polite and friendly, something we Manitobans are known for. Even wearing the colors of the visiting team didn’t bring out rudeness or disrespect. In fact it was quite the opposite with fans welcoming us back into the league and wishing us a safe drive on our trip. That’s not the reception I expected and it’s fair to say I underestimated the people of Chicago.
If there is any city in the NHL that has more in common with Winnipeg I would welcome the discussion, until then I feel confident in saying that despite their obvious differences, when it comes to hockey they are very much a like.