by Steve Bogira
No, it's not. Lake Forest and Wilmette, those are hockey towns. When the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup Monday, they were dancing in the streets of Kenilworth. Or the residents had their servants go outside and do it for them.
Yes, there were drunken parties on Chicago's north side Monday night. Wrigleyville residents dashed outside, convinced the Cubs had just won the Stanley Cup. Meantime all was quiet in Englewood, Garfield Park, and Lawndale.
I'm happy the Blackhawks are NHL champs, but let's not get swept away with the idea that they're emblematic of Chicago. Let's realize that most of the city's residents don't give a flying puck about hockey. And with good reason. Chicago is almost two-thirds black and Hispanic, and hockey is still mainly for the white and affluent.
Those fans who streamed downtown today for the parade, who were shoving and sometimes puking on the el and Metra? They're from the Blackhawks' heartland—DuPage, Lake, Kane, and Will counties, and from far, far north-side Chicago neighborhoods such as Glenview, Glencoe, and Highland Park.
Kids out there can afford to play hockey. And most of their high schools have teams. New Trier High, in Winnetka, has three varsity hockey squads. Chicago's 106 high schools have approximately zero. Renting rinks alone is prohibitive for Chicago's public schools.
African-Americans are more interested in basketball and football, sports in which they are better represented on the pro level. Out of 690 active NHL players this year, 20 were black.
Soccer is of course the number one sport for Hispanic-Americans, but baseball is also popular. Twenty-seven percent of the players on opening-day MLB rosters this season were of Hispanic origin; there were 15 players named Ramirez. In the NHL this year, there were a total of four Hispanic players.
In one way, hockey is a real unifier in Chicago. Most Chicagoans of all races can't afford to attend Blackhawks games.
A ticket for the worst seat in the house this season—the back rows on the third level of the United Center, behind the nets—was $54. This offers a perfect view of the Bulls' and Blackhawks' championship banners hanging from the rafters, but if you love hockey's artistry, you can only guess at it from there. You've got to at least be on level two to actually see the stickhandling wizardry—and tickets there were $120 and $140. Seats on the first level went for between $155 and $450.
But wait, there's more: 16 percent more. That's how much ticket prices will rise next season.
Blackhawks' owner Rocky Wirtz told the Sun-Times this week that when tickets were cheaper, there was "an element of people who wanted to come to the United Center just to cause trouble and get in fights." With the price increases since he became owner in 2007, he said, "fan behavior is becoming better.” He's not been boosting prices for his own sake, understand, but to get rid of the notorious non-investment-banker element.
The Sun-Times story on Wirtz added that the Hawks had captured the "millennial demographic." Said Wirtz: "They’re discovering it, they’re talking about it, they’re watching it together, they’re meeting at their favorite watering holes to view it and to celebrate. It’s part of the whole lifestyle of what younger people are looking for.”
First, never trust anyone who calls a bar a watering hole.
Second, I'm hoping that blowing well over a hundred bucks on a hockey game isn't part of the whole lifestyle of the "millennial demographic"—that that idea is just a twinkle in Rocky's portfolio. But he could be right. There's a sucker born every minute, and most of us are sports fans.
A great team demands great cliches, and Rick Morrissey cranked them out in his Sun-Times column Tuesday, a column pinned on the notion that the Blackhawks "embody what Chicago is all about", as the headline said.
"We want to see our city in these Blackhawks," Morrissey asserted. He pointed to center Andrew Shaw, who in the first period Monday turned the other cheek in time for a puck to split it. Shaw "got stitched up and got back to work because that’s what you gotta do as a Chicagoan," Morrissey wrote. "You go to work even if you don’t feel so good. You reverse the flow of a river. You build a canal. You move cattle and pack meat. You rebuild a city after a fire."
Morrissey could have been assessed a game misconduct just for that hokum. But in timeworn fashion, he went on to exalt the Blackhawks' "blue-collar attitude." "An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay is all Chicago asks," he said.
NHL players make an average of more than $2 million a season for slapping the puck and each other around the rink for the benefit of the bankers behind the glass. They all love the blue-collar attitude, so long as they're not stuck with the blue-collar paycheck.