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International fans drawn to Blackhawks' winning ways

Think staying up past midnight for a double-overtime game on a work night proves your fan mettle? Think being among the thousands of Blackhawks fans who found their way into opposing arenas throughout their recent circus trip makes you stand out?


But try following the Hawks on another continent. For international fans, it takes a little more effort.

It’s 1:18 a.m. on a Saturday night, with a toddler down the hall a few hours from waking up, but Tia Major is wide awake. The puck is about to drop for Game 3 of the Western Conference final in May between the Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings some 4,000 miles from her home in Surrey, England, and Major has hours to go before she sleeps.

Beck Filtness is eight months pregnant with her first child. In May, she had her first ultrasound scheduled — a chance to hear her baby’s heartbeat for the first time. But morning in her home of Perth, Australia, is prime time back in the American Midwest, and her ultrasound was scheduled at the same time as a second-round playoff game between the Hawks and the Minnesota Wild.

Beck Filtness wears her Corey Crawford jersey along the Australian coast near Perth. | Provided photo

“I came very, very close to rescheduling it,” Filtness said.

Instead, she joked that if a Hawks player scored during the scan, she’d name her kid after that player. Bryan Bickell didn’t score until about 10 minutes after she left the doctor’s office. The baby-to-be has been nicknamed “Bicksy” nonetheless.

Victoria Braithwaite, a 41-year-old botanical painter who lives near Glasgow, Scotland, watches Hawks game online, and only a few of them on tape delay despite all the 1:30 a.m. or later puck drops.

Kharenne Gacho, a 27-year-old nurse in Quezon City, Philippines, has to go online to find anyone else to talk hockey with, because, “What most Filipinos know about hockey, they learned from the movies,” she said. Mostly “The Mighty Ducks.”

And Filtness routinely has to hear fellow Australians ask, “What the hell is a Blackhawk?” when she walks around Perth in a Hawks hat or jogs in a Patrick Kane shirt.


Interactive graphic: Hockey hometowns

Of the four major North American sports, hockey always has been the most global. While the league is about 50 percent Canadian and 25 percent American, it’s also about 8 percent Swedish, 4 percent Czech, and 3 percent Russian and 3 percent Finnish, with 17 countries represented in all. But the Internet brings it to the laptops and Twitter feeds of fans in nontraditional hockey markets.

Hawks President John McDonough said the club doesn’t market directly to overseas fans, but 8 percent of unique visitors to the team website are international — the highest in the league. The reason? Everybody loves a winner.

Just as an American picking a European soccer team is more likely to gravitate to Manchester United than Sunderland, most foreign fans are going to pick the Hawks over, say, the Florida Panthers.

“The two young superstars who revitalize a franchise while living out a kind of opposites-attract story in the media is a pretty juicy narrative,” Filtness said.

Like Filtness, Braithwaite is obsessed with hockey now, but until recently knew nothing about it. She stumbled onto the movie “Goon” on Netflix and loved it. And the instant she read about the Gordie Howe Hat Trick — a goal, an assist and a fight — she was in. She spent the 2012-13 lockout learning the rules of the game and trying to choose a team.

“Through a complicated system of ‘what teams seems competent,’ ‘what teams do I like to watch,’ ‘who has the best logo,’ and ‘who does that wee blond ninja play for’ — (Kane, that is) — I settled on the Hawks,” she said.

Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews signs autographs for fans in October 2009 in Helsinki, Finland, before the Hawks played the Florida Panthers in a regular-season game. | Getty Images

The NHL has held exhibition and regular-season games in Puerto Rico, Japan, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, among other countries. And if the league does it again, there’s a good chance the Hawks will be included.

So when you flip on the TV and hop on Twitter for the next Hawks game, don’t be surprised if you get into it with a fan from afar — someone who called in sick to watch the game in Singapore, whose Internet feed lags a bit in Brazil, whose laptop is the lone flickering light in a sleepy Scottish town.

“That’s the beauty of the Internet,” Filtness said. “We love a team because we chose them, not just because we were born in the right city.”