Blackhawks’ dark ages should remind us to soak in team’s success

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Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) and defenseman Duncan Keith (2) celebrate with goalie Corey Crawford after the Hawks defeated the Minnesota Wild 1-0 in Game 3 on Tuesday. | Ann Heisenfelt/AP

Do you remember the bad days?

And I don’t mean times when the Blackhawks might have gotten ousted, say, in the second round of the playoffs, which still could happen in this series against the Minnesota Wild.

No, I mean bad days.

Like anywhere from about 1997 to 2008, a stretch when the Hawks made the playoffs once (2002) and were promptly squashed, four games to one by the St. Louis Blues.

That was a period when you wouldn’t find the Hawks’ home games on TV, and sometimes if you attended, you wouldn’t find anybody seated next to you.

As recently as the spring of 2007, the Hawks had games with 7,000 people in the nearly 21,000-seat United Center. Some secondary-market tickets went, basically, for the fees needed to process the request. For 10 bucks, you could get in. For nothing, you stood a good chance of snagging one of the Hawks’ desperation giveaways. On one Sunday afternoon, the minor-league Wolves outdrew the Hawks.

I could go on.

But just to cement the point, I give you two more examples of “bad years.”

In 2004, Sports Illustrated ran an article with the headline “BLACKHAWKS DOWN,” with the sub-head, “Bad Management Has Made a Once-Beloved NHL Franchise Irrelevant in Chicago.” (Hello, Bill Wirtz!)

Also that year, ESPN called the Hawks the worst franchise in professional sports. The Wolves, an AHL team, were “one rung above the Blackhawks,” according to ESPN the Magazine.

I can’t help it, here’s one more — this regarding how faceless the players on those horrible teams had become: In the fall of 2007, while jogging near the ice rink in Bensenville wearing Blackhawks gear, forward Tuomo Ruutu was detained by police as a potential armed robber.

OK, we’re past that.

The passing of owner Wirtz almost eight years ago changed everything. No need to explain what those changes entailed — they have been documented many times — but as president John McDonough has said when asked if he felt like he was starting from scratch when he was hired by Rocky Wirtz to rebuild this downtrodden franchise, “I think in many ways we started before scratch.”

The Hawks might not win the Stanley Cup this year, but they could.

And if they were to do that, it would mean three championships in six years, plus a run to the conference final.

There are four certifiable Hall of Famers on this team: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa. With one more Cup, somebody such as Patrick Sharp might have to be considered a Hall contender, too, especially if he lights it up the rest of the way.

Mr. Mustache, coach Joel Quenneville, is practically guaranteed a spot.

I guess my point here is, Chicago hockey fans, enjoy what you have and cherish it.

It wasn’t always here, and it won’t be here forever. The salary cap makes it much harder to build a dynasty than it used to be, back when old boss Wirtz and his first lieutenant, Bob “Old-time Hockey” Pulford, could have done it but didn’t.

Before labor unrest and lockouts and settlements, an owner could have simply outspent other teams for whatever players or management he wanted.

Now you have to be crafty and smart and relentless, as well as rich, to assemble a team like the Blackhawks.

It’s not too much to say the NHL has benefitted even more than Chicago fans have from the rebirth of this team. To have an Original Six team, one of only four in the United States, be so wretched that mid-game you could fly paper airplanes from the 300 level and hear nothing but their wings in the dead air, that’s a bad year. Or decade.

Sometimes we don’t appreciate a good thing until it’s gone.

Don’t do that with these Hawks. Rejoice when the league doesn’t start a playoff game at the ludicrous time of 8:30 p.m. And be happy when you see a young guy like Teuvo Teravainen score a game-winning goal (see Game 1).

Remember how we thought it was a done deal that Tiger Woods (14) would get more wins in majors than Jack Nicklaus (18), long in the clubhouse?

We took it for granted. Then life intruded, and it’s not gonna happen.

Every now and then, it’s good to appreciate a good thing before it’s gone. No matter where it’s headed.


Twitter: @ricktelander

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