Hawks fan plans to test no-Hawks-gear policy in Tampa Bay

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Blackhawks fan Randy Ehrsam hopes to take a stand for his team from his seat in Tampa. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Blackhawks fan Randy Ehrsam hopes to take a stand for his team from his seat in Tampa. | Mitch Dudek | Sun-Times

If officials with the Tampa Bay Lightning try to make Randy Ehrsam take off his Blackhawks sweater during the first game of the Stanley Cup Finals Wednesday, they will find he has nothing on underneath.

“What are they going to do then?” asked Ehrsam, who wondered what lengths Lightning officials would go to enforce a no-Blackhawks-gear rule in certain sections of the stadium.

Ehrsam, 61, a salesman from Villa Park, walked through possible scenarios in his head Tuesday after stepping off the ice at Johnny’s Ice House, just east of the United Center, where he caught a session of rat hockey (hockey’s equivalent of pickup basketball).

“I don’t want to miss any of the game,” said Ehrsam. “But if they give me a Tampa Bay shirt to wear, I’m going to turn it inside out.”

He settled on bringing his own just-in-case T-shirt.

Randy Ehrsam sports the goalie mask he wore in college. | Provided

Ehrsam has a well-placed friend who is hooking him up with tickets, but he’s not exactly sure yet if the seats will be in one of the smaller, more exclusive sections of the arena where Hawks gear will be off limits.

He is sure of one thing though: if confronted, he plans to test the resolve of anyone who tries to make him take off his jersey or miss one iota of on-ice action.

“If they tell me to take it off, I’m going to really ask them some serious questions, like ‘Is it even legal?’ ” said Ehrsam, who plays hockey in the antique face mask he first used while minding net for Andrean High School, a Catholic school in Merrillville, Ind.

“I’ve got a neighbor that’s a lawyer and I was going to ask him later today if that’s something they even can do,” he said.

A spokesman for the Lightning did not return messages Tuesday. But Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a terse statement of support for put-upon Blackhawks fans:

“Chicago Blackhawks supporters are know to be among the best in the NHL, and certainly we wish the Tampa Bay Lightning management would welcome Chicago fans to their city and not be afraid to let them into their arena for the Stanley Cup finals. As Mayor of Chicago, I welcome Tampa fans — and hockey fans from around the country — fly to Chicago and enjoy our world-class hotels, restaurants, cultural attractions, and then go watch Stanley Cup hockey in Chicago. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Ehrsam also wondered how the local chamber of commerce would feel about how the Lightning treats its out-of-town guests, many of whom plan to spend big bucks on food, drink and lodging.

David Carter, executive director of the University of Southern California Sports Business Institute, sympathizes with upset Blackhawks fans.

“You guys get fired up,” Carter said. “I wouldn’t blame a season ticket holder or a road tripper who gets offended and thinks this measure undercuts the teams’ image . . . to go so far as to make this statement in fear of their own fans not showing up in droves.”

“My first reaction was ‘When is it going to get to the point of a lawsuit if a visiting fan is removed, or tries to make a scene to embarrass Tampa Bay and put an end to this policy,” Carter said.

“I think it cuts both ways. The team is trying focus on its own fans, but that could appear as if the team is lacking a dedicated fan base.”

The truth of the matter, Carter suspects, is somewhere in the middle.

“Because the secondary market can be so lucrative and fans with season tickets might be able to pay for their entire season by selling playoff tickets, sometimes cash trumps team loyalty,” he said.

Randy Ehrsam says if the people in Tampa make him take off his Blackhawks sweater, he won’t be wearing anything underneath it. | Mitch Dudek | Sun-Times

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