Four players in the Blackhawks’ lineup Thursday have never played in front of fans at the United Center.
Four others have never done so as a member of the Hawks. Another three have done so only once. That adds up to 11 players — more than half the team.
But come May 9 and 10 against the Stars, the last two games of the regular season, that will change. The City of Chicago announced Thursday the UC can be filled to 25% capacity starting with the Bulls’ May 7 game, although Hawks spokesperson said the Hawks would actually have around 20% capacity — approximately 4,000 fans.
“[We] know what it’s like coming in here and the adrenaline you get from our crowd and our anthem,” Connor Murphy said Thursday. “Other guys coming in, rookies, it’ll be that much more exciting. It’ll hit home even more what being a Blackhawk is like, being able to have our fans.”
Season-ticket holders can purchase tickets starting this coming Monday, May 3. Any remaining tickets will go on sale to the general public at 12 p.m. Tuesday.
The fan experience will be different than before. Tickets will only be sold in distanced pods of two or four and be mobile-only. Fans will complete health screenings before entering the arena, can’t bring in bags and must wear masks.
Nonetheless, the Hawks’ sellout streak — stuck at 531 consecutive games for more than a year — will soon live again, albeit in lesser form.
The wait has been seemingly endless. When the Sharks and Capitals hosted fans for the first time earlier this week, the Hawks temporarily became the only U.S. NHL franchise not doing so. The Stars, by comparison, have already watched more than 121,000 spectators enter American Airlines Center this season.
And Hawks players have, all along, noticed the difference.
“It’s pretty dead,” Duncan Keith said Feb. 1. “In other buildings, it seems like the noise is a little bit louder.”
“You miss the fans,” Patrick Kane said Feb. 4. “Especially at the United Center, we’re so lucky. I definitely took that for granted, where you’re getting 22,000 a night and then, all of a sudden, there’s no one in the crowd. You miss that energy; you miss that passion.”
“I think about [missing fans] quite a lot,” Kevin Lankinen said March 25. “I like to visualize the whole building being full of those loud Blackhawks fans. Whenever we get the chance to bring them in, it’s going to be another amazing experience.”
They won’t have to only imagine the applause for the national anthem, lineup introductions, goals, power plays, fights and everything else much longer.
Riley Stillman is one of the many players who hasn’t yet heard a single Hawks fan cheer for him. He has relied on his memories from just one game — Jan. 21, 2020, playing for the Panthers against the Hawks — to picture the building filled with humans. Now he won’t have to.
“Having fans in the building, it brings more emotion, it brings more of a competitive side from players,” Stillman said. “With the noise, a big hit is that much bigger, a big goal is that much bigger.”
The two games Hawks fans will witness might hold great significance for the Stars — the results could decide their playoff race against the Predators — but will matter very little for the Hawks, who have already fallen out of that race.
The with-fans portion of the Hawks’ 2021 season will last only about 28 hours, after all, before a long five-month wait until next season. But at least it’ll exist.
“Everyone wants the fans — the impact they have at home here at the United Center is well-known across the league,” coach Jeremy Colliton said Thursday, before making the perfect finishing quip.
“Obviously it’s good to know when to shoot on the power play. We’ll need them for that.”