A quick note on this: I have to mention that the inspiration for writing about this night comes from recalling this article written by Sam Fels of The Committed Indian referring to the same night. I’d recommend checking out that story as well, as it’s the original (and almost certainly the better) one.
I had no idea what I was in for when I talked my dad into taking the family to the Hawks game eight years ago tonight.
The time I got into hockey was the same year that I attended my first Hawks game: Fall 1996, also known as the first year that Jeremy Roenick wasn’t in Chicago. It wasn’t good timing.
Some of you can fill in the next few chapters of the story, as the Hawks spent the majority of the next decade plummeting into the NHL basement and relative anonymity on the Chicago sports scene. I can remember going to the local Sports Authority and not being able to find a single Blackhawks logo in the entire store.
But things seemed different during the first half of the 2007-08 season, largely because of the debuts of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Having returned home from college for the holiday season, I spent much of that weekend casually mentioning to my family that students could get a 300 level seat at the United Center for $10 with a student ID. By Sunday evening, my sales pitch had worked, and we were in the building.
I can’t remember too much about the game, except that the Hawks scored a go-ahead goal in the third period and some drunk guy spilled most of his beer on one of my brothers in celebration. But what I can remember is how loud it was — all game long.
Attendance had been dreadful at Hawks games. They averaged just 13,319 people in the 2005-06 season, and it was down to 12,727 the following year. The Hawks had only cracked 20,000 in attendance three times in those two seasons, all during the 05-06 campaign. Two of those games were against Detroit, with probably half of that number being Red Wings fans who always took over the UC in those days (similar to what Hawks fans now do on the road). The other game was Sidney Crosby’s United Center debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
But on that December 23 night back in 2007, 20,151 fans — with the majority of them actually being Chicago fans — packed the United Center for a Sunday night matchup with the Edmonton Oilers.
As I said earlier, my memories from the game are spotty, although YouTube has the highlights:
But the enduring memory from that game was what happened after it.
A few minutes after the ice had been cleared following the final horn, the Hawks came back out on the ice to salute the crowd, and I believe that night was the beginning of that tradition. I remember players skating all over the ice, waving and clapping to the crowd before gathering in the circle for a final salute. I’m pretty sure that many of the players were also throwing sticks and gloves and other random items into the crowd for fans to keep as souvenirs.
And the noise? Oh … that beautiful, beautiful noise. It was deafening. It was as loud as I’d heard that building ever get (to that point, at least). And the noise persisted for the entire time that the team was back out on the ice.
There have been plenty of nights worth celebrating since then and I imagine there will be even more in the future. Three particular summer days in June of 2010, 2013 and 2015 spring to mind first. But I know that, among all the crowd roars I’ve heard coming from the United Center over the last decade, it’s hard to forget one of the original eruptions on December 23, 2007.