Tickets went on sale for the 2010-2011 Chicago Blackhawks season yesterday, Aug. 16. And if you ask the average ’Hawks fan which game he or she is most looking forward to attending, the answer will likely be, "None of them. I couldn’t buy tickets!" Stories are skittering across the Internet that, by the time most fans could get a chance to buy seats, ticket brokers and scalpers had scarfed up just about everything — leaving a handful of SRO spots for those with strong legs and a flexible neck.
You can call it greed or growing pains, but one thing’s for sure: Winning a championship changes everything. We all want the Stanley Cup winners back on the ice. We want nothing less than a spirited defense of the Stanley Cup that at least lasts well into the playoffs. And we all want to be there.
So what games will matter the most? It’s hard to say right now. What we can say is there are a handful games that will surely bring plenty of drama, put a customer (paying or comp'd) in every seat, and have eyeballs glued to TV screens across Chicagoland and the nation. Here are our picks for the Top Five Blackhawks games of 2010-2011:
1. The Rematch – Flyers @ Blackhawks, Jan. 23
The Philadelphia Flyers gave the ’Hawks a run for their money in the Stanley Cup finals. But, on that fateful Wednesday night, Patrick Kane scored the invisible goal that sealed the win for the Blackhawks — on the Flyers’ home ice.
By the time they return to the United Center on this (probably safe to say) cold January evening, Philly will have had to wait a pretty long time to get their rematch. Will there be much bitterness among the Flyer holdovers? (Perhaps.) Will much gloating over the Cup occur as ’Hawks and Flyers fans mix it up? (You betcha.) Will arch-villain Chris Pronger be fully recovered from his off-season arthroscopic knee surgery? (One would think.)
2. Raising The Bannner – Red Wings @ Blackhawks, Oct. 9
The home opener at the United Center is exciting every year. But the UC has never seen a hockey game like this. With Lord Stanley’s Cup still firmly in the Blackhawk’s possession and, presumably, on proud display, we'll likely see plenty of pomp 'n circumstance on this October evening. With the Detroit Red Wings in the house no less, expect to see the raising (or, perhaps, unfurling) of the championship banner and be prepared to hear a lot of ... well... you know.
(An honorable mention in the "opener" category must, of course, go to the 'Hawks first game of the season on Oct. 7, in which the ’Hawks open up their defense of the Cup against the marginally respectable Colorado Avalanche.)
3. High-Fives In Hot-Lanta – Blackhawks @ Thrashers, Nov. 6
Can you believe it? Right Wing Dustin Byfuglien, defenseman Brent Sopel, forward Ben Eager and left wing Andrew Ladd will all be Atlanta Thrashers this season. And, based on the Thrashers lowly ’09-’10 finish (tenth place in the Eastern conference with 83 points), Atlanta could use their help. But knowing they're all prized additions to another team's roster probably won’t make seeing them sporting Thrashers' colors any easier.
This will be the only matchup between the ’Hawks and Thrashers of the season. So expect some high-fives and bear hugs before the game as the remaining/retooled Blackhawks’ players will likely have nothing but respect for these four key role players. It will be particularly bittersweet to see Buff checking red-and-black jerseys into the boards.
4. Revisiting Versteeg – Blackhawks @ Maple Leafs, March 5
One might say he’s the forgotten one. While we all wonder what will become of Antti Niemi, who still hasn’t signed with another team as of this writing, and the aforementioned trio of former ’Hawks yuck it up in Atlanta, Kris Versteeg is back in his native Canada playing with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
So maybe this game won’t hold quite the drama of a Red Wings matchup or even a big city showdown with, say, the Los Angeles Kings, it will hold some nostalgic significance. Versteeg was unquestionably one of the most beloved, colorful stars of the championship ’Hawks, who scored 44 points for the team last season and rocked the victory parade with his dope rappin’ skillz. If he does get one past Marty Turco (assuming he’s in) during this late-winter matchup, it will likely spawn mixed emotions in us all.
5. What A Finish – Blackhawks @ Red Wings, Apr. 8; Red Wings @ Blackhawks, April 10
We have to go with a tie here. Although these two teams do face off in October (as noted) and December (in Chicago) as well as in January and March (in Detroit), the Blackhawks will conclude their ’10-’11 season with back-to-back, bone-crunching showdowns with their perennial Western conference rivals, the Red Wings.
Who dreamed up this scenario? Not that we’re complaining — if both teams play well, these two games could turn out to be the playoffs before the playoffs and a true test of both sides’ respective mettle. Throw in the fact that former ’Hawk Chris Chelios now works for the Red Wings front office (doing, uh, something or other), and this classic rivalry should give us fans plenty to cheer and/or worry about this season.