Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) reacts after scoring a goal against the Anaheim Ducks during the first period in Game 7 of the Western Conference final of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs in Anaheim, Calif., May 30, 2015.
Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP

OpEd: How the Chicago Blackhawks Made Me Love Hockey

Updated

You can call me a bandwagon jumper or a homer or whatever you want. But there’s one thing that’s become undeniably true, the Chicago Blackhawks made me love hockey. 

It’s easy to watch the Blackhawks now that they’re winning, I know this. There are lifelong Blackhawks fans who shake their heads at people like me. I don’t blame you.

When I started out a few years ago I only knew the basics of hockey. I didn’t know every strategy in-depth or the reason behind every Blackhawks’ line change, neither did the Anaheim Ducks in Saturday night’s Game 7 for that matter.

My journey to where I am now began with the Blackhawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup run. I started watching out of curiosity. The team, led by the young duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, were on the verge of bringing a championship to Chicago. We don’t see those often. So I watched.

When the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup against the Philadelphia Flyers that year, I celebrated. But once again, that was easy.

However, the following year something happened that wasn’t easy.  The Blackhawks lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Phoenix Coyotes in six games. The loss hurt badly. It took me awhile to fall sleep that night. When I woke up the next morning, it was the first thing on my mind.

I was in.

Then something else happened over the next few years besides another Blackhawks’ championship— I started appreciating the game itself. Over time, I’ve come away with great respect for the physical rigor and mental toughness it takes to win a Stanley Cup.

There’s an iconic picture from the Blackhawks’ 2013 championship year where Andrew Shaw is holding the Stanley Cup with blood dripping down his cheek—it’s the perfect symbol of the character it takes to win it all in this sport. He was just 21 years old.

Then there’s the National Anthem. Oh, that Anthem. The tradition of the Blackhawks honoring U.S. soldiers and the crowd cheering throughout is something I carry around with pride. It’s a must watch.

I’ve come to look forward to other hockey traditions too. Seeing the two opposing teams line up to shake each other’s hands after an exhausting and sometimes brutal playoff series is one of the unexpected pleasures I’ve gained along the way.

If you’re not a hockey fan, do yourself a favor and watch the Stanley Cup finals starting Wednesday night.

Maybe you’ll come away with the same realization as me, that hockey is truly a great sport. There’s action all the time even when there’s no score. The drama of playoff overtime is unmatched. When you go to a game, you get your money’s worth.

I didn’t know any of this, until the Chicago Blackhawks made me, and I’m not the only one.

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OpEd: How the Chicago Blackhawks Made Me Love Hockey

Updated