Friday, April 30, 2010

NHL Favorite Team Relationship Status: It's Complicated

There is only 1 sport where I actually switched my favorite team. I was born a White Sox fan. I starting liking the 49ers when they won the Super Bowl on my 2nd birthday. The Bulls won all 6 of their titles when I was between the ages of 8 and 15 (pretty impressionable), and until I decided to go to school at Purdue, I watched college sports for the fun of watching, knowing that I would figure out my favorite team as soon as I chose my college. So what's that 1 sport where I actually switched? Hockey.

Just like the Bulls, the Blackhawks rose up to be one of the top teams in the NHL right in my impressionable age wheelhouse, from about 1988-1993. They had a solid team that was fun to watch, led by guys like Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios, Stever Larmer, Michel Goulet, and later in their run, Tony Amonte and Gary Suter too. At Goalie, the President's trophy winning 90-91 team and the Stanley Cup finalist 91-92 team had one of the best goalies of the era, Ed Belfour. It was a great time to be a Blackhawks fan, even if they were overshadowed by the Bulls during that time.

Then, late owner "Dollar" Bill Wirtz as he was called in the Chicago papers decided he needed to pinch some pennies and made some terrible decisions. The dismantling started in about 1994, when some of the other strong contributors of the previous years' teams started to disappear. At least they had Jeremy Roenick and Ed Belfour to rebuild around right? Wrong. Roenick was traded to Phoenix just before the '96-'97 season and Belfour was traded to San Jose halfway through the '96-'97 season. Instead of rebuilding, over that time period, the Blackhawks made a lot of other questionable moves, like overpaying washed up guys and mixing them with super young guys that never seemed to pan out or were immediately sent away to another team as soon as they showed promise.

In the mean time, because I was such a fan of Roenick with the Blackhawks, I started rooting for the Coyotes too, who were just starting out in Phoenix in 1996. I liked the novelty of a team in a super hot place, their crazy uniforms, and the fact that they had a pretty solid team where the top 2 scorers were both American (Roenick and Keith Tkachuk). In the mean time, the Wirtz family was ruining the Blackhawks, and they went on a run of only 1 playoff appearance in 10 years, not to anyone's surprise. After a year or two, the Coyotes were elevated to my favorite team, almost because I didn't want the Blackhawks' plans on how to run their team to succeed.

So then I went to college. In Indiana. I basically stopped caring about hockey. After college, I lived in Hockeytown USA for a year right after the season was canceled, so I didn't follow hockey then either, and then I moved back to Indiana, where no one cares. So then I moved out to Phoenix in 2008, home of my bankrupt favorite team from what felt like a lifetime ago (even though it was only about 7 years). I was sure they were going to move away, so I didn't want to get involved with them again. I even wrote a guest post about it on Barry Melrose Rocks last year after I won their NCAA tournament pool.

So my "It's Complicated" situation started about a year ago, when I realized that the Blackhawks were actually being run seemingly well and went deep in the playoffs. I actually watched some games and found myself rooting for them again...a team I loved as a little kid but haven't rooted for in 12 years. I figured with the Coyotes moving, it would be easy to be a casual Blackhawks fan again living in a town with no hockey team. Instead, the Coyotes stayed in Phoenix and put together an incredible '09-'10 season. I even watched a few of their regular season games this year, the first time I've done that with any NHL team in almost 10 years.

When this first round of the playoffs rolled around, I noticed I was more interested in watching the Coyotes than the Blackhawks, maybe because they are local and some people occasionally actually talk about them now, or maybe its because I never really "quit" the Coyotes as my favorite team like I did the Blackhawks...I just don't know. So I think that settles it. It may only be because I live in Phoenix, but the Coyotes are my favorite NHL team and I will accept the Blackhawks back as my #2 for nostalgia sake.

Even though the Blackhawks could possibly pull what they did 15 years ago and let me down again, I think this new found love for the Coyotes is even more dangerous. They still haven't won a playoff series since 1987. They still could potentially move away. They could go back to being awful again next year because no one can seem to figure out even why they were good this year. But hey, maybe the owner of my favorite MLB and NBA teams, Jerry Reinsdorf, will buy them and become the first owner to win a title in 3 sports, and I can say I was there with them from the beginning, when the team moved to Phoenix from Winnipeg in 1996.

So since the Coyotes are gone from the playoffs this year, Go Blackhawks, but if they ever meet in the playoffs, I'm going to take the risk and root for the Coyotes. Sorry Blackhawks, you're the crazy ex-girlfriend, but we can still be friends.

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