The Blackhawks finished practice with their usual huddle at center ice at Johnny’s IceHouse West and then collectively looked toward the Zamboni entrance. A few moments player players huddled around the Zamboni for a farewell-to-Johnny’s photo.
The West Side rink will still host adult and youth hockey but the Blackhawks’ time there is over. When the Blackhawks next meet for practice it will be at their shiny new facility, MB Ice Arena. Still, Johnny’s will always have its place in Blackhawks history. For us writers, it was working from the Stanley Club perch and flinching whenever a puck flew in our direction, sturdy glass be damned. The Blackhawks have their fond memories, too.
“I think it started with the lockout when we weren’t allowed to go to the NHL rinks,” Patrick Sharp said. “We set up shop in one of these locker rooms and had a good group of guys skating every day and talking about when we were going to get back in the league. That was kind of the start of it. Two championships later we’re [still] practicing here, so some good memories.”
The Blackhawks’ first practices at Johnny’s were during the 2009-10 season. Ironically the players last Johnny’s practice resembled some of their first ones there: “dress-and-drives” from the United Center to Johnny’s and back. As Sharp said it was Johnny’s where he, several Blackhawks and a few Chicago-area NHLers practiced in the fall of 2012, waiting for the lockout to end. It’s at Johnny’s where, that same fall, Marian Hossa skated and worked his way back from the concussion that ended his postseason a few months prior.
Not long after the Bulls opened their practice facility near the United Center the Blackhawks looked into getting one for themselves. Now, it’s a reality. Coach Joel Quenneville and company toured the new facility after Tuesday’s practice. The new place is gorgeous and it will soon be the Blackhawks’ home. But Johnny’s will always have its memories.
“Yeah, a farewell. A lot of good memories over the years here, seven years of good moments,” Quenneville said. “We’re looking forward to going to the new facility. I think everyone’s excited about it but a lot of good things happened here.”