Here are some of the top Chicago sports stories from a busy Thursday:
Despite missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade, the Blackhawks will appear on national television a league-high 19 times during the 2018-19 season, NBC Sports announced on Monday. Eleven of them will appear exclusively on NBC or NBCSN, with the other eight on NBC Sports Chicago in the Chicago area.
Eight of the 19 games will also land on "Wednesday Night Hockey," which will replace "Wednesday Night Rivalry" as part of NBC Sports' most diverse exclusive schedule to date that will include a total of 109 games.
Here are five games to circle from the 11 games that will be aired exclusively on national TV, in order of how they appear on the schedule:
1. The new-look Blues — Nov. 14 vs. St. Louis at 7 p.m. on NBCSN
There might not have been a team in the Central Division that had a stronger offseason than the Blues. After failing to secure a postseason berth for the first time since 2010-11, they went out a traded for top-six center Ryan O'Reilly, signed Tyler Bozak to ensure even more depth down the middle, and added power forwards Patrick Maroon and David Perron to round out their top-nine. Not to mention the offensively skilled Robby Fabbri will be returning to the lineup after missing the entire 2017-18 campaign with an ACL injury. It'll be a nice early test for the Blackhawks.
2. Three Cups vs. three Cups — Dec. 12 vs. Pittsburgh at 7 p.m. on NBCSN
Whenever the Blackhawks and Penguins get together it's always a fun battle to watch because there's so much firepower sharing the same sheet of ice: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews. That's five future Hall of Famers right there. There's also the fact that they are tied for most Stanley Cups in the salary cap era with three, adding some extra juice between two teams that don't often see each other.
3. Winter Classic — Jan. 1 vs. Boston at 12 p.m. on NBC at Notre Dame Stadium
For the sixth time in franchise history, the Blackhawks will appear in an outdoor game. But they haven't had much luck in those games, losing four of the previous five, including all three of their Winter Classic appearances. The Bruins are 1-1 in outdoor games and will look to break the .500 mark in a rematch of the memorable 2013 Stanley Cup Final — at least for the city of Chicago — and Original Six showdown.
4. The defending champion Capitals come to town — Jan. 20 at 11:30 a.m. on NBC
Any time the reigning champions visit your city, it's a game you know you can't take off. Especially since it's the Game of the Week. Alex Ovechkin fell one goal shy of hitting the 50-goal mark for the eighth time in his NHL career at age 32 last season, but it was still good enough to win his seventh "Rocket" Richard Trophy. More importantly, he scored 15 goals and added 12 assists in 24 postseason contests to help lead the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup and took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the playoffs while doing so. He's still the greatest goal scorer in hockey — perhaps even of all time — and that's a reason in and of itself why it's a must-watch, even though in his last game against Chicago he was held without a shot attempt for the first time in his NHL career.
5. Rekindling an old rivalry with Red Wings — Feb. 20 at Detroit at 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN
Ever since the NHL realigned the divisions in 2013-14, the Blackhawks and Red Wings get to see each other only twice per season — once at home and once on the road. No two teams in NHL history have squared off more than these two, so it's certainly been an adjustment. But fans know how deep this rivalry goes, and every time they do clash, there's a playoff-like atmosphere in the building and you can feel it through your television screen as well. This will likely be no different.
Check out the Blackhawks' full national television schedule here:
I grew up at the Chicago Stadium.
My early memories included walking up the winding stairwell to the first balcony. Sixty nine total steps (I looked it up), but for a young kid, it seemed like a thousand.
Section G, Row B, Seats 1-4. On the corner, where the Blackhawks shot twice…my dad’s season tickets for more than 35 years.
Back then, the majority of home games were on Sunday and Wednesday nights.
Early on, we would leave halfway through the third period because I usually had school the next day. That eventually changed as my dad realized I was turning into a diehard Blackhawks fan, and didn't want to miss one minute. Monday and Thursday mornings were a struggle waking up, but well worth it to stay until the final horn the night before.
Hockey nights at the stadium were an education for me. Learning the game that I grew up to love, memorizing all the players’ names, the numbers on the sweaters, and learning ‘new’ words from fans sitting around us yelling at the referee.
But it was more than just the game that I came to appreciate — it was the history of the stadium and the team.
As a kid not even 10 years old, my eyes and mind wandered around the stadium. The bright lights, the unique sound of the pipe organ, the vendor yelling ‘beer man’, I soaked it all in.
There was a gentleman who had season tickets down the row from us who liked to drink his beer, and when he would squeeze through the aisle with a refill, he would yell ‘hot coffee’, so people would give him room to walk. Everyone laughed.
That memory is still fresh today, along with the fan who showed up to every game with a Blackhawks jersey over the button down collared dress shirt he wore to work earlier in the day.
The banners that hung from the rafters: Norris Division winners, Campbell Conference championships, Stanley Cup titles, and two lone banners with 21 and 9 sewn on them. This is when I began learning about Stan Mikita the man, not just the hockey player.
It took me until now to realize that my dad loved talking the game of hockey with me, because it gave him a chance to talk about his hockey heroes when he was a kid. At the age of 21, my dad experienced the 1961 championship with Mikita and Bobby Hull raising the cup.
He taught me about the game, but also shared stories about his favorite players. Mikita was one of them. He was a great stick handler and could skate around players with ease.
Years after his retirement, while we were at a charity game, Mikita took the ice with a puck tied to his stick. Just like in his prime, no one could steal the puck from No. 21.
While my dad saw him rack up franchise records in games (1,396), assists (926) and points (1,467), I witnessed more of his off-ice contributions to the community and charities.
What seemed like a lifetime ago, but probably 30 years, we would drive to ice arenas like the ‘Skatium’ in Skokie and Northbrook Sports Center to watch Blackhawk alumni and current players take on a team made up of hearing impaired players.
They were light-hearted games, but you knew both teams wanted to win. Even though Mikita had been retired for years, it was special to see him on the ice. I wish I would have appreciated it more at the time.
My dad explained to me about Stan’s involvement with the hearing impaired. After learning a teammate’s son was born partially deaf, Mikita was determined to start a hockey school that eventually evolved into the American Hearing Impaired Association.
His charity work started during his career, and continued on a larger scale after he hung up the skates. A lot of players fade out of the limelight after retirement, but it was the exact opposite for Mikita. I think my dad grew to respect Mikita even more after his playing career.
Like thousands of Blackhawk fans I was saddened to hear of Mikita's passing last Tuesday.
The news hit me harder than I thought it would, because I realized the impact Stan had on the relationship with my dad growing up. I am grateful for all the experiences early in my life, and miss them at the same time.
No one lives forever, but I wish some of the great ones could.