Last Saturday my bride (pictured above) and I drove down to Chicago to see the Blackhawks play the Columbus Blue Jackets at the United Center. Both of us have followed hockey for years; watching the Hawks last season, which ended in another Stanley Cup victory for them, was a blast.
Toni grew up on Chicago hockey; as a teenager she listened to the late Lloyd Petit call Blackhawks games on her transistor radio. She bugged her parents to take her to Blackhawks games and even got to know some of the players. She maintained her love for the sport and was even an officer of the Badgers Blue Line Club during the Jeff Sauer years.
The last time we’d been to the United Center was quite a few years ago, to see the New York Rangers play the Blackhawks. We took our hockey-loving son to see his beloved Rangers about a decade ago, so we were looking forward to returning to the United Center to see a game in person again.
The drive from Madison to Chicago is an easy one, now that the Northwest Tollway (I-90) is six lanes all the way from the Illinois line into the big city. We hop off the I-90 at I-290, The Eisenhower Expressway, and the sight of the city skyline (above) from “the Ike” is always a special treat. We had hotel reservations for Saturday night at the Marriott a few blocks from the United Center.
We checked into our room late Saturday afternoon ($289 for one night, plus $45 for the privilege of parking my venerable giant gas-sucking SUV road warrior in their lot overnight), changed into our “hockey fan garb” and went down to the hotel bar for a little pre-game pre-gaming.
Here we are at Rooks, the hotel bar and lounge. Toni has on her official Blackhawks Brendan Saad #20 jersey from last season, though you can’t see it in this picture. Saad was traded to the Blue Jackets just before the start of the season, to her dismay – and to the chagrin of millions of Blackhawks fans, who were hoping the team would keep Saad on the roster.
One of the reasons we picked this game to go to was that it would be the return to Chicago of Brendan Saad, although tonight he’d be in the Blue Jackets uniform.
Before long it was time to catch the Marriott shuttle to the United Center. That’s one of the benefits of staying where we did: the hotel shuttle will take you to the game, and after the game, you just call the front desk and they’ll send it over to pick you up and bring you back.
We made our way to our seats and this was our view – pretty nice! We were in the last row of the section, and – stroke of luck! – I was in the seat above the aisle, so I was able to stretch my legs out all the way! The sightlines were good and we were able to see every part of the rink. Toni did a GREAT job of buying the seats! By the way, face value on our seats was $150, and we paid double that – which is about standard. It’s not easy to get Blackhawks tickets unless you’re willing to shell out some serious jack.
Chicago prices in general are high, just as they are in any major city. At the United Center, a Vienna Beef hot dog was about 8 bucks; a 12-ounce soft drink was 8 bucks and a 12-ounce beer was 12 bucks.
After we’d downed the hot dogs, Toni took a selfie in front of a huge electronic Blackhawks mural that was on the opposite wall. The players are Kane and Seabrook, for those who don’t follow closely.
We got back into our seats in time to see the teams warming up on the ice.
Here’s Toni’s photo of her man, Brendan Saad, wearing number 20 for the Blue Jackets, warming up with his new teammates before the game.
The Blackhawks did a nice thing for Saad – during the first TV time-out, they had a special video recognition for Saad, who had just gotten his Stanley Cup Champions ring earlier that evening. The Blackhawks fans were gracious and gave Saad a big round of applause after the video, as they had when he was initially introduced in the starting lineups before the game.
The game experience at the United Center is first-class. There’s always the high of Jim Cornelison singing the National Anthem, and the Blackhawks fans tradition of cheering through the whole song. And during the game, the huge video boards keep you apprised of all the relevant game stats, and during the breaks, the entertainment video bits are really good.
Here’s another selfie Toni took of us, this time in our seats, between the first and second period of the game. Speaking of selfies….the two young ladies seated to our right, who came to the game with their boyfriends/dates/significant others/whatever spent most of their time during the game taking one selfie after another.
The guy seated next to me on my left was a long-time Blackhawks fan, very knowledgeable and very active. He looked to be about my age, but he was a multi-tasking multi-media machine during the game, texting his kids, posting to Facebook, sending out Tweets, all while keeping right up with the game.
He said he and his wife had just been to Camp Randall for the Iowa game, and they both raved about “the game experience” in Madison.
There was a lot of sports energy in Chicago that night and you could feel it at the United Center – the Cubs were in a playoff game in New York, and they had that game on all the TV’s in the concourses at the United Center, and the Bears were at home that weekend. It was a great time to be in the city.
The Blackhawks clobbered the Blue Jackets, and hearing that horn they blast after a Chicago goal in person is an auditory experience not to be forgotten. It’s LOUD. With less than a minute left, after the Hawks had scored an empty-net goal, there was a brawl just left of the goal below our seats, so we got treated to a little extra-curricular activity on top of the excellent game itself.
When it was over, we made our way out of the United Center, called the hotel, and the shuttle was there to pick us up in about 10 minutes – not bad! We went back to the hotel bar for a post-game libation, and were joined by another couple staying at the hotel who had also been at the game. Mike owned an auto repair business in Lombard, IL and his girlfriend Kim lived in Germantown, WI. We had a great time recounting the game and talking sports with them – and before we knew it, the bartender was yelling “last call!”
It’s been a while since my bride and I closed a bar, but it was a great night, and we really enjoyed the entire experience.
We rolled out of bed a little after 8 – showered and went down and grabbed breakfast, and then checked out and headed back to Madison.
Our next hockey odyssey will be in early February, when we fly to Columbus to watch the Blue Jackets (and my wife’s “boyfriend”, Brendan Saad) at the Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus.
Cant’ wait. Meantime – go Hawks!