Most hockey fans don’t remember how long they’ve been a fan of the sport, because hockey was always there, always a part of their life. But for me, growing up in Chicago, it was different. The first time I saw a Blackhawks game was 25 years ago today — purely by accident.
The ‘Hawks did not televise their home games in the 1970s and 1980s. They did televise road games, but only on cable. In fact, all NHL games were buried on cable in the United States back in the 1980s, grossly limiting the sport’s exposure.
How would a kid like me know about hockey if I couldn’t see it? Sadly, I didn’t know much of anything about this game. It seemed weird and cool, like a myth or a figment of my imagination. It was played on ice with sticks and players wore masks and had strange team names like Blackhawks, North Stars and Canadiens.
In early 1989, my family got cable TV; a perfect storm of it finally being offered in our neighborhood and my Mom having enough disposable income to afford it. On January 12 of that year, I was channel surfing between two shows when I accidentally put on a hockey game — the last few minutes of the Chicago Blackhawks losing to the Buffalo Sabres. I still remember that exact moment very well. After that game, there was another: L.A. Kings vs. St. Louis Blues. I watched as much of it as I could until bedtime.
Two days later, I tuned into the next Blackhawks game, a 5-3 win over the New York Islanders. Immediately afterward was the Kings (again) vs. the Hartford Whalers. After that, I was hooked. I watched every single game on TV that I could watch — any team on any night.
Later that month, my Aunt bought me tickets for my 14th birthday and took me to my first live game, which was the Blackhawks against (coincidentally) the Islanders. At this point, I was a fan for exactly less than one full month, and yet I knew more about hockey than baseball, football and basketball combined.
Soon, I convinced my friends in the neighborhood to buy hockey sticks, and we started playing street hockey every weekend and all summer long. I spent all my 8th grade graduation money on several complete sets of hockey cards, and my Mom bought me my first pair of ice skates.
And the rest, they say, is history.