Along with Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens, the old Chicago Stadium held so much mystique for me. So much, in fact that I was able to persuade three other friends to rent a car and drive the fifteen hours to Chicago back in the spring of '94.
The 93-94 National Hockey League season was known as the “Remember the Roar” season in Chicago, it would be the last to be played at the Stadium and like the Gardens in Toronto, the Stadium had outlived its usefulness and needed to be replaced.
Sure hockey could still be played in the original six’s old barns but hockey was big business and corporate boxes and suites would now have to be the norm. If teams could not tap into this revenue source they were sure to be left behind in the standings and would have no hope of ever winning the Stanley Cup.
At least that is what they would have us believe.
We left Mississauga on the Friday morning and drove straight to Detroit where we would attempt to buy tickets for the Leafs and Red Wings game that night.
Tickets would be my responsibility for both tonites and the Sunday afternoon game in Chicago. Detroit is a real hockey city and The Joe Louis Arena was always sold out especially for the rival team from Toronto.
Bus loads of Red Wing fans made the trek to Toronto and vice versa when the two division rivals met. I really thought that it would be next to impossible to pull it off but like usual, when it came to getting hockey tickets, luck was on my side.
I got four tickets about ten rows from the ice for sixty bucks each which was not much more than what they would normally of cost.
What a great game.
The Leafs won with a late third period goal. The one observation I made during my visit to The Joe was I had never seen so many beautiful gorgeous woman at a hockey game like that night in Detroit. Not woman with husbands or boyfriends but woman with other woman.
I loved Detroit. What a Hockeytown.
After the game we headed over to Windsor to a peeler club and checked out the local strippers for a couple hours. We stayed in Windsor overnight and headed out for Chicago early Saturday morning. We arrived in Chicago that afternoon and the drive was the most non scenic, boring trip I had ever taken.
There was literally nothing to see until we arrived at the south side of Chicago with its towering housing projects and numerous burned out and boarded up windows. Here are these twenty story buildings all clumped close together and you see all these burned out and boarded up windows.
It reminded me of the 70's sitcom Good Times.
The housing projects in Chicago made the projects in Toronto look like Park Avenue.
Later that afternoon the four of us while playing pool in a local bar learned that comedian John Candy had died. The news of Candy’s death stunned us all and we were all saddened by the news. We had all grown up laughing at his antics on television.
Saturday night the four of us tried to get into Michael Jordan’s restaurant but we left after we were told it would be a two hour wait.
Michael Jordan was god in Chicago.
We settled on the Chicago Hooter’s eatery which was an experience in itself to say the least. We cruised around downtown Chicago in our rental car then headed for our motel.
The Red Roof Inn was close to O’ Hare Airport and since it was cheaper than staying in the inner city that is where we stayed on Saturday night. On Sunday morning we all headed over to Wrigley Field to check out another historic sports temple.
We walked around the park on Waverly Avenue, saw the old score board, and the famous fire hall over the left field fence. Wrigley Field looks nothing like a major league baseball park from the street level and since it was the month of March we were unable to look inside or take a tour.
We all agreed that we would return in the summer for a ball game, we just never decided what summer it would be.
As we got closer to the Chicago Stadium we could tell it was in a bad part of town. As we drove west on Madison Avenue we passed numerous run down vacated slum properties that were converted into short term parking by very shady looking black dudes.
We were warned that we had to park in the Compound if we wanted our car to be there after the game. The Compound, when we arrived turned out to be a huge fenced, security patrolled parking lot just north of the Stadium.
The Stadium from the outside looked exactly like I thought it would, with old fire escapes, on the buildings east and west walls. The yellowish brick color was almost identical to the bricks used in the building of Maple Leaf Gardens. The Stadium was now dwarfed by the new United Centre that was nearing completion across the street and would serve as the home for the Bull’s and Blackhawk’s the coming fall.
We had driven literally for about fifteen hours over the course of two days and I was really worried that tickets would be very, very scarce. Not just because the season was soon ending and the next few games would be the last home games at the historic Stadium but the Los Angeles Kings and Wayne Gretzky were in town this afternoon, which always meant the demand for tickets exceeded availability.
Once again, I hit the street and for about three quarters of an hour I could not even sniff a ticket for sale. The game was to start at 1:30 and at ten past one I still had no tickets. Ah but lady luck was to shine once again and I bought four tickets together that had cost forty-five dollars each for two hundred and forty dollars. The tickets were about a dozen rows from the ice and were very close to the old historic organ that the Stadium was famous for.
When I walked in the front door it felt more as if I was entering a movie theater rather than a stadium.
By the time we got to our seats and sat down the warm ups were just ending and the organ began playing very loudly. The National Anthem was an event in itself as it literally did send chills up and down my spine that afternoon.
The players took to the ice with the Hawks walking up the stairs from their dressing room to ice level. I always wondered why the players had to walk up and down a staircase to get to and from their dressing room. Why not a sloping ramp? Why was it not built ice level like every other N.H.L. arena?
All the old heroes like Hull, Makita and Tony Esposito walked those stairs thousands of times during their careers. I remembered a great sign that I had seen in a magazine years ago hanging from the rafters of the Stadium.
“Only Jesus saves more than Esposito”.
The modern score clock seemed to be the only item that had ever been replaced in the Stadium. I had taken in a small wrench set to try to take the arm rests off my seat as a memento of my only visit but I had the wrong wrenches so I left unarmed.
The four of us left right after the game which the Kings won, Gretzky scored a goal and got an assist. We got in our rented car and drove all the way home stopping only a couple times to eat and gas up.
I have not stayed in touch with any of the other three guys that made the trip with me that spring weekend in ’94 but I am sure they remember with fondness the fun we all had that weekend in Chicago when we “Remembered the Roar”.