The Blackhawks are Helping Chicago Rediscover NHL Hockey

Adam CamachoCorrespondent IMay 16, 2009

CHICAGO - MAY 11:  Martin Havlat #24 (R), Brian Campbell #51, Patrick Sharp #10 (L), Jonathan Toews #19 and Cam Barker #25 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrate after Toews scored a power play goal in the third period against the Vancouver Canucks during Game Six of the Western Conference Semifinal Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 11, 2009 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks won 7-5.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Coming of age in the Chicagoland area during the early 1990s meant two things for sports fans, Michael Jordan's Bulls and the Blackhawks.

The team that the Hawks put on the ice during that brief span in which they made the 1992 Stanley Cup Finals was exiting. I had never played hockey in my life, but the energy surrounding the Hawks was too strong to ignore.

There was Jeremy Roenick in the middle, hard hitting Chris Chelios playing defense, and the brick wall that was Eddie Belfour at goaltender.

These young players made hockey exciting for me as a wide-eyed pre-teen. Not only did the Hawks of the early '90s play with flair on the ice, but they were taking the team to the postseason and winning tons of individual awards for outstanding play.

Somewhere along the way hockey seemed to lose it's appeal. It wasn't just in Chicago.

The NHL watched as the Steroid era made Major League Baseball America's pastime once again, lucrative TV deals and corporate sponsorships saw the NFL become arguably the most powerful entity in professional sports, and the superstar names like Gretzky, Lemieux, and Messier were slowly ending their careers.

For Blackhawks fans, the players that made the team and the sport so exciting, especially for casual fans, left for other teams. When this happened the Hawks were just a shell of their former selves and were, quite frankly, an ugly site to see.

For myself and plenty of other fans, it was easy. We didn't need the Hawks. We could go watch MJ and the Bulls win another NBA Finals. We could go to either side of town and watch Sammy Sosa and Frank Thomas pad their home run totals. And we could go to Soldier Field and share in a mutual love for the Bears that futility could never kill.

I stopped watching hockey all together.

With hockey steadily losing its relevance for so long and struggling to still be mentioned in the same breathe as The NFL, MLB, and NBA, something happened.

NHL hockey slowly began to seep its way back into the consciousness of fans. The Winter Classic created interest in the game for fans who otherwise might not even watch a hockey game. The league created a great storyline around the wonder kids Crosby and Ovechkin.

Most importantly though, the Blackhawks had a terrific season and now they find themselves in the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 1995.

With this success, I noticed something very strange begin to happen: I started watching hockey games again...well sort of. 

Call it fair weather fandom, but the Blackhawks are actually good again and watching hockey doesn't seem so bad all of a sudden.

I may not give the games the same undivided attention as I do with the Cubs and Bears, but it sure does feel good when your hometown team wins. 

These guys are certainly not the Blackhawks of the 90s, but they can play.

Nikolai Khabibulin is aging but playing some great hockey. His 2.33 goals against average was tied for third during the regular season and he matched that same average during the Quarterfinal series against Calgary.

Former Rookie of the Year and right winger Patrick Kane is playing in just his second season and, along with Martin Havlat and Jonathan Toews, seems to be bringing the Blackhawks back to prominence. 

The wonderful thing about this team is that they are young. It's also a frightening thought as a series with the more experienced and defending Stanley Cup Champion Red Wings looms large.

In spite of the tough challenge ahead for this young Blackhawks team, there is one tremendous feat that they have already been able to accomplish this season: restoring interest in the Blackhawks all while captivating the city of Chicago.

Sunday night all eyes will be on center ice at The United Center. Will you be watching?