The NHL Western Conference Finals Will Be More Than a Sport for Both Cities

Ross Maghielse@@MaghielseCorrespondent IMay 16, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 12: Head Coach Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings looks on from the bench during Game Six of the Western Conference Semifinal Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center on May 12, 2009 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jeff Grosl/Getty Images)

Not every one in this country is a sports fan. Even fewer are hockey fans. But now, in Detroit and Chicago, it doesn't matter.

Some people might still be in the dark when it comes to knowing what a blue line is, or how the icing penalty works. But the people of Detroit and Chicago know the Red Wings and Blackhawks are playing for a chance at the Stanley Cup.

There are times, rare times, hard times, when the world of sports becomes a second faith for people. A reason to smile. A reason to cheer. A reason to believe your city is the best city in the world, despite what the rest of the world says in response.

Detroit has the highest unemployment rate in the country. Once sound Fortune 500 companies such as Chrylser and General Motors are hanging by a thread. People are out of work, and constantly reminded of the bad shape of their city on every nightly newscast across the nation.

Until the channel switches over to ESPN and Barry Melrose is talking about the Red Wings. That makes Detroiters proud. That makes Detroiters believe, and forget. At least temporarily.

The Motor City's struggles are well known, and its nickname is about to become an oxymoron.

But Chicago has its struggles too.

Ask the people who take the floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange every morning how their lives are holding up. Or the near 74,000 homeless people on the city streets. Or the politicians and companies that are still reeling from the Rod Blagojevich scandal.

Times are tough in the Windy City.

But right now people don't care.

Instead, people are buzzing about the young duo of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The city is ecstatic over the revival of the Blackhawks and the ensuing Original Six Western Conference Finals match up with the Red Wings.

People are proud. In both cities. As they should be.

The other day I was walking out of Pizza Papalis in downtown Detroit and saw a kid, couldn't have been much older than seven or eight, with a fake beard attached to his face and a Thomas Holmstrom jersey on his back. His dad was wearing a UAW (United Auto Workers) hat.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to visit some family in Chicago. Michigan Avenue wasn't as busy and hectic as I remembered it. A city tour bus drove by and was nearly empty. I guess $45 to ride around on a bus for two hours just doesn't seem worth it anymore.

And then I saw him.

An elderly man tucked against the side of a brick building. Change cup by his feet, a worn out Sammy Sosa jersey draped over his shoulders (I'm guessing he found it in the garbage) and holding a sign which read "Toews for Govenor. Go Blackhawks."

I've spent my life around sports. But I've always been fortunate enough to have something else to look forward to, something else to be happy about and be proud of.

But some people don't. It's strange to think that a game can do some much. But it can.

When the Blackhawks and Red Wings take the ice for game 1 of the Western Conference Finals at Joe Louis Arena, these two battered Midwestern cities will be alive as ever.

Because to them, it will be more than a game.


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