Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Night At The Opera

Ok, so it was really a night at the Blackhawks game, but there are no classic comedies named A Night at the Hockey Game. Anyway, before the season started, I thought the Hawks had a legitimate chance to compete for one of the final playoff spots in the West. This belief was reinforced by the team's strong early play, when it won four out of its first six games. So, last week I made plans with two buddies, Vanilla Weiss and Marv Levy's Spawn (see Rule 4.2 of the Rules Governing Sports Writing (holding that all friends must be identified by goofy, fake nicknames)), to go see the Hawks in person against Vancouver last night. From that point forward, the Hawks lost two straight games in which they had two goal leads late. They also lost their leading scorer, first line center and starting goaltender.

Nevertheless, we decided to forge ahead with our plan. Whatever the Hawks have, its contagious. Spawn called in sick on game day. To add economic insult to injury (or illness), he is now stuck with an unused Hawks ticket because there's not exactly a sellers' market right now. Vanilla and I persevered.

The night started strong with a trip to Al's on Taylor Street. Not only is Al's the best Italian beef in town (fries too), but growing up, it was the only place my stepdad would ever go before a trip to Chicago Stadium. A Big Beef, dipped with sweet peppers, is pretty much required fare before Hawks or Bulls games. I was feeling pretty good at this point. (Mind you, I'm going to end up in at least one argument today about the relative merits of Al's and Mr. Beef because of this paragraph.)

The tickets were good too. Hockey is a sport that can be appreciated differently from many different angles. Our seats were 200 level, near the blue line. This is one of my favorite spots. High enough to see the flow of the game, but low enough to appreciate fine puck handling. Speaking of which, my favorite moment of the game was when one Blackhawk, Rene Bourque I believe, on a power play, made a between the legs drop pass while in the process of casually cycling the puck unmolested in the Canucks zone. After a brief moment, everyone in the area broke out laughing as we all processed the absurdity of the move. Anyway, good seats.

Things started going downhill, however, once the puck dropped. It turns out that theHawks' backup goalie, the Water Boy, Brian Boucher, has a few leaks. Khabibulin may only be out a couple of weeks, but the Hawks will be fortunate to win a game during that stretch. After Henrik Sedin floated in a goal early in the second period, on a soft dump in from just inside the blue line, the crowd unleashed a torrent of boos on Boucher. Why, I wondered aloud? The Hawks now trailed 3-0, but Boucher had stopped two-thirds of the shots he'd seen. (That's a little statistical hockey humor for you).

Seriously, the game was reminiscent of last season, and that's not a good thing. The Hawks took a ton of penalties early, and created a hole they lacked the firepower to dig out of. Actually, without Havlat, this team lacks the firepower to dig out of a pile of wet toilet paper. Anyway, when a fan behind me said, "The Hawks are lucky to escape the first down only 1-0," while there were still five minutes left, I knew we were in trouble. Sure enough, Brendan Morrison struck on the power play a minute later, and the rout was on.

Despite the 5-0 blowout, the mostly empty building, and the absurdly high ticket prices, the Blackhawks are still a pretty entertaining show. The fans roar for the national anthem. The loudest cheers of the night are reserved for the hot chick who goes last in the Shoot for Cash challenge at the first intermission. On this night, she was both hot, and missed winning 100 bucks by about two inches. The loudest boos are reserved for the guy who goes second in the same competition, stuck as he is between the kid and the hot chick.

It's still a lot like going to a Hawks game during the team's most recent flirtation with glory back in the late 80's and early 90's. But it's also kind of like being at a club too long. All of a sudden you notice that the crowd has thinned out and the lights are turned up a little too bright. Overall, it was still a good time, but it was also bittersweet. The experience reminded me of what once was, and how I keep hoping things will again be.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Al's and Mister Beef both have their merits. The bun at Al's is more substantial, which is negative one sense because it means you're eating more bread and less beef, and positive in another, because it means the bun doesn't decompose in a few minutes, like it does at Mr. Beef. Though that may sound gross, the bun-melting-due-to-the-au-jus thing is actually pretty awesome.
Al's fries are more of a skin-on variety, while Mr. Beef's are more traditional McDonald's type ones.
So it depends what you like. I like them both, but Mr. Beef was my first, and therefore I remain partial to it. And, it has an elegant dining room.
I admit that Al's has better hours, because Mr. Beef closes in the mid-afternoon, and there's an excellent Italian ice place across the street from Al's.

10:25 AM  
Blogger jamesmnordbergjr said...

Mario's Italian Ice On Taylor...Best Damn Italian Ice in Chicago!

12:39 PM  
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