CHICAGO – Attention, Bears fans: Brandon Saad feels your pain.
The Blackhawks’ second- year winger grew up near Pittsburgh, where the Steelers dominate sports talk from the first day of training camp until the final play of the season.
Yes, Saad still follows his boyhood team.
Yes, he knows they’re 5-7 after a tough Week 13 loss.
Yes, he knows the Bears are in a similar, sinking boat.
“I can relate,” Saad said Monday with a weary smile.
Not only that, but Saad and his teammates happily can serve as your winter sports saviors.
The high-flying Hawks will return to the United Center on Tuesday against the Dallas Stars, marking their first game on home ice in more than two weeks. They practiced Monday at Johnny’s IceHouse West, where the pace was fast and the mood was light.
No point guard blew out his knee and was lost for the season. No bespectacled football coach abandoned logic and decided to attempt a long field goal on second down.
No baseball team tried to sell you holiday ticket packages because, um, well, just because.
This was merely an up-tempo practice by a team with more wins (20) and points (44) than any other team in the NHL. It’s the same team that has won two Stanley Cup championships in the past four seasons. It’s the same team looking to make it three out of five.
It’s the same team that is going to need to light up our dark sports nights once again.
“I think the pressure is good,” said defenseman Nick Leddy, a Minnesota native who welcomed the city’s sports spotlight after one of his favorite players, Adrian Peterson, trounced the Bears for something like 700 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. “It adds a little pressure on us, but it’s always fun playing in those big-pressure moments.”
Every team says this, but the Hawks actually believe it.
Clearly, the Hawks boast a huge base of die-hard fans that watch every period of every game and could rank their top three Brandons on the team without batting an eye. The Hawks’ incredible sellout streak, which is at 240 games and counting, proves that plenty of fans have not strayed or shifted their focus to other teams such as the Bears or Bulls.
But for those of us whose hockey fandom is more casual than crazed, particularly in the early-season months of October and November, now is the time to hop back on the bandwagon.
Grab a seat. Bop along to “Chelsea Dagger.” The Hawks will welcome you with open arms.
No self-righteous hockey hipsters here. The more, the merrier.
“Oh, yeah,” said Shaw, a fan favorite for his relentless playing style. “Last year was awesome to see – especially that parade. Two million people in the park. People coming from all over.
“Even when we’re on the road, sometimes we have more fans than the home team does. It’s great to see. I think Chicago fans are worldwide.”
It’s starting, then.
The Hawks’ recent road trip provided players with reminders of last season, when excitement swelled like water boiling on a stove. Every day was bigger than the day before. Every game seemed more electric, more exhilarating, more thrilling than the game before – until the final, most thrilling game of all, on a warm Monday night in Boston.
By the looks of things, this season might be even crazier.
“Last year, you’d go to other buildings and you’d see fans,” Saad said. “But this year is a whole ’nother level.
“[On Saturday] in Phoenix, they were cheering ‘Go Hawks’ louder than the other team. I think we all have fun with it. I think we all like that and we embrace that.”
When all else fails in our local sports landscape, we can embrace the Hawks.
• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.