Tuesdays With Hildy: Where's the Beef?



Rivalry makes sports fun.  You can have a rivalry that ends in people beating other people because of their license plate like the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, or you can have a polite rivalry like the Cubs and the Cardinals, who admittedly hate each other but who still manage to be fairly cordial about it.

The NHL has not been around as long as most major league baseball teams, but there has still been ample time to build up some rivalries - Boston/Montreal comes to mind.  A good many of these are cross-state or cross-region things like the Rangers and Devils (do the Isles have a rival anymore?) or the Ducks and the Kings.  Rivalries were easier to generate in days when there were fewer teams - the Blackhawks and the Red Wings are pretty much a lock in the rivalry department.  Expansion brought the Flyers/Penguins cross-Pennsylvania battle. 

The conference and divisional re-alignments of 1981 brought the Blues from the Smythe Division to the Norris Division.  They brought baggage.

Nothing Good's Come from Chicago But a Musical.

Oddly enough, the Blackhawks are the reason we're the St. Louis Blues and not the Baltimore whatchamacallzits.  During the 1967 expansion, the Wirtz family lobbied the NHL to give a franchise to us because of the regional component... and because they owned the Arena and needed someone to play there.  Like most dysfunctional family relationships, it stands to reason that we grew to despise those who were most responsible for our creation.

From 1974 to the end of the 1980-1981 season, the Blues and the Blackhawks were divisional rivals in the Smythe Division along with the Scouts, North Stars, Canucks, and with the moving of the Scouts, the Colorado Rockies.  Geographically speaking, which two teams are the closest to each other?  Yep.  St. Louis and Chicago.  There was already the underlying Cardinals/Cubs rivalry, so this was a natural fit for Blues fans to dislike the 'Hawks.  How do you get riled up about someone a few time zones away, like Vancouver?  No one cares about hockey in Kansas City, despite what Charles Wang wants you to believe.  The North Stars?  Really?  How do you hate someone from Minnesota?

On top of the regional issue, you have the playoff series record and divisional championship record.  Between the Smythe and Norris divisions, the Blackhawks have 4 division championships in the Smythe to our one during the regular season, and in the Norris they have 6 playoff divisional championships to our one.  It's rough.  Records and divisions both taken into account, we have lots of reasons to dislike the Blackhawks.  They have been a pain in our ass for longer than the Wings, and have been a stumbling block to our playoff success more often as well.

Their fans are also quite irritating.  The old-school Hawks fans could be seen falling from the railings of the Arena.  The new school Hawks fans are bandwagon fans who hopped off the White Sox wagon when they realized that they weren't going to win another Series any time soon, and the Bulls were in a long-term dry spell... and the Cubs aren't even worth it.  One winning season and now the Hawks are the next great hockey dynasty.  Let's see if that's still true a few years into Hossa's deal.  Some Hawks fans are actually tolerable and know what they're talking about, which makes the rivalry a good one... and a sense of humor and a game day newspaper helps too.

 

Everything Else in Detroit's Falling Apart... Why Can't They?

As much as I hate to just despise the Wings because they're good, I admit that plays into it a lot.  No one likes a team that seems to win every freaking year - no one really likes the Yankees, do they?  There's a sense of jealousy there to be sure, but also a sense of irritation.  What gives this team the right to lord their new "Hockeytown" nickname over the rest of the league, when no one would show up during the '80s drought known as the "Dead Things" era.  As is often the case with teams going through a dry spell (and it was true with the Blues as well), a strong new ownership group turns stuff around, hires people who know what the hell's going on, and start making a commitment to winning.  The Wings have a strong farm system, and despite the apparent mass exodus from Detroit this year (and not by just the players - *nudge nudge*) they didn't lose anyone that's going to hurt the team.  It's just so frustrating that the salary cap era doesn't seem to really bother them.  They were excellent without Hossa, and their inability to re-sign him probably didn't hurt them one bit.

The Blues have had less issues with the Wings than the 'Hawks divisionally speaking.  Really, it just stands to reason then that our issue with the Wings stems not from just their general ability to manage to win every year.  It stems from something we deal with one-on-one.  It stems from something that we're over-exposed to.

I am not one to rag on a team's fans.  I've been "the other guy" at the arena, and I've always been heckled - but maintained my dignity and been polite.  I've never overstepped my bounds and ragged on the other team, and I hate it when I see away fans heckled for supporting *their* hometown squad.  But when the away fans go out of their way to be obnoxious without provocation (Buffalo Sabres fans who I have seen picking on little 8 year old kids, I'm looking at YOU), then I have an issue.  Those fans make me dislike the team.  I have no reason to hate the Sabres, but I dread the two times a year I'm exposed to Buffalo fans who overrun the arena down here.  Leafs fans overrun Philips too, but I don't hate them.  I don't hate their team - they've always been more than nice, polite, and knowledgeable.

I can't say the same thing about a lot of Red Wings fans.  They have no sense of humor, and they have worse PMS attacks than the girls in my college sorority.  They say that they just "expect the best."  Year in, year out, they're used to it.  But that doesn't give them the right to cry constantly about little things.  That doesn't explain the complete and total lack of humor they have.  But hey, maybe actually having to work and experience highs and lows with a team give you an ability to laugh at yourself.  Some people get spoiled by success, and admit it - it can make them pretty insufferable sometimes.

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