Sunday may have been titled Hockey Day in America, but there was no better city in the country to celebrate the great game than Chicago.
As Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson said after his team’s victory, “In memory of [former Wisconsin head coach] Bob Johnson: It was a great day for hockey.”
Four of the top 20 college hockey teams in the country did battle at Soldier Field on a gorgeous day for outdoor hockey. The sun was bright – perhaps too bright – and both games were close all the way to the final seconds.
While those games were going on, the Blackhawks hosted the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.
When the lights were all turned off at the end of the day, Chicago was shown to be what residents have known for years: this is a hockey town.
Starting at just after noon at Soldier Field, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame took on the Miami (Ohio) Redhawks. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, which made for a bright ice surface and required a great deal of maintenance be done during the game.
Both teams came out with a lot of energy, and there was a lot of heavy hitting. One of the big hitters in the game was Blackhawks prospect Stephen Johns, a junior defenseman for Notre Dame. He showed good instincts with the puck, pinched well, and used his large (6-4, 235-pound) body well.
He has one more year of eligibility in South Bend, and might need a year in Rockford to adjust to the speed of the pro game, but there’s no question Johns is the kind of big, physical defenseman the Hawks need.
As the clock was running out in Notre Dame’s 2-1 victory, the puck dropped at the United Center for the Hawks’ mid-afternoon game against the Kings.
It took little time for the Hawks to jump all over the Kings; I left the press box at Soldier Field with five minutes left in the first college game of the day, and the Hawks had scored twice by the time Notre Dame’s coach met the media.
Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews scored just over four minutes apart in the first period as the Blackhawks took a commanding 2-0 lead to the dressing room. Patrick Sharp finally missed the posts/crossbar and scored his third goal of the season during a 21-shot second period; Sharp’s tally would prove to be the game-winner.
Mike Richards added two powerplay goals in the third period for the visitors, but Ray Emery was able to hold the Kings to two scores in the game. Emery made 25 saves in the contest and stayed perfect on the season.
Toews (one goal, one assist), Duncan Keith (two assists) and Seabrook (one goal, one assist) had multi-point games, and Toews won 13 of 19 faceoffs. Michael Frolik and Johnny Oduya were each credited with an assist as well.
As the second period wound to a close at the United Center, the puck dropped for the second half of the OfficeMax Hockey City Classic at Soldier Field, as two Big Ten powerhouses did battle.
The game between Wisconsin and Minnesota followed a similar script to the one being played a few miles to the west. Wisconsin took a three-goal lead to the dressing rooms after two periods, but Minnesota battled back to within one and had a number of great chances late in the game to tie the score.
Blackhawks’ prospect Justin Holl, a defenseman for the Gophers, had the primary assist on Minnesota’s first goal of the game. He was plus-one in the loss.
Three games. Each decided by one goal. Each in front of thousands of thrilled fans of hockey.
Indeed, on Hockey Day in America, Chicago proved to be one helluva hockey town.