Preseason turnout illustrates Hawks' growth in Chicago

Preseason turnout illustrates Hawks' growth in Chicago
September 16, 2013, 11:00 pm
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(AP Images)
Nina Falcone

Jonathan Toews greeted a sold-out crowd on Monday night as nearly 20,000 fans continued to make their way to their seats. 

The United Center was painted red from top to bottom as the Blackhawks took the ice for one final scrimmage at their annual training camp festival. Despite being 24 hours from their first preseason matchup of the 2013-14 campaign, the city of Chicago appeared to be right back in regular-season form.

"We know we have great support here, it's pretty much sold out every single game we play here and it's a great atmosphere," Niklas Hjalmarsson said. "Every time we have something around the city there's always a big crowd, so we know we have great support. But a game like this when it's just a scrimmage within your own team, it's impressive to have this big of a crowd."

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But the type of turnout seen at the Blackhawks' festival is still relatively new. Since chairman Rocky Wirtz took over back in 2007, the hockey scene in Chicago has undergone a complete transformation. 

Throughout the last few seasons, the Blackhawks' fanbase hasn't stopped expanding, and the team's veterans have experienced the boom in popularity first-hand.

"We consider ourselves pretty lucky," Patrick Sharp said after his team's scrimmage. "Monday night, you get a big crowd like that to support us, they're cheering for big hits, they're cheering for goals... it makes you proud to be out there and makes you proud to be a Hawk."

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Those loud cheers will expand into Tuesday as the Blackhawks host the Red Wings. While it will be just a preseason matchup, the Blackhawks will have a little extra something to keep the adrenaline going as they face off against their longtime rival for the first time since their dramatic playoff series and since Detroit's joined the Eastern Conference.

"I think the intensity will kick up a little bit, I know there was some physical play out there today but I know there will be a lot more tomorrow," Sharp said. "(We expect) some bigger hits, some battles down low, stuff that'll get us ramped up toward Oct. 1."