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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Winter Classic; Special Report

Happy New Year.

To celebrate the Winter Classic game being held here in Chicago, Jane Rickard and I are posting on each other's site a special series of articles, posted in a way that you can read from the top down.

Patrick Kissane
Jane Rickard

Rooftops ready for big game

The rink lies below, glistening in the sun. There is no ice there yet. That will come shortly. Already the Zamboni's have been dropped, literally, off the truck. On this morning, a cold wind blows. Looking at the stands for 41,000, you wonder how will those people survive this cold.

But Steve Alexander is happy. In the warmth of his rooftop club and the field across the street, his patrions will be able to knosh on cider, pizza and coffee inside, taking in the game as the weather allows on the rooftop deck. His arms wide, he says he is ready for the Winter Classic.

A veteran of the Greektown restaurant scene, Alexander says the rooftop gig has been the best place to work ever. He glides over to a wall, his speech is rapid and his excitement is viral, “here are pictures from the 1970's with the owner,” he says. He hardly allows a moment to examine the photos on the wall before racing elsewhere, the food is usually prepared outside in the summer he explains, talking rapidly.

“But, in January that won't be possible,” he explains, as he shows off the kitchen where the chili, mac and cheese and other winter favs will appear. “The staff is excited,” he explains, racing to the roof along a rear stair.

At the top of the stair, downtown glistens in the distance and an el train rumbles beneath us. Alexander is on the other side of the roof. Talking about what his guests will be seeing. Wrigley Field, frozen in snow and ice lies across the street and below. A rink runs from first to third base. It is quiet. A moment that is frozen.

Alexander is quiet for a moment, then his boots begin crushing the snow, “it will be 45 F here this weekend and this stuff will all melt,” he predicts. “Come here and look at this,” he is bursting with enthusiasm. Another kitchen, this is the summer kitchen. “And, we'll hang televisions from these poles too.”

Alexander rushes down a stairwell. Gasping to catch him, the sub-zero air is stinging my lungs. Alexander is a huge sports fan. At first, he says he doesn't understand hockey, but as he talks, he goes into a long discussion of the effects of constant hits on the player's body. He talks about Chicago Blackhawk players and Chris Chelios, the kid from the hood who did good.

“His parents were mall walkers and stopped by mom and dad's stand in the mall,” he explains. The old Greeks liked to talk to each other and grab a bite. They'd talk about their kid in the hockey league, Chris. Chelios, I explain, was assigned to the AAA Grand Rapids Griffins for conditioning. He might not play on New Year's Day. “Oh, too bad.” For a moment, Alexander is reflective.

He begins to talk again about the Cubs and the blessing of the business having this extra day of business. The city council had just approved the sale of tickets by the rooftops at its previous session. Although he had sold out, Alexander explained that prior to the approval, everything was tentative.

The poor economy is having its effect here too. Although Alexander has sold out, he says that some of the rooftops had tickets on the 20th. Tickets up here cost $300.00 USD each. For that the rooftop clubhouse Alexander runs opens an hour before the game till an hour after the game. All the food and beverage is provided.

The effort to be ready is exhausting. Alexander fields calls during the interview from supplier after supplier, arranging for the delivery of food, beer, soft drinks and other supplies. “Excuse me,” he apologizes, “I have to take this.” It is non-stop and there are more than ten days to go yet.

He says the rooftops host parties during concerts too, but that the view is terrible and it is by invitation of the owner (no income) for friends and clients. “We had to take the weather into consideration,” he says. He looks at the stands across the street. “People will be freezing if they stay outside long in this weather. They'll probably be going up (to the roof top view) and down (to the warmth of the clubhouse) a lot,” he predicts.

The building, originally a three-flat, was gutted to the walls. A similar project is occurring immediately next door. Inside, the walls are brick and mortar. Large windows keep the noise of the el train out, while pictures from Cubs history adorn the walls. Basically several floors of restaurants with bleachers on the top deck, only one apartment survives, on the first floor. And NO, you may not invite yourself up to the deck if you rent the apartment.

In the early days of Wrigley Field, the owners and tenants came up on the roof with lawn chairs and grills. Television gave the rooftops their romance, showing the rooftops and their occupants. It is a romance the National Hockey League hopes to capture. A little snow, some pictures of the rooftops with some cold people on them, and the ivy. You can see it now, in your minds eye.

Outdoor hockey at this level is about romance. The romance of a game played on ice. The romance of professional players, returning to their roots. It is a romance of the neighborhood kid, scoring the game winning goal or making the glove save at a critical moment-- at least in his head.

45 Years Ago in Wrigleyville

Sports trivia: When was the last time a professional championship game was played at Wrigley Field? Who won it, Chicago or the visitors?

The answer is the Chicago Bears won the National Football Championship December 29, 1963, 14-10 over the New York Giants. The Super Bowl wasn't started till 1967. It was the last championship game the Bears played in until they won the Super Bowl in 1986.

The game was moved up to a 12:05 start by the National Football League after the Bears refused to move the game to Soldier Field. The NFL was concerned that the end of a long game could be played in the dark as Wrigley Field had no lights. Mike Crivello, age 26 at the time, lived about a block from Wrigley Field in the 1100 block of Addison. The morning dawned with a temperature of -8 F and winds gusting to 15 mph. Local radio reported that the Bears game was sold out and Crivello knew, from living in the area, that the city was cracking down on scalpers.

He headed out to mass at Trinity Lutheran Church with his wife. Passing the ticket office, he noticed a line for tickets. When he checked out what was happening, he discovered that the game wasn't sold out, but the remaining tickets were too expensive for Crivello. The ticket agent pointed to a man on the sidewalk, a scalper. “He'll sell you a ticket for face value,” the agent said, explaining that the weather was discouraging people from attending.

Crivello purchased three standing room only tickets at $4.00 each. It was a half-hour till game time.

Rousing his cousin Chris and another friend who did not make it, Crivello headed to the Waveland Avenue bleachers in his hunting camouflage. “It was cold and there was no food service in the bleachers,” Crivello said. The only protection from the wind and the bitter temperature in the bleachers was the men's room. Crivello remembers entering the men's room and seeing a man warming his bare feet over a heater.

Crivello remembers Giants Quarterback Y. A. Tittle's scoring first quarter drive. It culminated in a touch down pass to Frank Gifford. But the Monsters of the Midway, led by Larry Morris, hit Tittle as he was throwing later in the quarter. A second hit by Morris, on another play and Tittle's knee was injured. Although he finished the game, he was lost for part of the first half and he began throwing off his back foot for the remainder of the game.

Morris was able to intercept a Tittle pass moments after the second hit. His 61 yard return remains a Bears record. It setup a quarterback sneak touchdown by Billy Wade, tying the game. Going into the second quarter, Crivello remembers that the temperature was sending people home early. A Giants field goal sent the ball out of the stadium onto Waveland. A crowd of perhaps 100 people scrummed for the ball near the firehouse. The score was Giants 10, Bears 7 at the end of the half.

In the second half, with Tittle back on the field, Ed O'Bradovich intercepted a Giants pass. That setup Wade's second scoring run, giving the 14-10 lead to the Bears. Richie Petitbon finished the Giants chances when he intercepted a pass, the fifth Bears interception of the game, in the end zone with ten seconds remaining.

George Allen, the Bears defensive coordinator, received the game ball. Bears coach and owner George Hallas received the NFL coach of the year award. Morris was the Most Valuable Player. Among the other athletes in the contest were Johnny Morris and future Bears coach Mike Ditka. Crivello kept the game ticket and an aerial photograph of the game in a frame until last year when he gifted them to a football loving friend. “I still remember the ticket, SRO #96,” Crivello said.


by Patrick Kissane and Jane Rickard

Wrigley Field; a 2008 timeline

Even without a World Series game, Wrigley Field had a historic year in 2008. Can 2009 be as historic?
(A tip of the hat to wikipedia.org)

• January 13, 2008: First sign the sale of the Chicago Cubs by the Tribune Co. will be delayed past opening day.
• March 4, 2008: The Tribune Co.'s plan to sell the naming rights to Wrigley Field set's off a political storm.
• April 3, 2008: Landmarks Illinois lists Wrigley Field as among the state's endangered sites.
• March 31, 2008: A sculpture of Cubs great Ernie Banks is unveiled outside the park on Opening Day. A typo on the sculpture, “Lets Play Two” is corrected to read “Let's Play Two.”
• May 16, 2008: Wrigley Field season attendance passes the million mark.
• June 12, 2008: To celebrate the 60th anniversary of WGN TV broadcasting, the Cubs host a "throw-back" game, in which the first two innings are broadcast in black and white as they were in 1948. The Cubs and the Atlanta Braves both wear period uniforms, and for the day the Atlanta Braves revert to the Boston Braves. The Cubs win 3-2 in the 13th inning.
• August 4, 2008: When a tornado warning sounds, the stadium is evacuated. It is the first time the stadium has been evacuated due to severe weather.
• August 25, 2008: Wrigley Field, with a scheduled day game, becomes the first major league ballpark to activate instant replay technology, a few hours ahead of some teams that had night games scheduled.
• October 1, 2008: A school reform group threatens to protest state education financing by staging a protest, surrounding Wrigley Field during a Cubs playoff game.
• October 4, 2008: The Chicago Cubs finish their 100th season since winning a World Series.
• December, 6, 2008: the US Attorney accuses Illinois Governor Rod R Blagojevich of attempting to extort the Tribune Co. through withholding a state financial package for Wrigley Field.


by Patrick Kissane

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Wolves 4, IceHogs 1 in darkened action

The Chicago Wolves defeated the Rockford IceHogs 4-1 Sunday afternoon at the Allstate Arena. The scoring started when a turnover in the Rockford defensive zone left Mike Brennan and Jordan Hendry scrambling for the puck. Wolves wing Spencer Machacek came up with the puck in the goal mouth and slipped it past Chicago Blackhawk prospect Antti Niemi for an unassisted goal.

Sean McMorrow and Mike Hoffman came to blows late in the period. The 6’ 4” McMorrow, weighing 225 pounds, took down the 6’ 5”, 248 pound Hoffman. However it wasn’t a clean decision and the chirping between the two continued throughout the game and even on the benches during play. McMorrow, who has not taken to the ice since his bout in Chicago on the 13th, is on a Professional Tryout with the IceHogs. His 527 penalty minutes last season with the St. Hyacinthe Top Design of the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey (LNAH) was a career high. If the two take to the ice in the next game between the two teams, on Friday, expect more pugilism.

Tyson Marsh, who signed a PTO with the Wolves in November, scored the second goal. It was his first of the season. Marsh has four points with the Wolves in 15 games this season, and three assists with the Reading Royals of the ECHL.

Jamie Rivers continues to take body blows, throwing himself in front of shots. His numbers don’t show the effort he is putting into the play. He was largely responsible for frustrating one of the two failed Rockford power plays. Jack Skille, a Blackhawk prospect, was able to connect in a second period power play. Skille posted the most shots on goal for the IceHogs, with four. For the Wolves, Machacek, Junior Lessard and Joe Motzko had four shots on goal each.

Motzko and Colin Stuart were responsible for the other two goals of the game. Brett Sterling and Machacek posted two points each. This was the first start for Ondrej Pavelec since he was returned to the Wolves by the Atlanta Thrashers. The Wolves have four goalies on the roster, Pavelec, Brent Krahn, Dan Turple and Robert Gherson. Krahn, a number one draft pick of the Calgary Flames in 2000, was assigned to the ECHL Las Vegas Wranglers by the Dallas Stars, before being assigned by the Stars to the Wolves. Turple has a “hip injury” that is “not true hip injury” according to Hockey Future writer Holly Gunning. No word on why Gherson isn’t playing.

Krahn would be a nice pickup for the Wolves, but given the agreement with the Stars, don’t expect him to stay.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Recently this blog has been riding on the efforts of the other half of the team, Powderhornhockey. ChiTownDailyNews.org is running Jane's pieces there. And, hopefully, we'll soon be joined there by someone watching the Chicago Blackhawk affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs.

It is sort of a metaphor for the Chicago Wolves. I am annoyed and disappointed by the performance of the Wolves so far this season. In talking to the CTDN editor, Geoff, about the Wolves, he said to try to attribute the collapse of the team to something.

The funny thing is, the team isn't necessarily collapsing. They just suck. While they were in the hunt for a long time, the losing ways of the past few weeks have taken their toll and the team is now in fifth place, this morning, in the West Division of the American Hockey League.

Attribute it? How about poor performance in net. The net is guarded by Dan Turple and by Robert Gherson. Maybe I've never given Gherson much of a chance. I've thought he was in over his head since I first saw him on a North Division swing last season. Maybe that's unfair of me. Gherson has a 5-3 record this season, leading the team.

Turple played in Gwinnett. He really didn't shine in the ECHL and is having problems in the AHL. Yet, I think he is a better goalie.

Meanwhile, the defense has let these two gentlemen down. They are leaving chances for the side to side movement of the puck, lots of disappointment here. Brian Sipotz is the old hand, he's a disappointment this season. There is promise here, I look to Chad Denny and Arturs Kulda in particular. But you might disagree on that and point to Jamie Rivers. Anyway, the blueline is young and in need of work. Who is there to work with them? I'm not sure. The defense has never been a strong suit of the Atlanta system.

There have been some real nice nights on the blue line. The defense rarely gets a star of the game. The job of these guys is to stop the puck after all. And, there has been a few times when I thought, hey, real nice play out there tonight, why not give a blue liner a star?

Blue liners have gone down. They have sacrificed the body to block shots. Jamie Rivers comes to mind in that regard. (He's a bit controversial. I keep hearing other fans say he doesn't have what it takes. I disagree).

Finally, the guns of the past are mainly gone. So, everyone needs to step up to win.

And that's not happening.