The Chicago Trip Review: NYR/Blackhawks Give Me One of The Best Regular Season Games I’ve Ever Been To, Chicago Fans, King Raanta, All Things Chicago, Old Style Beer, The United Center & More from the Clapdown in Chi-Town!

So I had pretty good seats for Blackhawks vs Rangers in Chicago!

What’s up everyone and welcome to the first of two blogs here, on BlueCollarBlueShirts.com, on this fine lovely Monday morning. After attending the Rangers/Islanders Lundqvist debacle on Tuesday night at the Barclays, I had a long work day and gave you a belated blog on that game. In that blog, I referenced “The End” by the Doors, when talking about Lundqvist. Who would know, as I write these words after the Rangers 5-0 win on Sunday night against the Devils, how prophetic I would be?

On Thursday morning, my good friend/neighbor, a one Mr. Tommy and myself boarded a plane to O’Hare airport in Chicago. Tommy is my partner in crime during my Ranger road-trips. We’ve both been to the Garden and have overpaid to be in the Garden so much, that it works out for both of us, that we each have a friend who has a bucket list of attending a Rangers game in every NHL arena. Some of my “real-life” friends think at times I exaggerate some of these stories, but I swear to beer & Talbot (I’m an atheist) that everything I tell you here is 100% true. You can’t make this stuff up! Tommy is witness to everything I’ve talked about in the past on my road-trips and with what I’m about to share here today!

It was 15 degrees when we took this pic in front of Bobby Hull’s statue at the United Center. My beer belly looks bigger than usual with all the clothing layering!

We arrived in Chicago on Thursday afternoon. After checking into our hotel, there was a bar/restaurant across the street called “The Park Tavern.” This place was a gold mine for us, as we met a lot of cool people there. The Rangers were playing the Jets on Thursday night, so obviously, we didn’t want to be stuck in a hotel room watching the game on my iPhone via the NHL package app. We found out that “The Ogden”, a Blackhawks/Bulls bar, located across the street from the United Center, had the NHL package. After making some moves, “The Ogden” told us that they would put on the Rangers game for us, despite a Bulls game and an NFL Thursday night game between two good teams.

After a nap, we made it to the Ogden despite several snow flurries in the area. The bar was nice and spacious. We ran into a nice couple, both Ranger fans, who were also in town for the game. We wound up drinking with them for most of the night and then met to pregame with them on gameday. It’s always nice to meet fellow Ranger fans on the road and hear their stories and travels.

As far as my thoughts on the Rangers 2-1 win over the Jets, I was nervous going into this game. I have noticed recently, because of all the Lundqvist stuff, that I have gained new readers to this blog. If you’re not familiar with my work, just check the archives, located on the right hand of the site. I’m not going to rehash everything here.

I knew Raanta would play this game against the Jets. I was more shocked that the Ranger reporters couldn’t figure this one out on their own. I told you this was going to happen a week ago. After all, the Rangers had a road-trip of two back-to-back against two tough teams. You knew Raanta would play one of them. I figured he would play against the Jets, because the Blackhawks were starting a back-up goalie and we all know how Hank always takes the easier game of a back-to-back. However, when Raanta was announced as the starter against the Hawks, I was shocked, but more on that to come.

Here’s something at the Ogden that isn’t at Hank’s house.

The Rangers would beat the Jets 2-1. Raanta was phenomenal. Kevin Hayes put the game away late, with a PPG. Like most bars near sports arenas/stadiums, the bar emptied out with 5 minutes left to go before the Bulls tip-off. Us Ranger fans mostly had the bar to ourselves, with some Chief & Raider fans there as well.

The best thing about this bar – hearing the bar play the Chicago Bulls theme song. It’s the best pump-up song in sports.  If you never heard it before, here it is:


If you haven’t been able to tell from my email address, BULLSMC@aol.com, I was a front running Bulls fan of the 90’s. While the Yankees & Rangers were big in my house growing up, the Knicks were not. In Long Island, we had WGN, plus the Bulls were always on the Turner networks. I couldn’t stand the Knicks much to be honest. Plus, in those days, everyone wanted to be Like Mike. Those 90’s Bulls were some of the greatest basketball teams alive. Even as a teenager, I knew I was watching the best player ever and the greatest basketball ever. Who wanted to watch Ewing fail like Lundqvist when you had Jordan on TV every night?

As I got older, I kinda got sick of the NBA a bit. Like most sports, it got pussified. Everything is a foul. Only the last two minutes of a game count. Only four teams realistically have a shot at an NBA title every year. The rosters change so much. I miss the old rivalries, like Bulls/Knicks, Knicks/Heat, Lakers/Celtics, Knicks/Pacers, Bulls/Cavs, etc. Nowadays, players just jump around until they can get around a superstar to carry them to a title.

I don’t know what Chicago used to be like 20 years ago. However, I can tell you what it’s like today. I stayed in a hotel 5 minutes away from the United Center, so I didn’t travel to Wrigleyville, where I’m sure there is Cubs shit all over the place. However, where I stayed was in the home of the Blackhawks & Bulls. There were Blackhawk bars, restaurants and stores EVERYWHERE. 3 Cups in 6 years will create business opportunities. I didn’t see one Bulls bar anywhere. Don’t know if it was because of the Blackhawks success or if it’s always been like that.

Then again, I think hockey & beer go hand-in-hand. I know from being at Ranger & Knicks games and talking to bar owners in NYC, that Ranger games bring in more business than Knick games do. Hockey fans drink more. It’s not even up for debate. It’s the same thing in Chicago from what I heard from talking to people. I just found it shocking that for a team that won 6 NBA titles, had the best player of all time and was one of the most successful NBA dynasties ever (They probably win 8 titles in a row if Jordan doesn’t play baseball) that there wasn’t any bar/restaurant/store that was specifically geared to the Bulls like you saw with the Blackhawks.

You couldn’t even find a Bulls hat in O’Hare airport, but you had a Blackhawk bar!

It was funny too, as “The Ogden” bar emptied out for the Bulls game, I would say 9 out of 10 customers were wearing the good old 23 Bulls jersey. When I was at the Blackhawk bars and the game itself, I saw about a million different Blackhawk jerseys with names from every era, whether it be Mikita, Hull, Chelios, Roenick, Toews, Seabrook, Sharp, Kane, Esposito or Crawford.

As we celebrated the Rangers 2-1 win against the Jets, I had no clue about the news I was about to wake up to on Friday morning.

KING RAANTA started and shut out the Hawks on Friday night!

When I woke up Friday morning, after meeting some cool people at the “Park Tavern”, with one of the guys even bringing me a 6-Pack of “Old Style” since we couldn’t find it anywhere else, I wasn’t expecting to see Raanta to be named the starting goalie for the night. When I saw the quotes from AV, I was smiling like a kid on Christmas.

When AV said that “Raanta gives us the best chance to win”, I was elated. However, this news is two years too late. Talbot should’ve been given the nod two years ago. I will always wonder what would’ve happened if Talbot started those playoff games (and if Zucc was healthy). We are seeing young hot-hand goalies carry teams to Cups. Whether it be Quick or Murray, it’s not these overpaid stalwarts winning Cups in today’s Cap Era.

I talked about AV and his goalie controversies during his career. I was amazed that he made a true statement by sending Hank to the bench where he belongs. In his NYR career, while AV did let Talbot go for three straight games (Two home games and a road, none back-to-back), AV never started a back-up goalie on consecutive back-to-back road games.

When I first booked this trip, I was hoping to see Raanta. I figured he would play because it was Chicago and Raanta had killer numbers in the United Center. Plus, it was his old team and players always have extra motivation to beat the teams that passed on them. Players don’t admit that now, but when they retire they do. Just look at what Anson Carter said on a recent “MSG Hockey Show.”

However, as the schedule played out, I figured Hank was going to get this game, as it was the easier of the two games. The Jets are hot and the Blackhawks were starting a back-up goalie. Right up Hank’s alley. I couldn’t believe what AV said. It was music to my ears. (All of AV’s quotes will be in my Rangers/Devils blog, so read that blog after this one!)

With Raanta announced as the starter, I was more pumped than that Bulls intro song! I was sitting third row next to the Rangers bench. I spent about $600 in all on this trip, and was going to see the goalie that gave the Rangers the best chance to win, not an overpaid and overrated Swedish mess! Everyone knows the goalies are better in Finland!

In the United Center’s 22 year history, they’ve seen 3 NBA titles & 3 Stanley Cups. James Dolan has just seen sexual harassment lawsuits and employed the longest tenured losing GM in Rangers history.

While the United Center is a young 22 years old, it was a nice arena around the concourse. The downstairs “bougias” seats need to be upgraded though. Most new arenas have wider/padded seats downstairs. Most new arenas even have cupholders upstairs. The chair you sit in downstairs is the same you sit in upstairs. There is no cupholder and it’s still tight. Most new arenas even offer waiter service in the first few rows. The United Center only offers waiter service in the front row. No big deal for me, but I could’ve used that cup-holder while Tommy & I were double-fisting Labatt Blues!

The seats at the United Center are not cheap for Blackhawk games. I was lucky to get a deal. Put it this way, for research for this blog, I checked to see what Bulls/Spurs tickets were going for on Thursday night right before game time. You could’ve sat courtside for $60. Those seats are five figures easily at MSG. The same seats at the Blackhawks game were going for 10 times as much as the Bulls game, and that was right before puck drop.

Whether it’s because it’s an original 6 city or because of the recent success (and recent Bulls failures), the Blackhawks have been the hottest ticket in Chicago (except for the recent Cubs World Series tickets) for the last several years.

What I loved about the United Center and Blackhawk fans was that 95% of the downstairs area was littered with Blackhawk jerseys. The same seats in MSG are full of suits eating sushi. The diehards are all over the building. It truly is a great hockey arena and was a great hockey experience.

We sat right next to Jim Ramsey. He even was throwing “smelling salt” packets at us as a joke. When the Hossa goal was called back, he gave a huge fist pump at us too!

Let me tell you – I may be the only person in the world that owns a Raanta Rangers jersey! This jersey was the topic of much conversation!

When we were pregaming at the “West End” bar, another bar located close to the United Center, a woman came up to me and was asking if she could take a pic of my jersey. I asked her if she was a Raanta fan too. She said, “Yes, because he’s my best friend’s husband!” She texted a pic of me to Raanta’s wife. I asked her to include that “Rangerstown is Raanta’s Kingdom”, but I am not sure if she added that!

In the bars, everyone was asking how could you have a Raanta jersey. I just gave them the link to this blog!

When we got to the arena, there was a drunk old man that made me think of Godfather 2. “The old man had too much to drink!” He was heckling us and calling Raanta “Chicago’s reject”. There was also four twentysomethings sitting next to us, who were probably just a day past the legal drinking age. They were going off on how much “Raanta sucks” and glad that “We got rid of that asshole.”

As I’ve always said on this blog – I’m not going to fight anyone over sports. These millionaire athletes don’t fight over my job, so I don’t fight over theirs. I mean if someone takes a swing, I’ll defend myself, but I don’t mind ribbing at a road game, but I’m not looking to spend time in a jail cell either over an idiot.

Tommy has a shorter fuse than me, so he would go back at these people, while I just bit my lip. I knew my moment would come. Needless to say, I didn’t realize I would feel like I went through a war to get to that moment!

King Raanta had his best game as a Ranger on Friday in Chicago

I’ve been to over a thousand hockey games in my life. You don’t remember them all, but several stick out. I always thought that Girardi’s OT goal against the Islanders several seasons ago, in a 1-0 win was my favorite regular season game. I thought about it more, then thought maybe the Dan Cloutier game, where he beat the shit out of the Islanders was my favorite regular season game. I saw Talbot vindicate me and my opinions, with several great games, even watching him clinch the President’s Trophy on the road in NJ.

However, Raanta’s 1-0 OT win is my new favorite regular season game that I ever attended. It was another game that proved that I’ve been right all this time. Hank is overpaid and overrated and you can win with a cheaper goalie.

I’m a big fan of the goalies, no shock to anyone that reads or knows me. Raanta & Darling put on a goaltenders clinic. Even better, they are good friends and had an embrace after the game. Both goalies were lights out and amazing.

I’m not going to get into the stats and the x’s and o’s. You already know what happened.

Personally for me, because I can’t stand Lundqvist & his contract and because I’m a fan of Raanta, I was rooting for him hard. With all these shit talkers next to us, I was pulling for Raanta even harder.

When Hossa scored a goal that was eventually taken back, these assholes next to us would not shut the fuck up. When it was called back, I did my own fist pump and released a “FUCK YEA”.

Raanta and Darling both made highlight reel saves. While Nash was out for the Rangers and Toews was out for the Blackhawks, both teams had plenty of opportunities to win this game. Both goalies were just phenomenal.

When the final horn went off after the third period, meaning it would be OT, I was happy the Rangers had the point and Raanta got the shutout. However, it’s a long walk from the third row to our hotel room, especially through that sea of red jerseys, so I wanted that Rangers goal badly.

When Nick Holden scored early, all these shit talkers quickly scurried up the steps like a rat abandoning a ship. For me, I finally let out a deep breath and was able to drink in the Gift of Raanta maaaaaaaan!

After the game, at “The Park”, Blackhawk fans congratulated us on the game. It’s amazing the difference between grown men and children!

For 60+ minutes, this had a playoff atmosphere for Tommy and I. We were in hostile territory. We were witnessing breath-defying saves. It was a pure battle on the ice and leave it to Nick Holden, of all people, to give the Rangers a 1-0 win. For one night, it felt like the hugest Rangers win ever for us!

After much celebrating on our way back to the bar across the street from our hotel, we made it back to the Park. As we talked about the game with people there, we had to admit we were jealous of the 3 cups in 6 years thing. We met a new friend there, Joey, who brought us some “Old Style” beer, just because we were fans of “Shameless” and wanted that authentic Chicago experience!

Speaking of an authentic Chicago experience, we also tried deep-dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s. Take a look at this:

A slice of deep dish pizza was so big, it even had a shadow

I’ve been home for two days now and I’m not sure if I shit all of this out yet!

Let me say, this was my first and last time eating Chicago deep-dish pizza. Chicagoans may love it, but my asshole did not. I still have a Japanese flag ass from eating this! Give me Rosa’s pizza from Penn Station any day. Eating a slice of this made me understand what Farley, Wendt & Myers were going through during those old SNL sketches!

I envision this is what AV is feeling like right now. Huge balls paid off for him.

After celebrating a huge Raanta and Ranger win in Chicago, Tommy and I called it a night. However, there was one more stop to make before boarding a plane on Saturday morning. It was “The Palace Grill”, voted the best place for breakfast in all of Chicago. Take a look at these pictures:

The Blackhawks eat there and the Cup has been here 13 times.

The steak & egg skillet

Owner George Lemperis was there and was friendly with us. He knows his hockey too!

Between the pizza on Friday and the best breakfast in Chicago on Saturday morning, I was ready for fiber when I got home on Saturday night!

I know I haven’t talked much hockey on this blog, as I’m saving the hockey opinions for the Rangers/Devils blog. I just wanted to share Chicago with you, if you’ve never been.

While Montreal has been my favorite hockey city to visit in my travels, Chicago was fun. If I ever go again, I will just bring sweatpants, so I can relax when I eat. I don’t know how people eat this stuff every day!

Chicago was full of great people and we met many of them everywhere we went. They love their hockey in Chicago and we had a good time talking the differences between MSG & the United Center.

Plus for me personally, I got to see all my words paid off with Raanta performing big time!

I’m not greedy, I just want to see one more Rangers Cup before my liver kicks!

While I didn’t have enough time to do the real touristy stuff of Chicago, like Wrigley, the Sears tower or the Navy Piers, I really enjoyed my trip. While staying in a hotel near the United Center is akin to staying in a hotel in the Bronx for a Yankee game, I had no issues and had a great time. Sure, the result and the way the result was attained heightened my enjoyment, but still, I have never seen the Rangers with Raanta ever lose on the road! We are planning to do the West Coast California road loop this season, so hopefully Raanta gets the call for those games too!

Stay tuned for the Rangers/Devils blog and for thoughts/opinions/analysis on the stuff on the ice & the recent decision to bench King No Cup!

Thank you Chicago!

Let’s Go Rangers!

Sean McCaffrey

BULLSMC@aol.com

@NYCTHEMIC on twitter

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