Penkava: More on Blackhawks? Blame my mom

I know what you are thinking: Oh boy, here’s another Northwest Herald writer jumping on the Blackhawks bandwagon looking for an easy column topic. OK, you got me. But I just had to write this column because, well, it’s my mom’s fault. Let me explain.

My passion for the Blackhawks goes back to the late 1950s. It was my mom who really got me hooked on hockey. She was a huge Blackhawks fan, especially of Bobby Hull. We’d sit together in front of our Philco 17-inch television set watching the Golden Jet wind up for a slapshot as we tuned into Channel 9 and followed Lloyd Pettit’s voice around the rink. I can still hear my mom cry out, “Go, Bobby, go!” as I sat at my TV table munching on my Jay’s potato chips while sipping my awful-tasting Fizzies drink that was basically Alka-Seltzer with an overdose of Red Dye No. 40.

Yep, Mom was a Blackhawks fanatic. Although very shaky behind the wheel of our arklike Ford Country Squire station wagon, my mother could be talked into driving my brother, sister and I to Chicago Stadium to see some games. We always had cheap seats, but to Mom they were golden tickets. I didn’t know what was more exciting: watching the game, watching her watch the game or riding home as she endlessly cruised the side streets of the city searching for Route 14. Fortunately, we’d arrive home so late that we couldn’t get up for school the next day.

And speaking of school, when the Blackhawks couldn’t practice at the Stadium because of the Ice Capades, they would come out mornings to the Polar Dome in Meadowdale. Mom would pull us out of class to see them. We’d get there early and wait for the players to show up and get their autographs. Of course, Mom would always be on the lookout for No. 9 so she could hold the ice rink door open for him.

I remember one time she stood there as Bobby approached. He looked at her and said, “Here, let me get the door for you,” as he grabbed it and motioned her in. All she could say was, “Imagine … Bobby Hull held the door for me!” I couldn’t count how many times she told that story.

Then there was the time she encouraged me to sneak into their locker room when the Hawks were at the Dome. I did it, and got to see all the Blackhawks in their underwear, at least until Eric Nesterenko suggested I leave before Doug Jarrett hip-checked me into the parking lot.

Mom excitedly asked me, “What did you see?”

“They were all getting dressed for practice.”

“Really?” she gasped, “Did you get a photo of Bobby?”

Thus my mom became my Blackhawks buddy. When we weren’t watching or listening to the Blackhawks games together, we were playing each other on our table-top rod hockey game. We’d take trips together to Berwyn to visit Gunzos, the store that supplied equipment for the Blackhawks. She always got me something, especially when I said, “Mom, I think Bobby would want me to have this.”  

And so our lives would intertwine from one frozen season to the next. We saw the Blackhawks win it all in ’61. They defeated the evil Detroit Red Wings and the sinister Gordie Howe. That was the last Stanley Cup Mom and I saw together. Her number was retired shortly after.

When the Blackhawks won the Cup a week ago, I couldn’t resist writing about them. I could almost hear my mom urging me, “Michael, you have a column. Write about the Blackhawks. And don’t forget to mention Bobby.”

So there you go, Mom. And, no, I didn’t leave out the part about him holding the door for you. Even the Golden Jet knew when he saw someone special.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He still has his mom’s old Bobby Hull “NHL Goal Champion” banner hanging on his office wall. He can be reached at mikepenkava@comcast.net.

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