CHICAGO – Patrick Kane listened to the question as he unlaced his skates after Tuesday’s morning skate at the United Center.
What do you make of the NHL preseason being so quiet? I mean, tonight’s game isn’t even on TV…
Suddenly, in a flash, the tables had turned, and Kane had become the curious interviewer.
“Do you know if it’s on the package at all?” Kane said.
Nope, I don’t think so.
“No? Really?” Kane said. “My dad was asking me.”
About four days after winning the Stanley Cup (OK, maybe longer, but it felt like four days), the Hawks dropped the puck on the preseason Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings. A mix of prospects and veterans filled the Hawks’ lineup for the first of six preseason games in advance of the regular-season opener Oct. 1 against the Washington Capitals.
“Guys like playing,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Whether it’s the first exhibition game, first regular-season game, I think there’s always that excitement in the air.”
But not on the airwaves.
Does this fact seem strange to anyone else? Less than three months ago, the Hawks won the Stanley Cup for the second time in four seasons and drew 2 million-ish fans to a raucous parade downtown. Yet their preseason opener was nowhere to be found, not even as a live stream on a computer.
Let’s scan Tuesday evening’s TV listings, shall we?
Comcast SportsNet: Twins at White Sox. Blech.
Comcast SportsNet Plus: Cubs at Brewers. Double blech.
WGN: “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” Don’t know, don’t care.
NHL Network: New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers. Hey, remind me again, which one of these teams won the Stanley Cup this summer?
Food Network: “Chopped.”
Sorry, I got carried away. I always like to see what’s on the Food Network.
The Cubs bumped the Hawks off of regular radio, too, which meant Hawks fans had to log on to wgnradio.com if they wanted to hear terrific play-by-play man John Weideman work his magic.
By far and away, hockey features the quietest preseason of any major sport. We count down for freezing month after freezing month until spring training arrives. We caravan downstate to watch Bears players line up in rows and stretch their muscles. And, yes, we’ll tune in en masse to watch the Bulls’ preseason opener because a certain MVP point guard is making his return from ACL surgery.
As for hockey?
Yes, fans are excited, and loyal ticket-holders will pack the United Center as they always do. But the level of scrutiny is nothing compared with, say, that of the Bears’ training camp and preseason slate. Nobody is going to panic if the Hawks struggle on the man advantage or lose a game here and there.
“I think that’s the way it should be,” said Kane, already in his seventh training camp with the Hawks. “These are times where, yeah, you obviously want to go out there and win the game, but you want to get better as a team, too, and work on some things as individuals to get better.”
To be fair, not every Hawks player is enjoying a stress-free tuneup to the regular season.
Twenty-five-year-old forward Ben Smith is competing for a roster spot. He is squarely on the bubble. This preseason means the world to him.
“I wouldn’t say it’s quiet,” Smith said.
What would you say it is?
“It is stressful. It’s exciting. It’s competitive,” Smith said. “But it’s just the way it is.
“To earn a spot, you have to bring your best every day and not really worry about what everyone else is doing. Bring your best possible you have that day. That’s what we’re all trying to do.”
We’ll be watching.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.