The home of the Chicago Blackhawks, the United Center, is my favorite location to watch a hockey game. Opened on January 25th 1995 with a matchup vs the Toronto Maple Leafs the arena seats 20.500 people, but when ticket-sales go well, up to 2.000 additional fans are admitted into the building with standing-room tickets located behind the last row of the upper level. The highest attendance at the UC was 22.378 on the 8th of June 1995 for a playoff-game vs the Detroit Red Wings. With an average attendance of 20.833 the Hawks set a new NHL-record in 94/95 at the United Center, and in the following season attendance sank slightly to 20.415. The record was broken by the Montreal Canadiens a few seasons later after the team had moved from the historic Montreal Forum to the Molson Centre (21.273 seats).
The old Chicago Stadium was known as the loudest arena in the league. The building was tiny, narrow and had had obstructed view from many seats. The ice-rink was also smaller than the NHL-standard and the arena definetly needed a replacement even though no United Center in the world will repapture the atmosphere you would enconter at the Chicago Stadium (which was turned into a parking lot next to the United Center recently). I myself never had the opportunity to visit the Hawks at their old home, but relatives of mine living in the area are full of great memories to the old barn.
As most new arenas the United Center has three levels with two levels of corporate suits between (and additional suits at the top of the arena, all in all 216 corporate suites). But still the arena has itīs own atmosphere and is just a great place to watch hockey. The fans, especially in the upper level, are really vocal and hard on their team (or the opponents). There is no more energetic place for the national anthym then at the UC, too, with the crowd roaring throughout the anthym until the singing is over and the noise-level in the arena is ear-shattering.
The 8-sided jumbotron is also the greatest in the league as far as I know it. No dumb crowd animation (at all in Chicago), just plain simply 4 screens for the game and replays and 4 screens for continuous statistics, just the way it ought to be (if I want to clap my hands I donīt need a cartoon-hawk to tell me to).
The music is also great at the arena, by far the best in the league and the best of any hockey arena I would know of. Almost no boring charts-music (wether itīs the "Venga Boys" or "Who let the dogs out?"), just a great sounding organ playing well-known classic songs. Atmosphere-wise this is worldīs above all other arenas.
Sadly the holy Hawks-world is broken into pieces at the moment. Bad management stripped the team of many of itīs former stars, wether it is a Jeremy Roenick or an Eddie Belfour. After 26 years with continuous playoff-appearances the Hawks missed the playoffs in 1997-98 and have only fallen deeper ever since. Only games against historic rivals, wether itīs the Maple Leafs or Rangers, result in an acceptable attendance. Ticket-prices were also spiced up by a good margin when the team moved to the new arena, management only forgot to lower them when the team started to struggle and turned from a NHL-powerhouse into a team fighting for position in the standings with the Nashvilles and Columbusses of the league. Itīs kind of the same what is happening to the Chicago Bulls right now. After years of sellouts and the best team of the world on the court with Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and the rest of the gang the team has turned into a joke ranking last or close to that in the NBA. For the first time in a normal lifetime the games are not sold out anymore and maybe a couple of seasons down the road the Bulls will also play in front of embarrassing crowds as the Hawks do at the moment.
The only exception to all this are games against the Detroit Red Wings. All games vs
the hated neighbours from Michigan have been sold out well in advance so far and for those
games the United Center turns into a real hockey arena at least a couple of times per
season. Thousands of Red Wings fans also come to those games from nearby Michigan and
besides the New York Rangers vs New York Islanders rivalry there is probably no hotter
ticket in the Nation Hockey League.
Tips for visitors:
If youīre concerned about tickets for the games in Chicago there shouldnīt be a lot left in your life to be concerned at all about, at least for the time being. I donīt think that you would have problems to get 20 tickets next to each other in any part of the arena on many nights with attendance-figures between 12.000 and 15.000 for most games at the moment. And with a high number of no-shows the typical game features a half-full arena at the best. As I already mentioned before the two or three games a season vs the Red Wings are a bit different and around christmas the crowds also tend to be a bit larger but for most games there shouldnīt be the slightest problem at all.
If you wish you can get tickets online at ticketmaster (link at the bottom of the article) or by calling ticketmaster (321-559-1212). The Hawks finally lowered tickets last season so you can get a lot of seats for as low as 15 dollars in the upper level. If you wish to smell the ice and see the angry faces of the Hawks after each goal against them you will have to invest 75 dollars for tickets in the lower bowl. The 2nd level, also rather close to the ice, cost between 50 and 60 dollars (behind the nets or on the straight). The lower level is still the fullest at most games thanks to the fact that more of the private fans sitting in the upper bowls cancelled their season-tickets compared to Chicagoīs corporations who just need the tickets for public relations-reasons. The season-ticket base has slipped to below 10.000 for the 2000/2001 season, a far cry from the early days at the United Center, when there even was a waiting list.
The arena is located a bit out of the inner city, approximatly 1.5 miles from the Sears Tower (picture taken from Sears Tower observation deck). If you take Madison Avenue right out of the downtown area you will end up at the UC. On your way you will also pass Cheliīs Chili, a sports-bar owned by longtime Chicago-favorite Chris Chelios. I donīt know wether he had to close his place after he was traded to the hated Detroit Red Wings but if his place has not been burned down by fans so far it might be a pleasent place to go prior or after the game.
Around the arena you will find more than enough parking-spaces for todayīs attendance-figues. Depending on the distance you want to walk parking costs between 6 and 15 dollars. Youīre going to a sporting-event, so pay the 6....
The official game-day magazine inside the arena is expensive and not really informative
on most nights. When I visited games in Chicago there were always private game-night
programs sold in front of the entrances for two dollars. If that is still the case I
donīt know, but priced at 2 dollars and with a lot of interesting articles and statistics
about the game they were definetly worth the investment. Itīs content that counts, not
Seating-chart of the arena:
Seating-chart provided by www.eishockey.com.
Links to the team:
Homepage of the team: www.chicagoblackhawks.com
German Fanpage: www.chicagoblackhawks.de
Media coverage in the windy city: www.chicagotribune.com