(Image Property of Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)
June 25th, 2019, the Florida Panthers schedule was released. There was a particular date that was circled for a multitude of reasons. On January 21, 2020 the Panthers would meet the Chicago Blackhawks, in Chicago. Unlike the previous decade, this one had extra peanut butter, maybe even the nutty kind. Sure, there was always something a little extra when it came to the Cats vs. Hawks, considering within that time the amount of trades the two teams completed between each other. But, nothing like Tuesday night.
This night, was a celebration. A cathartic one at that. On November 6th, 2018 Joel Quenneville was relieved of his duties as head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks. After a decade of success, which included 3 Stanley Cups, it was time to move on.
Whatâ€™s important to note here is that while Chicago won 3 cups en route to becoming the first dynasty since the Detroit Red Wings, perhaps the biggest impact was the culture it created with the fans and the city. The atmosphere surrounding radio, blogs, learn-to-play programs, and the Winter Classic ushered in a new generation of hockey fans. Kane, Toews, Keith, Seabrook, and Sharp etched their names into Chicago lore. There wasnâ€™t a place you could go and not see a jersey.
Winning does solve everything.
Lots of buzz here in Chicago about Q's return. All respect for the man that helped them become a dynasty. Each reporter giving @FlaPanthers praise as they've taken care of their business.
— Nick Fairbanks (@prudentia0) January 21, 2020
On the other side of things, for those that do not know a lot about me, Iâ€™m from a small town outside of Chicago. I grew up watching, playing, and loving hockey. I unfortunately was apart of the generation that never saw the Hawks on television because the owner at the time thought it would make fans want to attend a live game. So, in place of Chicago, I was a Vancouver fan. The 1994 Stanley Cup finals cemented the fandom in me, well Pavel Bure had a lot to do with it. But during that time, it wasnâ€™t the cool thing to like hockey. Not a lot of people understood it, nor were interested in investing time to giving it a chance. I held a grudge, for quite some time.
The Blackhawks went from a team that no one knew about and barely supported (look at their attendence numbers in the early 2000s) to the toast of the city and the league. Those same people were all about the Hawks and claiming theyâ€™ve been a fan since they were born. Being the hockey fan that I am, I would challenge their fandom and ask questions that I knew they wouldnâ€™t know. I would leave them embarrassed, and I would regain some of the pride I lost when I was younger.
That all came to a head on Tuesday night. As the Chicago Blackhawks revealed their gracious and dearest thank you to Quenneville, the crowd roared. The standing ovation lasted minutes after the tribute ended. The resounding “Q!” was such a warm and touching feeling that even Quenneville felt it. Qâ€™s emotion resonated with me. It was time to let go. Much like Q, moving on and cherishing the memories he had in Chicago with no bad blood, I too, had to wash my hands of this grudge and look forward to what could be an exciting time in South Florida. If Q can do it, especially after something so special, then I can as well. This however, didnâ€™t stop me from letting everyone in section 312 know they had a die-hard Pantherâ€™s fan in their midst.
The Panthers did their part and got Q the win in his return. This was their second game of a back to back, with as much emotion as there was in the United Center, the team pulled through. In doing so, they put 4 points of separation between themselves and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Although it was an important night for himself, the importance of the game was echoed by Quenneville in his pregame chat with the press:
“Never brought it up,” Quenneville said with that infectious Quenneville smile. “Got a hockey game tonight. Both teams are excited about where theyâ€™re at going into the break. Itâ€™s a very meaningful game to sustain momentum.”
It was a fitting end to a couple of stories that night. Quenneville cements his legacy as arguably the best coach in Chicago history, only to possibly become as big of a name in South Florida as Don Shula and Pat Riley. Time will tell, weâ€™re just getting started.
For those of you who have been following along on Twitter:
— Nick Fairbanks (@prudentia0) January 22, 2020
Thanks for reading this article! You can follow along with Panther Parkway @pantherparkway on Twitter! You can also follow our writers: @FrankRekas, @Josh_LOPanthers, @CF3234, @JacobWinans8, @prudentia0, @Spencer_hoag, @Mister_Joester! Make sure to follow and listen to our podcast @LOPanthersPod All images unless otherwise noted are courtesy of @KimSmithImages