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updated: 1/2/2012 11:13 AM

Hawks' McDonough wants back in Winter Classic

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  • It was Jan. 1, 2009, when the Blackhawks hosted the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field in a Winter Classic that "reinvigorated this franchise," according to Hawks president and CEO John McDonough.

      It was Jan. 1, 2009, when the Blackhawks hosted the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field in a Winter Classic that "reinvigorated this franchise," according to Hawks president and CEO John McDonough.
    MARK WELSH | Staff Photographer

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If the Detroit Red Wings have the best chance of hosting the next Winter Classic, as is being widely reported, Blackhawks president and CEO John McDonough would love for his club to be the opponent in what could be a rematch of the memorable 2009 game at Wrigley Field.

McDonough told the Daily Herald he has let NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman know the Hawks want to be involved in another Winter Classic either as a host or opponent.

"We would love to have it again, and Gary knows that," McDonough said. "We've had a lot of conversations about it.

"But I mentioned that to Gary as well, that we'd love to be an opponent."

The problem for McDonough and the Hawks is every team in the NHL wants the same thing.

"(Bettman) knows that there's a good situation here, but I think he also has a lot of other people campaigning for it as well," McDonough said. "Everybody wants it."

The Hawks have everything it takes to again be a part of the league's showcase regular-season game and its biggest event outside the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Hawks are a major-market team, which would satisfy television. It's a club that also features some of the biggest stars and most entertaining personalities in the sport, which would tie in perfectly should the NHL return for a third season of the popular HBO series "24/7."

Perhaps McDonough could slip Bettman an audition tape of the brilliant 2011 Blackhawks TV Christmas edition that went viral on the Internet.

McDonough "absolutely" believes a team's personality is a factor in the Winter Classic selection process and that the organization goes out of its way to showcase the personalities of players.

"We have an obligation to humanize these guys and have a little fun with it at the same time," McDonough said. "There is a lot of personality on this team.

"I think we treat our players well, but our players respond in kind. They have a really high get-it factor. We're the fourth sport in Chicago and the fifth team, so we have to be really humble, really hungry, really creative, really innovative, and we need our players to engage.

"That Blackhawks (Christmas) TV show, that's gone everywhere," McDonough said. "Our players received texts from all around the world. If you take a look at it, probably no one had ever seen that side of John Scott, Michael Frolik, Marian Hossa, Sean O'Donnell.

"People ask me how did you get them to do it? It's because of the relationship we have with our players."

Remembering Wrigley:

There are those who still consider the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field between the Hawks and the Red Wings as the best of the four games because of the historic setting.

"It was a lot of fun and something we'll never forget," Hawks center Patrick Kane said. "You think about Wrigley Field and a venue like that, you don't ever think about playing a hockey game on a baseball field."

Since then there has been a Winter Classic at Fenway Park. The fifth Winter Classic is scheduled to be played Monday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

McDonough believes the 2009 Winter Classic changed the way people viewed the Blackhawks organization.

"To me, that changed the DNA of this franchise, absolutely," McDonough said. "It was a mega-event that nobody thought you would get.

"It reinvigorated this franchise. It gave our fans a feeling that this is really something special that we secured. You look at the environment, no one ever envisioned a game at Wrigley Field. Ever.

"At the same time it was the highest-rated, regular-season game in the history of the NHL."

Hosting the Winter Classic helped jump-start the Hawks' now massive season-ticket list after years of indifference from its fan base.

"We had gone into the '08-09 season after not making the playoffs in '07-08," McDonough said. "We acquired Brian Campbell and secured the Winter Classic and all of a sudden our season-ticket base went from 3,500 to 14,000 without making the playoffs.

"We had a really good team that had been assembled here, but Campbell was a big reason and the Winter Classic was a big reason.

"I remember the day that we secured the Winter Classic, we had three straight days when those phones never stopped ringing for season tickets because it provided them an opportunity to go to the Winter Classic."

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock called the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field an unforgettable experience and agreed that it helped the Hawks take off as a franchise again.

"Playing here at Wrigley Field against the Hawks, I mean, they were a great team then and they're a great team now," Babcock said. "The way they did it, if you remember, it was kind of when Mr. McDonough had started here and from that point they've taken over this city.

"It's unbelievable what they've done. They're a marketing machine. So I thought they used that for a real spinoff."

Looking ahead:

The speculation is if the Red Wings get the 2013 Winter Classic, the game will be played at either Comerica Park, where the baseball Tigers reside, or at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

Make no mistake, the Red Wings want the game.

"I'd really like to have one in Detroit, but they don't ask me," Babcock said. "I'm

hopeful. We're a good franchise. We've got a good market. We've got a good brand. I'd like us to have one, but I think there's a whole bunch of teams in the league lined up for that."

The Hawks certainly are one of them.

"The No. 1 thing here is we want to host the Stanley Cup Finals first, but the Winter Classic would be second," McDonough said.

"Anywhere would be fine for us; we'd love to play in another game," Kane said. "I think it's a little unfair that Philly gets to play so soon after they played, two years after. Hopefully there's another matchup waiting for us."