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Blackhawks fans living through Golden Age of Chicago hockey

Updated: June 23, 2014 3:59PM



You realize what this is, right? You see what’s going on, don’t you?

While you freak out about whether Peter Regin should stay in the lineup when Andrew Shaw returns, while you agonize about whether Brandon Bollig or Jeremy Morin is the best fit for the fourth line, while you rend garments over a bad power play here or a lousy turnover there, just pause for a moment. Take a step back. Breathe. And realize what you’re freaking out about.

Not about untelevised games. Not about penny-pinching owners putting a minor-league team on the ice. Not about incompetent coaches, player discord, empty buildings or an indifferent city.

No, you’re stressing about which highly competent player is going to be on the highly effective fourth line of the highly visible defending Stanley Cup champions in a highly rated Western Conference final in which the Blackhawks have home-ice advantage. These aren’t first-world problems, people. These are 1-percenter problems. You are the 1 percent right now. You have it better than anybody. You have it better than any hockey fan in Chicago has had it. And you probably have it better than any hockey fan in Chicago will have it.

You are in the Golden Age.

This is it. This, right here. Four Hall of Famers on the ice in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith. Another Hall of Famer behind the bench in Joel Quenneville, soon to be the second-winningest coach in history. More star power in Patrick Sharp, Corey Crawford and Brent Seabrook. Gritty fan favorites in Shaw and Niklas Hjalmarsson. A budding star in Brandon Saad. Several elite prospects banging on the door.

This is the 1990s Bulls, only just starting out. This is the 1985 Bears, only every year. This is the 1960s Hawks, only better, in a bigger and harder league. This is Chicago baseball in the early 1900s, only you’re alive to see it.

Streets, bars, trains and office buildings are speckled with red sweaters. Madison Street quakes during the national anthem. And while most fans have been priced out of the United Center, they make up for it with parties, gatherings and work shifts built around Hawks games. The city virtually stops on a game night in the spring. Good luck getting another game on a TV at the bar during Game 2 on Wednesday.

This always will be Bears country, first and foremost. But it has become the new Hockeytown all the same.

And with Toews and Kane about to get massive contract extensions this summer, with Keith and Hossa signed until roughly the 37th century (and both probably capable of playing that long), with Hjalmarsson and Crawford locked up, it’s going to last awhile.

That doesn’t mean the Hawks are going to win the Stanley Cup every year. Hell, it doesn’t mean the Hawks are going to win the Stanley Cup this year. This isn’t the NBA. It doesn’t work that way in hockey. The playoffs are too hard, the sport too random, the seedings too meaningless. (Ask the top six seeds this year about that. You can find them on a golf course somewhere.) But the Hawks are going to be in the hunt for the Stanley Cup every year — something very few, if any, teams have been able to claim in the salary-cap era.

So get used to hockey in late May and early June. Get used to hockey season overwhelming the first couple of months of baseball season. Get used to the mental grind and the hair-pulling stress of the playoffs. It’s not going away any time soon.

‘‘I’ve known since I came to Chicago how lucky I was to play in this city and this organization,’’ Sharp said Tuesday. ‘‘And it just seems like year after year there’s improvements in some area. It just keeps getting better and better.’’

Look, it’s good that Chicago cares about the Hawks’ fourth line. It’s a sign of a young fan base — one that was on the verge of extinction six or seven years ago — that’s maturing, growing, learning, caring. So worry about the rotation of Michal Rozsival and Sheldon Brookbank at the sixth-defenseman spot. Dwell on whom Shaw is going to bump from the lineup. Stress out about who’s getting power-play time and why the Hawks can’t seem to blow anybody out in these playoffs.

It’s fine that you’re sweating the small stuff. Just try not to lose sight of the big picture.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkLazerus



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