NHL Lockout Puts Freeze On Hawks Fan's Streak
SKOKIE — The Cal Ripken Jr. of Chicago Blackhawks fans really wants to see NHL hockey this season.
Bob Gertenrich hasn't missed a Hawks home game since Jan. 23, 1966 — a ludicrously long string of 2,188 straight games.
But he might not watch the puck drop at the United Center in the 2012-2013 campaign if the current NHL lockout continues. The work stoppage has canceled more than 50 percent of this season's games, including the Winter Classic and All-Star Game. The latest reports say the NHL and NHL Players Association could resume negotiations as early as Wednesday.
"Very sad and very annoyed," Gertenrich, 66, said of his feelings about the lockout.
Gertenrich's Skokie condominium is filled with Blackhawks memorabilia. He's had the same red Hawks winter coat for 25 years. He has a No. 50 Blackhawks jersey with his last name on the back. There are enough Hawks ball caps to cover an army of heads.
And then there are the ticket stubs — hundreds of them, including one from Game 7 of the 1971 Stanley Cup Finals, which the Hawks famously lost to the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 after blowing a two-goal lead.
Never married, Gertenrich had devoted a good deal of his life to Blackhawks hockey. During his streak, he's never missed a game, despite blizzards and broken ankles and wrists.
Even the death of his mother, Barbara, didn't stop him. She died during the early morning hours of Oct. 6, 1991. That evening, Gertenrich attended the Hawks' 4-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils at the old Chicago Stadium.
"I don't think she would have wanted me to miss it," Gertenrich said.
Gertenrich's dedication to the Hawks hasn't gone unnoticed. The team has let him hang out with players in the locker room and perform the ceremonial puck drop before games. Numerous TV stations have visited his home to document his dedication.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman left a voicemail at Gertenrich's home after he attended his 2,000th consecutive game on Feb. 3, 2010.
"The Blackhawks are kind of tied in with his identity," said Gertenrich's brother, Alan, 72, an Old Town resident. "A lot of people recognize him because of his loyalty to the Hawks because of his attendance."
Gertenrich has been retired from the restaurant business for 11 years. He goes out to dinner with Alan from time to time, and he has a sports TV package that occupies hours.
"But, with Bob, the Blackhawks are pretty much his life," said Marty Moltz, 68, a Rogers Park resident and Cook County associate Judge who's been a longtime friend of Gertenrich.
Moltz and Gertenrich expect the NHL to cancel this season. Gertenrich is especially disgusted because this is the second time in less than 10 years that might happen. The 2004-2005 campaign was wiped out.
But Gertenrich said he feels much worse for the Blackhawks' concession, parking and maintenance workers.
Gertenrich said he just wants to see a game this season because "it's the best game to watch live."
"This never should have happened," he said.