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Congressman Mike Quigley

Representing the 5th District of Illinois

ESPN Chicago: 'Hockey should be for everybody'

Oct 21, 2014
In the News

The following article appeared in ESPN Chicago on October 21, 2014. A link to the article can be found here.

Hockey On Your Block

Program director Ray Lilja talks with youth hockey players in the Hockey on Your Block, which provides equipment, ice time and instruction for free.

By Scott Powers

CHICAGO -- Isaiah Douglas skated with the puck up the right side of the ice, put himself in shooting position and propelled the puck past the goaltender just as the Hockey on Your Block session came to an end at Johnny's IceHouse West on a summer evening.

While others moved to the center of the rink, the 14-year-old Douglas wasn't done enjoying his goal. He practices his skating and shooting, but he also puts time into his celebrations. Douglas skated away from the net, dropped to both knees and punched the air as he skidded on the ice.

"I'm a big Patrick Kane fan," Douglas said. "I do the heartbreaker. I'll ride on one knee. I do all of his celebrations."

Hockey Player

Fourteen-year-old Isiah Douglas "eats, sleeps and drinks" hockey, says his father Mike.

Douglas, who is black, could only dream of living out such hockey fantasies not too long ago. He owned a stick and in-line skates and played street hockey with friends, but he didn't have access to an ice rink and didn't own any other equipment.

Spreading hockey to every neighborhood and giving every child a chance to lace up a pair of skates, grasp a stick and strike a puck still faces some of the same challenges it did decades ago. Access to rinks and ice time are still major obstacles, and hockey equipment and the cost of playing in youth leagues are still a financial burden for most families.

There are people in Chicago trying to counter that. The efforts made in the city have been minimal in the past, and it has fallen behind other major cities where growth in youth hockey diversity has been substantial, but the push for greater change has picked up in recent years due to the Chicago Blackhawks, more diversity programs, the arrival of more high-profile minority players, and an Illinois politician and others who have taken up the cause.

Strides have been made in diversifying the game and can be seen by the increased number of minority players throughout the NHL. From 1957 -- when Willie O'Ree became the the NHL's first black player -- to 1995, a total of 27 black players played in the league. Since then, almost 50 black players have played in the NHL. Last season alone, 43 minority players, including 22 black players, secured NHL roster spots.

"I think when I started I obviously looked up to guys like Grant Fuhr, that I was fortunate to play with," said former Blackhawk Jamal Mayers, who played 15 seasons in the NHL from 1996 to 2013 and is now an NHL Network analyst. "Tony McKegney had a long career. But there were very few examples of people of color, diversity, guys you could tell were not mainstream playing the game."

A total of 60 minority players had made it to the NHL when Mayers began his career in 1996. That number grew to 142 by 2013. Minority players made up nearly 5 percent of the NHL last season, when there were 42 minority players in the league and another 27 minority prospects in teams' systems.

At the grassroots level, hockey is being introduced to more kids from all socio-economic backgrounds.

"The game has caught on in a lot of different areas and different markets," said former NHL player Eddie Olczyk, who is the Blackhawks television color analyst and is involved with youth hockey. "I know from our camps we've had people from all different walks of life. We had kids come from the Cayman Islands that were at the camp, kids from Europe, kids from the inner city. We've had all young people come through, boys and girls.

"That's great to see. It's about opportunity and being exposed to it. They're all hockey players. That's the great thing. Regardless of where they're coming from, smaller areas in the city or the suburbs or from the Cayman Islands, they're all hockey players."

It's certainly different than when Vince Carter, who is black, was growing up on Chicago's South Side in the 1960s and '70s. Carter played outdoor hockey when he and his friends flooded tarps during the winter, but his hockey opportunities never reached beyond that. Aside from not having access to a local ice rink, Carter faced another issue, that most people simply didn't think he liked hockey because of the color of his skin.

"Nobody ever asked us," said Carter, who coaches varsity boys basketball at Von Steuben High School in the Chicago Public League and is a retired teacher. "People just assumed black people didn't like hockey. I'm not trying to knock anybody. That's the way it was."

That's no longer the case in many places. In cities like New York, Philadelphia and Washington, programs have grown to the point where they're able to assemble youth teams comprised solely of minority players.

Hockey is alive in many communities where it hasn't been in the past, and Chicago is looking to follow that trend.

"I had read some stuff that Arthur Ashe had said, and I'm paraphrasing, it was along the lines of he heard tennis was called a country club sport," said Mike Quigley, a congressman representing Illinois' 5th District, which includes part of Chicago. "His point was that shouldn't be the case; it should be for everybody. So hockey should be for everybody.

"The NHL says hockey is for everybody. Well, if it is, then we have to deal with the access issues. And there are particular hurdles with hockey, golf and tennis and so forth. I think every kid should be able to try the sport they like. That just takes extra work because most kids do what they have in front of them. All you need with basketball is sneakers. You can borrow a ball and just join in a game, there's a court. Hockey requires ice time, which is expensive, and very expensive equipment and very expensive training to go along with that. The NHL says hockey is for everybody, so then let's prove it."

GAME OF MEANS

Imagine you're loading a shopping cart for a hockey player. Toss in the skates. Grab a helmet and mouthpiece. You need a stick and gloves. There are the shoulder and elbow pads, protective cup and shin guards to purchase. Don't forget the socks and pants. A bag to put everything in would be helpful as well.

Even for low-end used equipment, the cost is at least a few hundred dollars. For quality and new equipment, the price can escalate into the thousands.

"It's still an expensive sport," said William Douglas, a journalist who publishes Color of Hockey (and no relation to Isaiah), a blog devoted to minority hockey players. "It can cost anyone from a couple hundred bucks to thousands of bucks. I know when I'm playing, and I'm playing old men's beer hockey, I'm wearing $3,000 [worth of equipment]. The expense is a great hurdle.

"Hockey has to do something about the expenses -- the cost of the equipment, the cost of joining teams. I don't have an answer for it. That's what needs to be fixed."
Equipment is just the first cost. The next part is finding instruction and getting into a house league. None of it is exactly cheap.

McFetridge Sports Center, which holds the Chicago Park District's lone indoor ice rink, offers a youth hockey league; it costs an individual $700 to $875 to join. That's a deal too, according to McFetridge hockey coordinator Brad Czachor.

"I think we're more of an interesting dynamic than some of the travel teams or the teams that play at Johnny's IceHouse or in the suburbs," Czachor said. "Hockey is an expensive sport, just the cost of the programs, the equipment. Our fees are minimal compared to what they could be elsewhere."

McFetridge isn't having trouble filling those spots either. Czachor said he'll have 200-plus kids on teams this year and had to go to a wait list for the first time in nine years.

"Again, it comes down to the bottom line, to cost, exposing it to them and then giving the opportunity," Olczyk said. "I know a lot of families who would want their kids involved in hockey from all ranges of financial income. They look at the cost -- $1,200 to play hockey or $150 to play lacrosse. We need more cooperation from local rinks in ice time. Instead of gouging a lot of different customers, there needs to be something to give kids an opportunity to get out there."

FINDING ICE

Rep. Quigley and Hockey On Your Block

Illinois congressman Mike Quigley, a hockey player himself, is one of those leading the push to diversify the sport in Chicago.

Public basketball courts are easy to find in Chicago. Most parks still have at least one baseball diamond. Even finding a tennis court in the city wouldn't take much time.

Locating a hockey rink, that's a different story.

The Chicago Park District owns eight ice rinks, but just one of them is indoors and open year-round, the McFetridge Sports Center on Chicago's North Side. Even there, the ice time is hard to come by because there's just one sheet of ice and it has to be divided among youth and adult hockey leagues, figure and synchronized skating and instructional classes.

The Chicago Park District is building another indoor rink, on Chicago's South Side, and it is expected to open in 2015. Even with two indoor ice sheets, that's just matching what a lot of surrounding suburbs already have. For example, Fox Valley Ice Arena in Geneva, Illinois, has two large rinks.

Neither of the area's main diversity hockey programs -- Hockey on Your Block and Hockey Is for Everyone -- are run out of the Chicago Park District. Hockey on Your Block uses donated ice time from Johnny's IceHouse owner Tom Moro. The Amateur Hockey Association Illinois has Hockey Is for Everyone programs at rinks in Homewood and Crystal Lake.

Evanston Youth Hockey Association director Delayon Morris knows firsthand how difficult access and affordable ice time can be. He's always pushing for more free ice time in his complex, but there are limitations.

"I feel like doing more hockey-for-free days [would help]," said Morris, who also works with the NHL's Hockey Is for Everyone program. "We did two hockey-for-free days last year and they were a great success. I think we had about 30 or 40 kids out each time, and they were just trying hockey for free. I think the more we can do things like that and of that nature, the better it would be.

"I think we've definitely seen improvement in diversity in the game. Be it diverse girls, races, ethnic background, I think it's definitely growing. I think there's also a lot that can be done that is not being done for that same diversified game. I feel like rinks are so expensive to run and fees are so high that it's pretty difficult without grants and stuff to get those kids on the ice who might enjoy the game but can't afford to play the game."

One of Quigley's favorite stories to share about ice rinks and the opportunities they create is one he was told by a New York congressman.

"Brian Higgins from Buffalo told me when he grew up in Buffalo they had an outdoor rink," Quigley said. "It was closed much of the year, and then they put a roof over it. One of the first kids to enjoy that roof? Pat Kane. If they don't have a roof over that rink, maybe you don't have Pat Kane in Chicago. ... It's so tough. There's a lot of hurdles. But gosh, it's worth it.

"We could have missed the next Wayne Gretzky. Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky changed the game. Because of lack of diversity, we've missed opportunities for countless others, and probably others who would have changed the game. Jackie Robinson was a multisport star too. I look to that in the future."

INNER-CITY PUSH

Hockey On Your Block

Coaches Craig Loss and Adam Reninger lead the players through a drill during a Hockey on Your Block session.

Youth hockey players and coaches occupy nearly the entire sheet of ice.

About 35 kids and a couple of dozen instructors are on the ice all together at Johnny's IceHouse West in late July. The kids range from kindergartners to teenagers. There are boys and girls, black, white, Hispanic and Asian.

Some kids can barely skate and others fly around the ice. The players are divided into beginner, intermediate and advanced groups, and all are learning to play hockey at no cost.

This is exactly what Quigley and Ray Lilja, a longtime hockey coach, had in mind when they began discussing ways to spread hockey in Chicago. Their program, Hockey on Your Block, is the most significant inner-city push to diversify hockey in Chicago. Through assistance from the Blackhawks, Johnny's IceHouse, donations and volunteers, the organization is able to provide players free equipment, ice time and instruction.

"I always had an interest in an inner-city program because hockey has always been a huge part of my life, and I thought it would be kind of cool to have other kids who did not had the opportunity to play this sport get a chance to try it," said the 60-year-old Lilja, the organization's executive director and a hedge fund manager by day. "Congressman Quigley and I got together about three years ago. We decided that you know what? Let's give back to the community and start a program since Chicago is the only city in the NHL, large city in the NHL, that didn't have an inner-city kids program. We decided this would be perfect for this city. Luckily, the Blackhawks embraced us and said we'll support you guys all the way."

What Quigley and Lilja discovered when they first opened the doors for the program was that they didn't have to go searching for diversity.

"We didn't have to say let's make sure we get a certain percentage of Hispanics or blacks," Lilja said. "This is just what happens when you put it out there. We got everything here -- Middle Eastern kids, Japanese, Chinese, the whole gambit.

"What's funny is they get on the ice, they put their helmets on, they put their jerseys on and their equipment and you can't really tell much what nationality they are anyway. That's the good thing about it. You know what, we're out here, we're hockey players. That's what we have in common. The diversity is just what happens naturally."

Mike Douglas was among the family members watching from the stands at a recent Hockey on Your Block session. His 14-year-old grandson, Isaiah, skated among the advanced players.

"This guy, he just loves it," Douglas said of his grandson. "I think he eats, sleeps and drinks that stuff. He's talking so much about trying to become a pro when he gets older and everything else. He loves it.

"I think it's a great thing to see minorities in the skating rink doing hockey practice and doing hockey, especially little kids. The adults, that's fine. At least it's getting to the kids now where they can spread it out and talk to other kids, other minorities about it. Let people know how fun it is, entertaining and everything else. I think it's a positive thing, very positive."

In the past, Hockey on Your Block was limited to only summer sessions due to ice time constraints. That will now change; Moro announced Hockey on Your Block will have year-round access to a new studio rink that was recently added to Johnny's IceHouse West.

"Hockey is kind of a rich sport," Moro said. "It's an expensive sport. Because of that, it really is difficult for certain economic-situation kids to be able to even try the game. Our studio rink will really belong to Hockey on Your Block. We're on the West Side of Chicago. We really want to give the opportunity for kids who live around us and different parts an opportunity to try the game. That's the main motivation. From our standpoint, it's a no-brainer to get kids involved and exposed to the game we love."

THE SUBURBAN PUSH

Brit Volini has had families begin lining up as early as 3 a.m. outside Homewood-Flossmoor Ice Arena to ensure themselves a spot in the Hockey is for Everyone program.

The program, which is sponsored by the Amateur Hockey Association Illinois, the NHL and the Blackhawks, provides equipment and a free weekly hockey clinic at Homewood-Flossmoor Ice Arena in Homewood, Ill. and Crystal Ice House in Crystal Lake, Ill. The program, which has been around for about 15 years, is the longest running in Illinois.

"We don't discriminate, period," said Volini, who is chairman for Amateur Hockey Association Illinois' Hockey Is for Everyone. "We don't care where you're from. We don't care who you are. We take first-come, first-served. We open the doors at 6 a.m. and take the first 80-100 kids. We have people lining up at 3 a.m."

The program is designed as a starting point for newcomers. The program's goal is to introduce new players to the sport, get them hooked and move them on to youth leagues. Volini said the program attracts kids from the suburbs and Chicago and from various races, and has had close to 1,000 participants over the past five years.

The NHL began its Hockey Is for Everyone program 15 years ago and now sponsors 37 programs throughout the United States. NHL vice president of community affairs and diversity programs Ken Martin said many of the nationwide programs also have an education component, and it's something he hopes to grow within Chicago. The NHL's objective is for more cities to duplicate what the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation has done in Philadelphia.

THE PROGRAM TO FOLLOW

NHL Commissioner

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, right, talks with Flyers owner Ed Snider before the ribbon-cutting for the refurbished Laura Sims Skate House in 2011. Snider matches every dollar donated to his youth hockey foundation.

Money enables the opportunity to play hockey.

Facilities require money. Ice time requires money. Equipment requires money.

Flyers owner Ed Snider and his foundation have provided the money in Philadelphia.

"You're not going to build an organization like ours unless you have a committed owner and board where they put their money where their mouth is," Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation president Scott Tharp said.

The Ed Snider Youth Foundation laid down $14 million to renovate ice rinks in Philadelphia. It spends $3 million annually in operating costs. It will pay $100 million to the city of Philadelphia over the course of 30 years to license public rinks. Snider also matches every dollar donated to the foundation with $2 of his own.

"In many ways, [Snider] feels this program is what he would like to be his true legacy, providing opportunities for children who otherwise would never be able to participate in an otherwise nontraditional inner-city sport like hockey," Tharp said.

That legacy started in 2005 with a simple beginners program run in conjunction with 15 city schools and three public rinks. Soon after, it boomed thanks to money and a unique opportunity.

The foundation found an answer to its issue with facilities and ice time when an opportunity presented itself to take over five struggling city-owned outdoor rinks. The foundation enclosed four of the rinks and is planning to enclose another in the future.

Soon the foundation was able to provide free facilities, ice time and equipment to kids year-round.

"When you think of inner-city athletes and you think of the sports they would gravitate to, you would immediately think of basketball," said Tharp, who has been with the foundation since 2007 and was previously executive director of Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education. "When we held our town hall meetings and asked parents who lived in the neighborhoods where these rinks were, would they consider hockey, the answer was a resounding yes. That's where the drug deals were happening. They were unsupervised. It was easy to sell the structure.

"There's something about ice hockey and ice-skating. The first time you see the glimmering of the ice, it's something so new and so different and appealing to the kids. Most of them are hooked right away."

The foundation now offers everything from beginners programs to AA teams, with more than 3,000 participants ranging from kindergartners to high school students. About 70 percent of the participants are minorities.

The foundation also has an educational component, which includes classrooms and computer labs at the rinks and requires students to have a C average in their school courses to have ice privileges. Tharp said 98 percent of the kids in the foundation have advanced from one grade to the next in the last five years.

The Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation is one of a number of successful inner-city programs around the country. The Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club in Washington and the Ice Hockey in Harlem program in New York are two of the most recognized programs and have been established for 25-plus years.

The Blackhawks have taken note of a number of these programs.

"We are always looking at programs like the Snider youth foundation and Hockey in Harlem for best practices and successes that might translate to our region and are very excited about the work we are doing with Hockey on Your Block that closely resembles where those programs were in their infancy," Blackhawks youth hockey director Annie Camins wrote in an email.

ROCKY TAKES ACTION

Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz

"If there was a Nobel Prize for hockey, Rocky [Wirtz] should have one," says Illinois congressman Mike Quigley.

Quigley will never forget the look on Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz's face when Quigley explained Chicago's struggles to diversify hockey.

"When Rocky took over, he and [Blackhawks president and CEO] John McDonough literally sat down with me and we had breakfast," Quigley said. "I told Rocky all the woes with kids to have access. You could see the steam coming out of his head. You could tell he understood what it meant to grow the game."

Wirtz's reaction was followed by action.

"If there was a Nobel Prize for hockey, Rocky should have one," Quigley said. "I don't say that lightly. I'm so grateful."

In 2009 the Blackhawks created StreetHawks, a floor hockey program with equipment and instruction to Chicago Public Schools provided by the team. The program is expected to be in 30 schools during the 2014-15 school year.

"We developed our StreetHawks program in 2009-10 in partnership with Chicago Public Schools to grow the game among inner-city youth who may not otherwise have the opportunity to try hockey," Camins said. "The program brings hockey to schools, community centers and other places where kids can play in safe, structured environments. To make the game more accessible, the Blackhawks provide equipment, tips on how to grow the program and instruction from our youth hockey coaches."

The Blackhawks established the MinorHawks in 2010. The program allows players affordable rental equipment and beginning skating lessons at rinks around Illinois. The program has served 5,000 players and is in 29 rinks.

The Blackhawks also work with the Chicago Park District to conduct free clinics at outdoor rinks throughout the city during the winter. The Blackhawks estimate they've held 10-12 clinic per year and have had about 1,000 to 1,200 youths participate.

The Blackhawks also sponsor the Amateur Hockey Association Illinois' Hockey Is for Everyone and Hockey on Your Block and distribute grants for individuals and organizations in need through the Eddie Olczyk Award, which has given out around $55,000.

"The youth hockey initiatives are a very important part of the Blackhawks organization," Camins said. "We recognize the need for grassroots initiatives involving this great sport, and we strongly believe our programs such as Hockey on Your Block, MinorHawks and StreetHawks, as well as Chicago Park District Outdoor Rink sponsorship, will not only help us continue to grow the game, but also expand it into areas that may not have been exposed to it in the past. Our strong partnerships with Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois, the NHL and USA Hockey are a huge reason the initiatives are seeing signs of success."

The Blackhawks haven't succeeded yet in diversifying Chicago's youth hockey as much as other major cities have, but they have made a dent in the past seven years.

"The franchise has made leaps and bounds in the wake of old man Wirtz's death," William Douglas said, referring to former team chairman William Wirtz, who died in 2007. "They're still trying to catch up in a lot of regards. It's not for the lack of effort by the Blackhawks."

IMPACT OF SUCCESS

Patrick Kane

The success of the Blackhawks and their exciting young stars such as Patrick Kane go a long way in attracting Chicago area kids to hockey.

Eleven-year-old Tyrese Hall has more than one favorite hockey player.

"I like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa," Hall said. "I like Patrick Sharp and that's it."

Hall, who is black, developed his love for hockey and his fandom for so many players by watching the Blackhawks on television. Like many youth players in the last five years, Hall saw what Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp and other Blackhawks were doing on the ice, and he sought to do the same.
"I just said I wanted to do it," said Hall, who participates in Hockey on Your Block. "I told my mom I wanted to do it because I saw a hockey game before, and then I said I wanted to play hockey."

The story isn't likely much different for many Illinois youth hockey players. The number of hockey players in Illinois has drastically increased in recent years, and the Blackhawks are often credited for that.

Between the 2000-01 and 2008-09 registration periods for USA Hockey, the number of Illinois players only grew from  20,881 to 21,954. Since the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, Illinois' registration numbers increased to 24,018 in 2009-10 and to a record-high 29,977 in 2013-14. Illinois' registration numbers trail only Minnesota (54,507), Michigan (50,585), New York (48,354) and Massachusetts (48,074).

How many of Illinois' growing number of players are minorities is impossible to say. USA Hockey and the Amateur Hockey Association Illinois (AHAI) don't track such statistics. But many believe the number of minority players in Illinois is increasing, and the Blackhawks have influenced the growth.

"The Blackhawks are the reason why hockey and all these rinks are exploding in the state of Illinois," AHAI's Hockey Is for Everyone chairman Brit Volini said. "One of the greatest growth rates is in Illinois because of the success of our Illinois team. I don't think it matters what color you are or [whether] you're a boy or girl, it's exciting to watch. I think everybody appreciates that. Seven years ago, it just started being [regularly] shown on television. Do these black families, Hispanic families become interested because of that? I think that the answer is absolutely yes."

Having players who can do atypical things with a puck doesn't hurt either.

"The fact they're on the regular television helps," said William Douglas, the Color of Hockey blog publisher. "The fact they've won a few Stanley Cups surely helps. They have players, particularly Patrick Kane, who have a certain appeal to urban kids which certainly helps. Kane isn't a vanilla player, pardon the pun. He has a certain style that appeals to fans of color."

That's not Kane's intention, but he's happy to play his part in the growth of the game.

"I think when you're playing the game, you're playing to play it," Kane said. "When you hear about those things, it definitely makes you feel special.

"There's obviously a lot of excitement and bigger stories that can come from playing hockey, whether it's charity work or trying to get inner-city kids involved in the game no matter what color they are, just trying to get kids to play hockey in general."

Mayers believes it only makes sense for the Blackhawks and other NHL teams in the United States to attempt to appeal to people of different backgrounds.

"I think that's where the entire United States is trending," Mayers said. "At the very least, from a practical business standpoint, you've got to find new customers. You've got to find new fans. It's a great sport. It's the fastest sport. There's no out of bounds. There's a lot of action and speed.

"It is important. It is going to take time. No better example than the team that has had a lot of success to go out in the community and introduce the game to more folks. I think it's possible. Obviously there's no better time than now. The team's on a roll. They've locked up their nucleus for years to come. It's a team that's going to compete for a Stanley Cup for many years. They have a lot of influence. What a great legacy it would be for them to inspire the next generation of hockey players to actually come out of Chicago and be a minority. That would be something beyond the game."

The Blackhawks have reached Tyrese Hall already. But more than being a new hockey player and fan, Hall has plans of changing the type of athlete who plays hockey.

"I'm a multi-sport kid," Hall said. "I play hockey and football, but I don't really like basketball. Those are my two main sports because contact, speed, skills. That's what I like about hockey and football. I'm going to try to be in the NHL and NFL when I get older at the same time."

THE FUTURE

The challenges of diversifying hockey in Chicago aren't going to change. What Philadelphia was able to do with facility access and ice time isn't realistic in most cities. The equipment and league costs aren't about to subside.

Moro recently providing year-round access to Hockey on Your Block is a step for inner-city hockey in Chicago. The Blackhawks' efforts and the Hockey Is For Everyone programs throughout the Chicago area are also making an impact.

Wirtz could play an even larger role if he goes ahead with his plan to build a Blackhawks training facility across the street from the United Center. In May, Wirtz said the facility, which would include two ice sheets, would cost $30 million to $35 million and could be used by the community along with the Blackhawks.

"In talking to John McDonough and Stan Bowman, both of them came to me and said, 'I think it'd be really great if we could do it not only for the Hawks, but also to really catapult hockey within the city limits,'" Wirtz said on the "Carmen & Jurko" show on ESPN Chicago 1000 in May. "We have very few ice surfaces. It'd be terrific for the Blackhawks, but I think it would be great to grow youth hockey in the city because the growth has come in the suburbs. But we have plenty of kids in the city I think would use the ice quite a bit.

"This might be something to really set ourselves for the future and for the next 20 years to be special and to grow hockey. I think it's something that I think we want to do and I think would make a lot of sense to do."

BLAZING A NEW PATH

Wirtz said he would likely go ahead with the project if he could get assurance from the city of Chicago and Cook County that the amusement tax would not be raised in the next five to 10 years. The rate is currently at 12 percent, with 9 percent going to the city and 3 percent to the county. The mayor's office was contacted multiple times about the amusement tax and the possibility of a Blackhawks training facility, but a spokesperson did not provide any information. A Blackhawks spokesperson said there had been no update on the facility since Wirtz spoke of it in May.

For Rep. Quigley, it's just a matter of continuing to find ways to deliver the game of hockey to kids who have never played it before. He, like the NHL, wants to make hockey accessible for everyone. And he's optimistic they're advancing toward their goal.

"What I witness are the logistical and financial hurdles are extraordinary," Quigley said. "With the Hawks' and Johnny's and the [Chicago Public Schools'] help, this could really grow. You can see some of the successes you see in other cities. We can outdo them all. There's no excuse for Chicago not to have the No. 1 youth program in the inner city for its youth to learn how to play this great game.

"We have a long way to go, but I see a lot of progress because the opportunities are starting to be there. It'll take awhile to catch up, but we're getting there. It's absolutely fun to watch."

It's fun and also full of success stories, like 20-year-old Chicago-area native Justin Wade; he and teammate Ali Thomas are the first black hockey players at Notre Dame. Wade starred for the Chicago Mission, a AAA hockey club, and for a couple of teams in the United States Hockey League as a shutdown defenseman before landing at Notre Dame. He's also represented the United States at different levels.

Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya's dream is for hockey to be so diverse that race is no longer a topic.

"I'm hoping for the day we can stand there and not even talk about this because it's not an issue," said Oduya, who is black. "That's where you want it to go. It's not obviously there yet because we're doing this interview. Really I would like to have no conversation about this at all."

Issues: