There are various ways to judge what transpired during the fourth Blackhawks Convention, but for pure objectivity, you might want to lean on those who attended this annual rite of summer at the Hilton Chicago for the first time.
Sunday morning, after participating in a panel discussion, a number of former players returned to their lounge for a bite to eat and a glance at the British Open. To a man, they were dazzled by the weekend's festivities.
"I really didn't know what to expect, but the whole thing is amazing," offered Tom Lysiak, whose opinion was seconded in more or less similar terms by Michel Goulet, John Marks, Greg Gilbert, Dave Manson, and Adam Creighton. All of those former Blackhawks performed in Chicago, and performed well. They also played elsewhere. Gilbert won three Stanley Cups in New York, for goodness sakes. But all of them, in making their Convention debut, saluted the thousands of fans who filled the building, just as they now pack the United Center during the winter.
Harvey Wittenberg, the famous PA announcer from the Chicago Stadium era, also was on the panel discussion and if anyone is an expert on the history of this franchise, it is he. "The way this organization has turned around, so quickly, is truly remarkable," he said.
Manson, who played in Montreal and Toronto, mused, "sometimes when you're away from it for a while, you forget what a great hockey city Chicago is. I thought I was leaving home to come to some small gathering. What happened here was unbelievable."
At the risk of repeating myself, I will say again what I said shortly after the Opening Ceremony. This year's convention felt like an even stronger confirmation of the connection between the Blackhawks and their fans than last year's, when the Stanley Cup was a most special guest. With the silver jug as an attraction, no wonder the spirit was spectacular one July ago. But the vibes one July later served as proof of a long-term relationship that has been forged among the franchise and its supporters. I think, if the National Hockey League awarded a trophy for mutual admiration and commitment, that trophy would have belonged at the Hilton Chicago this weekend.
The Fourth annual Blackhawks Convention at the Hilton Chicago went into high gear Saturday morning with players scattering throughout, as though it was time for instrasquad games during training camp. At the 'Join The Rush' session, Duncan Keith barely had taken his seat when he was serenaded with "Happy Birthday to You." Indeed, it was the star defenseman's 28th. Moderator Steve Konroyd promptly noted it was his and wife Juli's wedding anniversary.
Later, Keith participated in a "LIfe on the Road" panel with Bryan Bickell, Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook. The ovation was enormous and Dan Roan of WGN9 thanked all his viewers, ahem. Sharp is on record as saying Seabrook is a great friend, but a difficult roommate because of his habits and superstitions. Seabrook chimed in by saying that when Sharp, one of Chicago's 50 most beautiful people, is finished loading his luggage for the road, there isn't much room for anybody else. That's why, Seabrook quipped, he can't even bring a toothbrush along. Keith bemoaned his routine of bringing 3 or 4 suits on extended trips, then wearing only one and wondering why he brought the others. Bickell said Seabrook never has that problem because Seabrook wears the same suit all the time, regardless of how long the trip is. The Blackhawks have one excursion of nine straight away games this winter. That will be interesting.
Goalies can seem normal, even though they endure abnormal pressure in what might be the most difficult position in pro sports. Glenn Hall, Tony Esposito and Corey Crawford were insightful during a 'Between The Pipes" panel. Mark Giangreco, popular sportscaster for ABC-7 and a big hockey fan, reminded Hall that he was involved in one of the most famous photographs in the sport's history--Bobby Orr, airborne, scoring the clinching goal in the Boston Bruins' Stanley Cup victory of 1970. Hall was tending goal for Scotty Bowman's St. Louis Blues, an expansion team. Hall told a large audience that he later saw Orr and informed him, "Bobby, I had showered before you landed.'"
|Stan Mikita (L) sits with Denis Savard before Friday's Opening Ceremony.|
Everybody is asking about Stan Mikita, and here is his answer.
"I'm doing fine," he said Saturday at the fourth annual Blackhawks Convention. The Hall of Famer and team ambassador was hailed during Friday night's Opening Ceremony at the Hilton Chicago, then participated in various sessions before a thousands of fans who were stunned to learn a couple months ago that Mikita had been diagnosed with stage one cancer.
"Three radiation treatments to go, that's all," said Mikita, who has lost a few pounds but none of his spirit during the process. "Besides a sore throat and kind of a raspy voice, as you can hear, I feel like things are going well. We caught it early and as doctors said when they caught it early, everybody should be optimistic, which we are."
Mikita was joined at the Convention by wife Jill, their daughter Jane, and her family.
"We're having a great time," said Stan. "This whole thing is unbelievable. All these people. I missed last year's convention, so this is really something to see. It kind of typifies what's happened to this franchise in the city. The love affair with hockey has been reborn. I look at the number of fans in the lobby of the hotel and in the ballrooms for these panel discussions...that's more people than we used to have for some of our games during the lean years. Amazing. Glad to be a part of it."