When Patrick Kane tossed his gloves into the air, it was as though only he knew that he would not be required to wear them again for months. Wachovia Center, a cauldron of noise throughout the evening, suddenly gave way to a sound effect that seemed like a nervous hum, an echo of anxiety.
After more than three hours of up-tempo hockey, players on either side paused instinctively, yet without a tangible reason. Upstairs in the television booth, Mike “Doc” Emrick, the Hall of Fame play-by-play maestro for NBC’s national broadcast, exclaimed that there had been no signal, no red light, no confirmed sighting of the puck.
Yet gradually Kane, the boy genius raising his bare hands with a message of his own, drew a following, as if he were the Pied Piper. He knew it was over before his teammates, but soon they spilled onto the ice to join his end-to-end dance to celebrate. The Blackhawks had won the Stanley Cup, the most difficult championship to attain in professional sports.
It was a night to remember, and this Thursday at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet, events of June 9, 2010, in Philadelphia may be savored again on “Chicago Blackhawks Classics.” A franchise that had waited 49 years to rule the National Hockey League did not, alas, receive instant gratification because Kane’s sharp-angle drive from low on the left circle buried into the net behind Flyers’ goalie Michael Leighton 4:06 into overtime.
Only Kane, who skated the behind the cage, realized that the Blackhawks had won Game 6 of the finals, 4-3. An overhead camera provided confirmation a few moments later, and NBC pulled its promotion for Friday night’s Game 7, if necessary, at the United Center. The bearded visitors milled about the rink, hugging each other and posing for pictures, then piled into their locker room for a party that lasted at least as long as the game. Meanwhile, in Chicago, thousands of fans hailed a title for an organization that had revived from irrelevant to immaculate in record time. Those thousands would grow to millions for a parade. That was necessary.
Rocky Wirtz, the chairman who oversaw the renaissance, joins Thursday night’s classic of all classics. John McDonough, the President/CEO who rebuilt the front office and the front lines, explains how he took a cue from Kane on when to exhale. Jay Blunk, executive vice president, gladly relives the historic moment, as does Head Coach Joel Quenneville, who made all the right moves during a franchise-high 112-point regular season, followed by 22 playoff games over four rounds.
Pat Boyle is host for the Comcast SportsNet special, along with Pat Foley, voice of the Blackhawks, and his customary sidekick, Eddie Olczyk, who worked as Emrick’s analyst. Foley, going on 30 years of experience, is eloquent in describing how the players on that roster created such an admirable unit by respecting and liking each other. Hockey is the ultimate team sport, and the 2010 Blackhawks exuded chemistry. Olczyk enthused about what the Stanley Cup meant to hockey in Chicago. The downtown victory parade validated his opinion. Once upon a time, there was this myth that the city contained only 18,000 hockey fans.
“Really a special year,” said Wirtz, who assumed control of the Blackhawks in October of 2007.
“One of the great nights in Blackhawks history,” added McDonough, who came aboard a month later.
You will see the Blackhawks family enjoy the triumph in Philadelphia. You will see the Stanley Cup strapped into seat 10D as a welcome passenger on the Thursday morning charter flight to O’Hare. And you will see Capt. Jonathan Toews carry it off a plane that was doused by water cannons as dawn approached. When the Blackhawks won the Clarence Campbell Bowl, symbolic of their Western Conference championship, Toews treated it as though it were radioactive. He wouldn’t touch it. Not the one we want, he said.
Toews had no such inhibitions about the Stanley Cup. And after the Blackhawks surrounded it and embraced it, they came home and shared it with their fans.
Sit back Thursday night and enjoy:
> As captain, Toews was first to hoist the Stanley Cup at the Wachovia Center. He then handed it off to Marian Hossa, who had been on two vanquished teams in the previous two finals, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings. He talks about that on the Classics program.
> With 7 goals and 22 assists, Toews tied a franchise mark established by Denis Savard, who collected 29 points during the 1985 playoffs. Shortly after Game 6, the Blackhawks’ captain was presented the Conn Smythe Trophy by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman as most valuable player in the postseason.
> Neither Antti Niemi of the Blackhawks nor Leighton, a former Blackhawk, began the season as a starting goalie. Niemi backed up Cristobal Huet, but he won the job and posted a .912 save percentage during the playoffs. He started every game and wound up with a 16-6 record, as did the Blackhawks. Niemi made a number of terrific saves in Game 6 among his 21 saves and remarked in the locker room bedlam, “It’s unbelievable. I’m happier than I have ever been. I never saw this coming.”
> Kane on his winner: “I beat my man off the wall and took a shot at the net. It went right through his (Leighton’s) legs and stuck to the padding. This is something I’ll never forget. I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet. This is just unbelievable. I mean we just won the Stanley Cup.”
> During the Blackhawks’ annual sold-out fan convention in July of 2010, McDonough commissioned a delayed treat for the audience. At the opening ceremony, a red light hovered above the ballroom at the Chicago Hilton. Explained McDonough: “It never did go on after Patrick scored in Philadelphia. Well, it’s going on now.”
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