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The Verdict: A Summer Celebration in Chicago

Sunday, 08.01.2010 / 4:51 PM / The Verdict
By Bob Verdi  - Blackhawks Team Historian
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The Verdict: A Summer Celebration in Chicago
From the first chords of the National Anthem, the 2010 Blackhawks Convention kept the energy of the 2009-10 season alive.

Of course, Dennis Hull has heard all the hosannas about brother Bobby’s penchant for power.

“Somebody once said that Bobby could shoot the puck so hard, it could go through a car wash without getting wet,” Dennis recalled. “I could shoot it pretty hard, too, but my problem was hitting the car wash.”

And so it went during the pithy Hull family symposium, one of several features of the third annual Blackhawks Convention, an off-season spectacular that has to be, or should be, the envy of every NHL franchise. For the better part of three days, fans packed the Chicago Hilton to connect with players past and present who double-shifted on the fly, signing autographs, rubbing elbows and participating in panels along with members of the Stanley Cup champions’ proactive front office.

“Amazing, how this keeps growing and growing,” noted the great Steve Larmer, who is not usually one to gush. “Obviously, the sport is back in this city, and better than ever.”

Hockey players and their supporters have a long history of bonding. The world’s fastest game screeches to a halt when a legend strolling through a crowded hotel lobby encounters season ticketholders who remember when and where and want to express appreciation. That is why the weekend’s summer reunion represented either the first sellout of next season or the final sellout of last season, take your pick. You can always go to the beach. You can’t always wear your Jonathan Toews sweater and have him sign it, on the spot, with a smile.

THE VERDICT

Team historian Bob Verdi has covered sports for five decades, including more than 40 years as a columnist and contributor for the Chicago Tribune. Verdi authored "Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years" in 2001.

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“Even more energy here than a year ago,” volunteered Patrick Sharp, who was recently married. “I told my wife, as a honeymoon, I’ve got this nice room downtown in a great city and we’re surrounded by Blackhawk fans. She didn’t buy it.”

The Opening Ceremony Friday was a blast, a homecoming event that was televised locally, just in case anybody forgot how far the Blackhawks have come in so short a time. With a “very special guest” in attendance—as emcee Eddie Olczyk referred to the Stanley Cup, shining brightly on his right—Jim Cornelison belted out the Star Spangled Banner, accompanied by organist Frank Pellico. It was just like the United Center, only smaller, and thus louder. A lot louder. He was singing in a ballroom, not a building. But in keeping with the Blackhawks’ tradition, this was now the loudest ballroom in the league.

Members of the management team were introduced, and owner Rocky Wirtz moved the needle most, with a contest. After a healthy round of applause and screaming, attendees down below launched into a chorus of ‘ROCK-EE, ROCK-EE!!’ It was Rocky’s father Bill, remember, who always said that sports bosses are not meant to be liked. Bill was not incorrect about his view of the landscape. But then Rocky came along. “I’m actually embarrassed,” he said after another helping of unconditional love.

Pat Foley, voice of the Blackhawks through thick and thin, kissed the Cup and then genuflected. Several alumni were introduced, followed by ambassadors and icons. Glenn Hall, Hall of Fame goalie from the 1961 champions, does not visit Chicago often from Alberta. But he was there Friday, and fellow honorees stood when he showed his moon face. One notable absentee was Stan Mikita, a late scratch from the lineup because of illness.

“Talked to him this morning,” said pal Ab McDonald early Sunday. “He’s just a bit under the weather. We missed him, and he missed a lot of old stories.”

A few of the newcomers and prospects were also unveiled, in the Blackhawk sweaters and numbers they hope to wear next season. John Scott, who looks as though he could play for the Bulls, drew a wow of a reaction. Then some of the regulars appeared, one by one. If Niklas Hjalmarsson had any doubts that Chicago is the right place for him to play hockey, they were absolved by the ovation. He just became rich by signing a four-year contract with the Blackhawks. But it’s more than that. “What a great place,” said Hjalmarsson, who will be receiving the Cup in Sweden shortly.

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, the stellar blue line tandem, elicited a welcome you would expect for them. Patrick Kane brought the ballroom decibels to another level, and then, Capt. Toews deflected all the fuss directed at him when he declared that the real MVP of the Stanley Cup Blackhawks was “you guys…the fans.” Those in the vicinity then applauded themselves, and a well-earned hand it was. As another nice touch, Kane was brought back up toward the podium to pull a dark cloth off a gizmo that strongly resembled the electronic fixture behind each goal cage.

John McDonough, the Blackhawks’ creative president, has rued since June 9th the fact that Kane’s Cup-clinching goal has not yet merited a red light, the symbol of closure. Granted, there was some confusion about where the puck was, but it definitely escaped Michael Leighton of the Philadelphia Flyers. There was a parade in Chicago, right? The 49-year-itch was scratched, correct? But that red light in the Wachovia Center still hasn’t been switched on, so Friday at the Hilton, Kane oversaw the honors. Let there be light!

The Hilton was truly Blackhawks Central for the weekend. The opening ceremony featured a terrific video tribute to the winter of 2010 that lasted longer than any winter in franchise history. Hotel staffers wore team T-shirts, banners were ubiquitous, conventioneers in uniform flooded the zone and just in case you missed it, Blackhawks TV was piped into elevators. Blackhawks logos were everywhere except on toilet tissue. McDonough and Jay Blunk will address that oversight next July, no doubt.

How anyone besides a hockey fan could squeeze into the classic hotel is a mystery, but there was another group in house—Jack and Jill, a national gathering of African-American youngsters.

“This is something, this hockey event,” said one lad from Alabama. “I think we’re outnumbered.”

The Stanley Cup touches a lot of people, and on this weekend, a lot of people touched the Stanley Cup.