Classy Blackhawks are winners on, off the ice
BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist October 1, 2013 10:28PM
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Updated: November 3, 2013 6:41AM
Was that actually an offseason?
Must have been because here came the Hawks, your 2013 Stanley Cup champions, stepping out of limos onto a red carpet and then into the United Center to start it all up again.
It was 80 degrees outside, but inside the big building it could have been mid-January. It could have been June.
It could have been any time in recent Blackhawks history because, abruptly, Chicago has a skating dynasty on its hands.
The ceremony presenting the Stanley Cup to fans one more time, then raising the white championship banner into the rafters was as loud and raucous an event as you’d ever want pregame. After all, star players can’t just gaze into the heavens for comfort when the puck drops; they have to get out there and do some dirty ice work.
So when enforcer Brandon Bollig scored the first goal of the season against the Washington Capitals, a team now in the, uh, dear God — Metropolitan Division? — you knew the pursuit of the third Cup in five seasons was on.
Bollig, after all, is a muscle guy suddenly turned into a scorer. How did that happen? Who knows? How did the Blackhawks go from being a blah team to the most dominant team in the NHL? Who knows?
Actually, we do know how that happened. Slowly, steadily, then all at once. Start with Rocky Wirtz taking over as chairman six years ago, and two little fellows named Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane landing on the doorstep as if dropped by the hockey goodwill stork.
Yes, there is much more than that, and men named Sharp, Keith, Crawford, Hossa and Bickell — as well as departed faves such as Antti Niemi, Dustin Byfuglien and Kris Versteeg — had a lot to do with it. So did everybody’s favorite mustache man, coach Joel Quenneville. So did … aw, lots of folks. As stated, it’s complicated.
But the Cups from 2013 and 2010 prove that hockey will never be taken for granted in this town again. That’s what happened, president John McDonough will tell you again and again. The feathers in the Indian headdress got dusty. The nearly 50-year drought led to a near-fatal thirst.
But it’s all good now. It just takes constant vigilance.
And it takes stuff such as the over-the-top Super Bowl-style celebration Tuesday night to prove the Blackhawks are the best at all of it.
Before the ear-numbing ceremony, Kane kept appearing in a video on the center-ice Jumbotron, urging folks in the stands to be sure to wear their free electronic bracelets so they could be part of the hoopla. Then, at 6:50 p.m., 40 minutes before game time, the ice became the largest frozen movie screen in the world. Images from last season were projected on it from above, and, of course, the music ratcheted upward.
And then the bracelets on the 22,000 fans went off.
Controlled by a Blackhawks technician in the seventh-level press box, they burst forth in a wildly synchronized display of red and white light like an out-of-control Christmas tree.
Let’s just say this cost a pretty penny.
A.J. Dolan, the manager of in-game presentation and entertainment for the Blackhawks, got the idea when he went to the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles four years ago and saw Coldplay distribute similar bracelets at a small private concert. When Coldplay came to Chicago recently, Dolan contacted the British company that produces the bracelets, and away we go.
Little kids in hockey gear skated out with the rolled-up 2013 Cup banner and presented it to the Hawks, who unfurled it, then skated as a team to where it was hooked to wires and cranked into the upper reaches.
‘‘Captain Serious’’ Toews, the best thing to happen to Chicago hockey, had already picked up the gleaming Cup, held it over his head and skated in a slow circle around the white-clothed table at center ice. He had kissed the trophy like a lover before setting it down.
Who can say if the third championship will come our way in eight more months of competition? What’s certain is that the Blackhawks are good enough and focused enough to bring it.
They almost let this one get away from them before winning 6-4. The fans had booed NHL commissioner Gary Bettman when he came out pregame because they see him as the evil force who caused the lockout and shortened season. Funny, but Bettman may have launched the Hawks to the 2013 title because the brief training camp hugely benefitted this solid team that needed little practice.
It was great to hear again the inane ‘‘Chelsea Dagger’’ tune after each Hawks’ goal.
Now it’s nasty time.