CHICAGO -- Just as he did in 2010, Jonathan Toews took one last spin with the Stanley Cup and hoisted it aloft, to the delight of 22,158 roaring fans at United Center.
After giving it one last smooch, the Chicago Blackhawks' captain rested hockey's most prized possession back on its platform at center ice and joined his teammates for the moment Chicago had anticipated all summer long -- the hoisting of the 2013 Stanley Cup championship banner to the rafters.
"It's what you grew up wanting to do," said power forward Bryan Bickell, who scored the first of two late goals in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final to clinch the title. "You want to win the Cup and have a day with the Cup and get the ring and see that banner lifted at the United Center forever. It was a special year, a special playoffs and it was touching to have some friends and family here. Just to be in front of them and the City of Chicago, it was definitely special."
They added to the decor of this arena on Tuesday night, adding four new banners to the rafters prior to the Blackhawks starting the defense of their 2013 championship against the Washington Capitals, a game they won 6-4 in entertaining fashion.
The banner everybody wanted to see, however, was just the fifth of its kind.
Three years ago, the 2010 Stanley Cup banner was brought forth by a collection of Blackhawks alumni -- who then handed it to the current players in a memorable ode from the franchise's past history to its present.
The bearers of the 2013 banner were considerably younger. They were kids from the Chicago area, youth players whose Stanley Cup dreams are just starting to fill their minds, an ode from the present to the future.
"It was really fun," said Jack Veller of Buffalo Grove, Ill., a young defenseman who proudly wore a Bickell jersey, even though his favorite Blackhawk is Corey Crawford. "We just had to hold it and let it roll."
Joining Veller was Devin Swoyer of Hinsdale, Ill., who got to hand the banner to his favorite player, Patrick Sharp, while wearing Sharp's jersey. Soon afterward, the banner was hoisted to its permanent spot in the rafters, right next to the one this team earned just four seasons ago.
The moment wasn't lost on Crawford, whose own childhood dreams while growing up a fan of legendary goalie Patrick Roy have now been fulfilled.
"That was cool," Crawford said. "It was pretty special for them, too. That's a pretty big moment for those kids and to get the banner and then see it go up, it's a crazy feeling."
It capped a glitzy, stirring ceremony that lasted about 30 minutes and featured everything from a memorable video montage on the scoreboard to the glowing Xyloband wristbands pre-programmed to flash red and white that were given to every fan.
The ice surface itself became a giant silver screen, onto which a slideshow of unforgettable moments from the Blackhawks' memorable 2013 season was projected.
Just before former Blackhawks player-turned-broadcaster Eddie Olczyk came out to emcee the celebration, a giant, shimmering image of the Stanley Cup was displayed on the ice from end zone to end zone.
There were speeches by Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz and team president and CEO John McDonough, both of whom thanked the fans for the intense devotion that helped revive the team and the sport of hockey in the Windy City.
McDonough summed it up best with his parting words, which were both to-the-point and defining of this organization's recent past.
"It's our life's work to make you proud," he said. "Thank you very much."
And with that, it was time to start anew. The Capitals and Blackhawks didn't disappoint either, playing a heart-stopping game that wasn't decided until late in the third period.
Afterward, as the Blackhawks each talked about how special the pregame festivities were, it was clear they've turned the page of the team's proverbial history book.
"The whole last year, the things we did as a team and the whole summer with the Cup and all the celebrations and everything ... it kind of puts everything together," defenseman Johnny Oduya said of the banner night. "In the same way, this might sound weird, but it's nice to kind of get an ending on it and then start a new year, which is something we have to do. We can't look at last year. We've got to move forward."
Crawford was even more direct. Asked if he was tempted to touch the silver chalice one last time during player introductions, he quickly shook his head.
"No," he said. "No, I'm done with it. We had our fun. It's time to play."
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