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.