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Convention Diary: Panels offer Cup tales, Streak memories and more

by Elise Butler / Chicago Blackhawks

A sea of red invaded the Hilton Chicago this weekend as the Chicago Blackhawks hosted their Sixth Annual Blackhawks Convention. Abundant with opportunities for fans to interact with the team, the Convention included panel sessions, photograph and autograph opportunities with Blackhawks players and alumni, interactive games and a locker room sale.

The panels offered fans a chance to connect with the Blackhawks and those who work closely with the team. Moderated by Chicago media personalities and team staff, the 2013 panels covered a wide array of topics that went behind-the-scenes and beyond the ice. Some popular sessions included adventures with the Stanley Cup, the pressure of “The Streak,” locker room dynamics and more.

Here we recap some of the memorable moments from select Saturday panels.

9 a.m.: Tales from the Cup Keepers

One of the first sessions of the morning started with a rousing cheer of “We want the Cup!” from the crowd. Joining the chalice were Cup Keepers Mike Bolt, Howie Borrow, Phil Pritchard and Walter Neubrand, along with Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy, to swap stories of the Stanley Cup’s travels. The group’s discussion ranged from the classiest swimming pool the Cup has ever been in (answer: the Cup is not technically supposed to go swimming) to the crazy locations it has traveled to. The Keepers shared memories of bringing the Cup to Belarus with Nikolai Khabibulin, the Eiffel Tower with Cristobal Huet and to visit troops in Afghanistan when a missile attack happened.

Leddy talked about his experience winning the Cup this season, from disbelief on the ice – “I kept pushing guys to go in front of me to see what they would do” – to fulfilling a childhood dream and bringing the Cup home to Minnesota. In all their years taking care of the Cup, the Keepers said that Chicago, both in 2010 and 2013, is one of most passionate cities they have ever visited.

“I don’t think there’s a greater sports city than here in Chicago,” said Bolt.

10:15 a.m.: We’re Going Streaking!

While the season ended with the Stanley Cup, its beginning was equally memorable as the Blackhawks set a record for best start in NHL history. The Streak – 24 consecutive games earning a point – was relived in this session, which featured forwards Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell and Head Coach Joel Quenneville. The trio reflected on the team’s depth, the pressure of keeping the success going and changes made because of the condensed schedule. All three noted the increased intensity during the Streak, comparing them to playoff games, but Quenneville stressed focusing on one game at a time.

The panel was opened up for questions following the introductions. This prompted an original Kane-themed “knock-knock” joke from a young fan, Kane’s recollection of Tweeting with and meeting Lebron James and the Blackhawks gracing the national cover of Sports Illustrated. Despite a loss to Colorado that ended the Streak at 24, everyone made note of what an incredible accomplishment it was and the pride felt throughout the team.

“Let’s get 25 to start next year,” said Kane.

11:30 a.m.: Growing the Game

Winning the Stanley Cup causes a ripple effect, and one of the things heavily influenced by a successful pro hockey team is the local interest and growth of the sport. USA Hockey’s Kevin Erlenbach and Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois’ Mike Durkin and Mike Mullally joined Blackhawks Director of Youth Hockey Annie Camins and Chicago-born 2013 draft pick Ryan Hartman to discuss the phenomenal growth of hockey in Illinois. The Blackhawks have seen a 340 percent fan-base increase in the past five years, and along with that, a 43 percent growth in youth hockey participants as compared with the 12 percent national growth rate. Now powerful hockey markets such as Minnesota and Canada, who are seeing stagnation or declines, are coming to Illinois for advice.

Off the ice, the Blackhawks also provide support for youth hockey through camps coached by alumni and players, equipment donations to Chicago Public Schools and Learn to Play programs. Illinois could see another surge in the upcoming years as a result of the Stanley Cup win and heightened exposure from the 2014 Olympics, which a handful of Blackhawks could participate in. By winning now, the Blackhawks are helping to grow the new generation of local players.

“The product on the ice certainly helps my job,” said Camins

12:45 p.m.: Chicago’s Most Wanted

The first panel of the afternoon brought together three of the Blackhawks’ most-liked players: “Most Beautiful Chicagoan” Patrick Sharp, #ShawFacts star Andrew Shaw and playoff hero Bryan Bickell. The players discussed Sharp’s hair care routine, Bickell’s upcoming wedding, Shaw’s interactions with Zdeno Chara and who would win in a fight between Bickell and Shaw. When Head Coach Joel Quenneville’s infamous mustache was brought up, a bet was proposed that he shave it if the Blackhawks can repeat as champions.

As the veteran of the group, Sharp discussed the changes he has seen over the years while playing in Chicago and reflected on the differences between the 2010 and 2013 Stanley Cup victories: “That’s like trying to pick between Shawsy and Bicks,” he said. “You like them both in different ways.” All three shared their admiration for Chicago as a city and as a fan base, saying they considered it their second home.

“Everyone has said thank you to us, but really, it’s thank you to you guys for making this the best place to play,” said Sharp.

2:00 p.m.: Inside the Blackhawks Locker Room

The locker room represents many things in sports, and Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp (wearing a Toews jersey, complete with the “C”) and Michal Rozsival were on hand to discuss its meaning to the team. The group addressed the loose atmosphere in the locker room, the sanctity of the logo and how friendship off the ice leads to better communication and success on the ice. Each player has an individual routine in the locker room for games, including Rozsival finding calm in the training room to Sharp ribbing Kane about not passing to him. Both Sharp and Rozsival compared the Blackhawks locker room to those of their previous teams and shared what it means to play for Chicago.

“Our room is extra special to us, knowing we’re in the United Center and we have 22,000 fans cheering for us,” said Sharp. The group also touched on locker room pranks (one player filled a teammate’s shoes with honey), the continued use of Mario Kart for team bonding and the distribution of leadership. The trio acknowledged that their daily interactions and relationships with teammates were something they would miss the most after hockey.

“That’s what makes our job so great,” said Toews.

Blackhawks Convention lets fans interact with and learn more about their favorite Blackhawks, but it is also a way to celebrate a shared appreciation for hockey in Chicago. Whether the topic is the on-ice product, locker room shenanigans or the wider effect the Blackhaws have on youth hockey development, the Convention enompasses the Blackhawks’ deep connection with fans and the city of Chicago as they strive to achieve their One Goal.

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