When people ask me about my career as a sportswriter, I often find myself starting off by saying, "I've seen some things."
It's my way of beginning the process to collect my thoughts before reminiscing about some of the amazing people and events that I've been fortunate enough to chronicle throughout the years.
Most of those experiences revolve around the Blackhawks, a team of which I was a fan while growing up in the Chicago area.
I was already a Blackhawks devotee by the time I attended my first game - against the Maple Leafs on Feb. 20, 1980, at Chicago Stadium - so when the crowd chanted "Tony! Tony!" after a sparkling save by Tony Esposito, I was giddy.
Then, when a thunderous "USA! USA!" chant broke out following an announcement that the United States had defeated West Germany, 4-2, to advance to the semifinals of the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., I was completely hooked.
Throughout high school, I was known on occasion to skip class along with some friends so we could be first in line to buy tickets six games in advance, which was how it was done in those days.
My first day of college, I walked into class carrying a Blackhawks Media Guide that I had claimed from my job at the Chicago Tribune. Seated in the front row was a fellow student wearing a North Stars sweater. We eye-balled each other as I took a seat on the other side of the room.
My favorite players then were Denis Savard, Al Secord, Eddie Olczyk, Troy Murray, Steve Larmer and, especially, Doug Wilson.
My passion for hockey never wavered, even when I had to give up my fandom when I became the Blackhawks beat reporter for the Tribune in 2007. While I no longer was a fan due to my journalistic duties, I was always able to appreciate talented players making jaw-dropping plays, all while often sacrificing their bodies for the good of their team and teammates.
What a ride the next nine years or so were. My first assignment was to cover the '07 NHL Draft in Columbus. The Blackhawks held the No. 1 overall pick and selected the franchise-turning Patrick Kane. Then came Rocky Wirtz and the hiring of John McDonough as team president and the rest, as they say, is history.
I was there in Philadelphia when the Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years, and one of my fondest memories was being on the ice shortly after Game 6 and crossing paths with then-Head Coach Joel Quenneville, who merely smiled and said, "Chris Kuc is here" as we continued on our separate ways.
I was there for the next two championships, as well, and along the way found myself in some unique situations. I was in the audience when the team attended a 2010 taping of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook all wore the medals they had recently won during the 2010 Games in Vancouver and participated in a skit with Leno. After Kane said the silver medal he had captured while playing for Team USA was giving off a glare that was distracting Leno during his monologue, Toews, Keith and Seabrook stood up and Toews said, "Hang on there, Jay. I'm pretty sure the glare is coming from these three Canada gold medals over here." It got a big laugh and I remember after the show someone asked Toews what it was like to read his lines off a cue card and he replied, "What cue card?"
I was at those Olympics in Vancouver following the exploits of Blackhawks players representing their respective countries and again in Sochi, Russia, in 2014. I always marveled at the places I would find myself while covering arguably the most popular team in the NHL.
After leaving the Blackhawks beat full-time following the 2015 run to the Cup, I contributed coverage of the team for a couple of more years before I found myself in Washington, D.C., last season writing about the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals for The Athletic.
I had a great time in D.C. and made some friendships that I'll cherish for the rest of my life. But, as a rather notorious former United Center tenant once said: "I'm back."
In my role as Blackhawks.com senior writer, I'll be taking you beyond the final score and delivering in-depth features, analysis and commentary. Working with Bob Verdi and Fred Mitchell - two writers I hold in the highest regard - in collaboration with Eric Lear and Blackhawks TV and the social media team, we'll be giving you the most comprehensive and entertaining coverage in the NHL. This is a new era for coverage on Blackhawks.com.
Let's drop the puck!