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The Verdict: Ceremony, excitement ring in Blackhawks' Toronto visit

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks' 2013 ring joins the case in the Hockey Hall of Fame (Chase Agnello-Dean / Chicago Blackhawks).

TORONTO—As the Blackhawks staged an all too rare visit to this epicenter of hockey hysteria, there existed a familiar ring to the visit even before Saturday night’s game against an Original Six rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Early in the afternoon, members of the defending champions’ upper management donated a 2013 Stanley Cup ring to the Hockey Hall of Fame, thus perpetuating a relatively recent tradition in a sport so steeped in and respectful of history.

Starting in 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks, every National Hockey League champion has presented the jewels of victory to yet another display case at the Hall, a building that absolutely belongs on your bucket list if you are a fan and haven’t been.

So it was that the latest memento, and their second in four years, was presented by John McDonough, President and CEO of the Blackhawks: an exact diamond and ruby encrusted replica of the one earned by Jonathan Toews, Chicago’s young but already highly decorated captain.

“Make sure you mention it’s the same as my son’s but not actually his, which he still has,” cautioned Toews’ mother, Andree Gilbert, who attended the ceremony with husband Bryan, along with several friends in from Winnipeg. Among them was Dan Watt, Jonathan’s best pal back home.

Naturally, because the Blackhawks were in town, so were dozens of their fans, despite a blizzard and cold snap engulfing this world-class city. McDonough welcomed them, then briefly parted with his ring so they could get a closer view as they formed a circle around the podium in the NHL Zone at the Hall. He politely reminded one and all that he wanted his treasured keepsake returned in short order. His wish was granted, and then supporters broke into a chorus of “Chelsea Dagger.”

On behalf of Chairman Rocky Wirtz, McDonough was accompanied by Jay Blunk, Al MacIsaac and Norm Maciver of a front office the boss volunteered is the perhaps the league’s best. They received a tour of the museum from Phil Pritchard, vice president and curator of the Hall. Pritchard has been ubiquitous around Chicago, for he is that man in white gloves entrusted with transporting the Stanley Cup hither and yon, often at odd hours. He is still catching up on the sleep he missed in 2010.

Of course, the Stanley Cup joined Saturday’s festivities, much to the relief of McDonough. As in 2010, he spent quality time with the 35-pound jug this summer, but hadn’t seen it lately and admitted pangs of withdrawal. Jonathan Toews is on record as admitting an addiction to the Stanley Cup, and McDonough, also with two to his credit during a brief reign with the Blackhawks, seems similarly smitten.

While their famous son was back at the hotel resting for Saturday night’s national telecast of Hockey Night in Canada, Bryan and Andree were amused by a tearsheet from the Toronto Sun. The newspaper previewed an invasion by the mighty Blackhawks, but a mug shot identifying Jonathan was in fact a picture of brother David. Andree promptly captured the error on her phone camera.

Dave Bolland, still rehabilitating from a tough injury, chatted with his former Blackhawks teammates at Saturday morning’s skate. When he returned to the United Center with the Maple Leafs earlier this season, he was hailed for his body of work, including the amazing Game 6 clincher in Boston last June. On subsequent evenings, Michael Frolik with the Winnipeg Jets and Ray Emery with the Philadelphia Flyers were accorded a rousing welcome back.

Meanwhile, along with Michael Kostka, Kris Versteeg arrived in the Air Canada Centre this weekend as former Maple Leafs with the Blackhawks.

“I’m not expecting any video tributes,” volunteered Versteeg, who was traded to Toronto after partaking of the 2010 Cup run. He rejoined the Blackhawks last month, and remains amazed.

“With such a short offseason, I really didn’t think this team would be able to do what it’s doing,” Versteeg went on. “I didn’t know if they would have much left in the tank. But these guys just keep on winning, and I’m crazy happy to be part of it.”

Saturday night’s 7-3 loss to the Maple Leafs was clearly a departure in form, but 51 points in 35 starts validates Versteeg’s critique. Besides, glad tidings follow the Blackhawks beyond the rink. Upon landing Friday night, Head Coach Joel Quenneville learned that Midnight Hawk, a two-year old colt in which he has part ownership, romped to a seven-length victory at Hollywood Park. Mike Kitchen, Coach Q’s loyal assistant, also has a vested interest in the horse.

“First shot out of the box, and Kitch wins,” howled Quenneville. “He must think it’s easy. But I feel the same as I did after we won the Cup in Boston – I’m happiest for Mike.”

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