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The Verdict: Convention a 'can't-miss' time for fans, players

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
Ambassador Stan Mikita is greeted by the fans at the Blackhawks Convention (Photo by Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks).

It gets older, but it doesn’t get old. The fifth annual Blackhawks Convention commenced late Friday afternoon at the Chicago Hilton, and hockey during one of the hottest Julys in local history was greeted by the usual sellout crowd.

The Opening Ceremonies moved to the International Ballroom, all the better for players past and present to emerge from the back, then walk a runway toward the stage, slapping hands of fans on either side along the way. Pat Foley, the TV play-by-play voice of the Blackhawks, started it off by introducing the master of ceremonies, Ed Olczyk, TV analyst extraordinaire and recent inductee to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.

“ED-DIE! ED-DIE!” yelled the gathering, although the loudest of all welcomes might have been for Marian Hossa, who was erased from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by a flagrant foul. Hossa looks terrific and says he feels as good as he looks. Andrew Shaw, in limited time, has obviously attracted quite a following, and of course, there were the core favorites—Captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith.

Jim Cornelison sang the national anthem, Frank Pellico accompanied on the organ, and various video presentations both brought back memories of last season while whetting the appetite for next season. Some of Kane’s ridiculous moves, especially on shootout goals, must be seen again and again. And just to get in the mood for early Christmas shopping, there was a clip of the award-winning “Frolik Navidad,” starring the Czech forward.

Jamie Kompon, the Blackhawks’ new assistant coach, was unveiled, along with Sheldon Brookbank, the free-agent acquisition from the Anaheim Ducks. He’s got a rep as a tough defenseman, but he looked a bit overwhelmed by the size of this spectacle. Maybe he’s not used to such large crowds after laboring in Southern California.

Someone very thoughtful within the organization looked beyond the walls of the International Ballroom. Another example of madness occurred in Aurora, Col., and Eddie O asked for a moment of silence before the guys came out, one by one. Very classy touch, and the ceremony concluded with current players crossing their half of the stage to shake hands with veterans: Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Denis Savard and Tony Esposito, the four ambassadors, plus Bill White, Stu Grimson, Michel Goulet and Steve Larmer, just to cite a few.

Conventions weren’t the convention back in the day, but as Hall of Famer Pierre Pilote volunteered, “I wouldn’t miss this.”

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