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The Verdict: Convention makes for another worthy weekend

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
Bobby Hull takes time to sign for a young fan at the Blackhawks Convention (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean).

Marian Hossa had many miles to fly before returning home to Slovakia. Still, when he saw a gaggle of folks gathering in the Chicago Hilton parking garage Sunday morning, he paused to sidle over for autographs and pictures.

Later on, a dozen former Blackhawks who had participated in an hour-long “Where Are They Now?” panel would have been excused for exiting stage left to have lunch or catch the final few holes of the British Open on TV. Instead, they peeled off the platform, stepped down and met with members of the audience.

Still later—much later—clean-up was under way in the players’ lounge, which was sparsely populated. But over in the corner sat an icon whose appointment book is always full. Yet Bobby Hull, "The Golden Jet," seemed to be in no hurry whatsoever.

As the fifth annual Blackhawks Convention closed in the early afternoon, it was evident all over again that players past and present realize their relationship with fans is a two-way street, gladly traveled. The boys of winter have other things to do on a summer weekend, but conveying a mutual admiration for all those sellouts decades ago, along with the current string of 190 and counting at the United Center, is time well spent.

The myth that these athletes don’t care has been shattered, and so is the proposition that the only attendees are season ticketholders who can’t wait for the next puck to drop. There was a couple from Dallas in the hotel, and a family from California, and Dennis Hull flew in from an appearance in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, with a loyal Blackhawks supporter.

“He was excited to be coming in for the Convention,” mentioned Hull. “He was also still mad that he couldn’t get into last year’s Convention.”

At one point early in his proactive administration, President and CEO John McDonough rued the distinct possibility that the franchise had lost an entire generation during the dark days. Well, five years hence, it would appear that many old Blackhawks fans have been reinvigorated, and many new ones born. I saw a lot of fellow senior citizens at the Chicago Hilton this weekend. l also saw a brigade of baby carriages. Amazing. In between, there was Joey the Junior Reporter. He was introduced to a grizzled veteran reporter, but seemed utterly unimpressed. So it goes.

“This is my first one,” said Stu Grimson, the ex-tough guy who since earned his law degree. “I didn’t know what to expect. I thought we might sign a bunch of pictures and go home. But this weekend ran like clockwork. Everything was perfect, and the staff of the Blackhawks is unbelievable. Some of them, I learned, are just interns, but you wouldn’t know it. Not the way they organize things and conduct themselves. I work (as a TV analyst) for the Nashville Predators. But this thing blew me away. It was my first, and if it’s up to me, it won’t be my last.”

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