The local baseball scene is rather quiet, and lockouts exist in pro football and basketball. But hockey is as hot as July, judging by the fourth annual Blackhawks Convention that began Friday at the Hilton Chicago.
Team historian Bob Verdi has covered sports for five decades, including more than 40 years as a columnist and contributor for the Chicago Tribune. Verdi authored "Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years" in 2001.
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The Stanley Cup did not appear at this year's gathering, but in a way, its absence reinforced how strong this franchise is, fanbase included. The Grand Ballroom was packed for the Star Spangled Banner starring Jim Cornelison, who says dropping 40 pounds has not affected his voice. Introductions were by Eddie Olczyk, and stars from past and present appeared in uniform, plus prospects hoping to make the big club.
After the predicatble huge ovations for Corey Crawford, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp, followed by a few words from captain Jonathan Toews, a video tribute to the 2010-11 season was shown. That's when it hits you. The Blackhawks still had an entertaining team, even without the Cup, and they have the ingredients for another one, regardless of another spate of changes in the roster.
This is what separates the new Blackhawks from what the franchise, and its fans, have endured during some bygone summers. There is justifiable optimism, which is infinitely more preferable than a mood somewhere in the netherland between if and maybe.
Kane is out with a wrist problem, and Toews jabbed him for getting injured while lifting weights, but somehow you don't feel such gloom and doom. Training camp is weeks away, Kane will be fine when healed, and by the way, some of those new Blackhawks look mighty tough.
I guess what I'm saying is that there is institutional knowledge in the front office about how to win, and all those fans cheering in the Grand Ballroom are aware of this organizaton's mission. The only groan emerged when the tape showed the Blackhawks shaking hands with the Vancouver Canucks after Game 7 of their terrific Stanley Cup playoff series--another reminder that hockey was fun last season because hockey has become fun again in Chicago every season.
That is no small consolation prize when the Stanley Cup is elsewhere.