Friday, June 28, 2013, shall be remembered in Chicago annals as a day when the city that works, didn’t. Hundreds of thousands and thousands of hundreds flocked downtown to create yet another standing room only crowd for the Blackhawks, Stanley Cup champions again.
Admirers of the best team in hockey packed sidewalks along streets on the extended parade route, took pictures from residences, peered from offices where absolutely nothing was being accomplished, and gathered in Hutchinson Park, the final staging area of this remarkable celebration.
Once upon a time, 16,666 represented not only capacity for the Stadium on game nights; it was the ceiling number, hypothesized by skeptics, of Blackhawks supporters in the entire region. Friday’s mass of smiling humanity seemed closer to or even beyond the 2 million estimate for 2010’s coronation. In any case, a guardian of the Cup volunteered that this ceremony made other galas during his experience seem like focus groups.
With four choppers above, double decker bus No. 24 was the last of the caravan to depart the United Center. It carried Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad and Corey Crawford, the goalie who was the backbone for two months of grueling playoffs. No sooner had his vehicle turned onto Adams Street when he heard chants.
“COR-EY!! COR-EY!! COR-EY!!”
Crawford’s shades were on, and the mask was off, affording a view of his pale face and discernible grin. After Monday night’s clincher in Boston, management and labor rejoiced until everybody looked like they’d been through a car wash. For Friday, they cleaned up nicely, beards mostly sheared, players in shorts. But sunscreen was required, because 23-plus high-octane postseason assignments leaves no time for the beach.
“How hard these guys work,” marveled Trevor, Crawford’s dad, who sat with wife Sylvia, family and friends in from Canada. No individual on this winning roster worked harder than Corey, but now he loosened up, waving to the multitudes, pumping them up with the stick hand, then the glove hand. Red lights were ubiquitous, but Corey paid them no mind. He won’t have to stop another puck until September. Besides, the cavalcade had a police escort.
An impromptu band gathered near the Loop, pounding out “Chelsea Dagger.” Kane leaned out to cup his ears for screams of “MVP! MVP!” Sirens and horns formed a steady soundtrack, accompanied by whistles from CTA trains. I saw a man, he danced with his wife, and I am not making this up – at least, I think it was his wife. Joel Quenneville, the most interesting coach in the world, was on the bus just ahead. He emoted with hand gestures, but not as if to question a referee. And he couldn’t change lines. His guys are on their own for a summer vacation well deserved.
At Hutchinson Park, an updated video on the giant screen featured Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland: “We stand for two goals in 17 seconds.” On the stage, Bickell stood with a knee brace. Jim Cornelison sang The Star-Spangled Banner as only he can. Chairman Rocky Wirtz and President/CEO John McDonough, first responders to perform CPR in 2007 on a sickly franchise, were greeted with ovations. Wirtz spoke briefly, perhaps with a pause to gather himself. His people did not struggle returning thanks.
“ROC-KY!! ROC-KY!! ROC-KY!!”
When this enlightened regime took hold, the mantra was One Goal, but not specifically One Cup. Bold action validated promising words, and that explains why Chicago hockey fans have multiplied exponentially. The new ones are hooked on the product, and the old ones who felt unrequited love have united in trusting the organization. That was their one goal. The young guys in sweaters are terrific, and the sport played the way they play it is breathtaking. But it is the totality of commitment, from the executive branch to center ice faceoff dot, that solidifies this connection, this bond.
Stan Bowman, the architect Vice President/General Manager, was serenaded with “Happy Birthday to You.” He will have his cake, then fly to the National Hockey League draft. Pat Foley, for three decades popular voice of the Blackhawks, introduced every player who brought home this Cup and a couple who will be commissioned to secure the next one, Ben Smith and Ryan Stanton. The scouts, trainers, equipment and medical staff had their moment in the sun after endless hours in the trenches.
Kane appeared with his Conn Smythe Trophy for being voted most valuable player in the playoffs. But Kane didn’t vote. He volunteered in Boston that it could have gone elsewhere, and now he unfurled The Belt that teammates award to each hero of the night. Kane bestowed it on Crawford, “the best player in the playoffs.” The goalie accepted, tossing in a couple words that were as blue as the sky. But what’s a no-no among myriad friends? Crawford’s goals against average throughout the grind was a spectacular 1.84. That’s in stone. His remarks can be edited.
Jonathan Toews, the great captain, brought out the Stanley Cup, gave it not his first smooch, then saluted the sea of red. He was hoarse. In his shortest shift since January, Duncan Keith finished off by reminding all that it is better to live one day as a lion than 1,000 years as a lamb. He spoke in dialect — Scottish? — that was not normal for him, but these are not normal times. Two Stanley Cups in four years with the wherewithal, and the proclivity to accumulate more? In the era of a hard salary cap? Parity? No, priceless.
Kane departed with the Stanley Cup, a definite people magnet. He’s a young icon in Chicago, but a couple mates insisted that fans shadowing Kane were just using him to get introduced to the Cup. Back on the bus, Crawford took a seat near his parents, clutching The Belt. The boys of winter were pointed toward a private party, soon to scatter for a couple months like the confetti shower accorded champions.
“That,” said the goalie, “was awesome.”