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Verdi: Blackhawks galas don't get old, they just get better

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks

You know the Blackhawks are on a roll when you can jog your short-term memory and actually compare their parades.

Grant Park was swell in 2013, but when did they paint all the seats at Soldier Field red? In 2010, were there this many helicopters following the caravan? If it was sunnier at the other two, didn’t Thursday’s celebration seem busier, louder?

These galas don’t get old, they just get better. Once, for the sake of convenience, critics insisted there were maybe 18,000 or so hockey enthusiasts in Chicago. Now, even the most curmudgeonly souls must upgrade that to maybe 3 or 4 million.

From mid-morning takeoff at the United Center, through streets of a region galvanized by this championship team, a procession of buses and trolleys drew roars of appreciation from masses of humanity that grew thicker by every block.

Judging by the hundreds of hard hats in the gallery, construction screeched to halt. Chicago’s finest, the police, the backbone of this city, made it happen while nobody else appeared to be working. Desks emptied in office buildings, pictures were snapped from behind sealed windows, and when final crowd estimates are in, do pets count?

The last double decker in the expedition, No. 26, contained Patrick Kane and Corey Crawford. Kane exhorted the throngs, like they needed prompting, while the trail vehicle blew through red lights. Goalies habitually flinch at those, but Crawford hasn’t seen many lately. He was extremely stingy throughout a Stanley Cup Final clinched by his 2-0 masterpiece.

“COR-EY!! COR-EY!! COR-EY” went the chant, and these were not fair-weather fans. Not after a morning cloudburst confirmed a very iffy forecast. The Blackhawks can’t walk on water, but if you freeze it, they are masters of their craft. This is a matter of record, that the franchise has become a paradigm in professional sports. But look past those restraining fences and down side alleys. Has any team increased its audience so exponentially over such a relatively short period of time?

“I just can’t get over it… the passion here is amazing,” said Brad Richards, who has been around a while. As he spoke, in the bowels of Soldier Field, the place was packed. The motorcade had landed, a video presentation of the Blackhawks’ two-month playoff run followed, then Jim Cornelison’s patented Star-Spangled Banner, and fireworks.

Hall of Famer Pat Foley took the microphone as only he can, and introductions began. Rocky Wirtz, the chairman, received an ovation that owners elsewhere might hear in their dreams. He declared that this Stanley Cup, won at home, felt special. John McDonough, the President and CEO, glanced at the 35-pound silver beauty at center stage and told the red sea of 65,000 that “this one is for you.” Scotty Bowman? He’s won so many Stanley Cups, he arranges them by zip code. Three of 14 were secured in Chicago.

“M-V-P! M-V-P!” World-class defenseman Duncan Keith, always on the move, took his Conn Smythe Trophy for a brief stroll, and talked about coming here a decade ago, not daring to fantasize about such a love-in. A lot of main arteries were blocked off on Thursday, but all the boys of winter agreed that energy is a two-way street around here. They feed off those who feed off them.

We hardly knew ye, Kimmo Timonen, but what approbation he received. The coach, Joel Quenneville, could run for mayor, with due respect to Rahm Emanuel, who was already there. The peerless captain, Jonathan Toews, didn’t bring all of his voice to the ceremony. But, as usual, he said everything right. Then there was Kris Versteeg, who earned the championship belt after a triumphant Game 5 in Tampa Bay. The guys were otherwise occupied for several hours upon Monday night’s postgame party, but now, Versteeg called up a successor: C.J. Reif, the young son of Clint, the Blackhawks’ assistant equipment manager who passed away in December.

The players adored Clint. On the day after Christmas, they trekked to a funeral home to say goodbye. Keith, for one, was a mess. The Blackhawks dealt with serial challenges this season. But they’ll see Nashville and Anaheim again. Clint is forever an absent friend.

Michal Rozsival, a missing link on the blue line, abandoned crutches for his appointment with the Cup. Then, before a group rendition of “We Are the Champions” and one more blast of “Chelsea Dagger,” Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom performed a brief rap intended to encourage dance. Asked what we geriatrics are supposed to call that, Nordstrom said, “I’ll get back to you.”

Confetti engulfed players as they exited, beaming. Did we hear that correctly? Did Teuvo Teravainen, 20, really say he waited his whole life for this?

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