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Blackhawks raise 2015 Cup championship banner

by Dan Rosen

CHICAGO -- The countdown clock on the scoreboard above center ice, set at 26 minutes, started going down when the video board turned on, showing pictures of the Chicago Blackhawks' latest Stanley Cup championship run.

More videos played, displaying images of the Stanley Cup, the Conn Smythe Trophy and the celebration from June 15, the night the Blackhawks won the Cup on their home ice.

The show was on, banner-raising night at United Center, the third of its kind since 2010, and it was like a dance party came to the "Madhouse on Madison." The lights went off and arena staffers tossed giant, glowing balloons into the crowd. The wristlets that were on every seat started lighting up in unison.

Eddie Olczyk, the former Blackhawks player turned television broadcaster, was introduced as master of ceremonies.

"Hello, Chicago," Olczyk said, his voice drown out by a roar from the crowd. "Well, here we are again."

Indeed they were.

The Blackhawks have gotten used to these parties to kick off their home opener. They did it in 2010 to celebrate their first Stanley Cup championship in 49 years. They did it again in 2013, and now this year.

Old hat? Hardly. How can this be old hat?

"They earned it," said Blackhawks broadcaster Pat Foley, who took over for Olczyk at the podium halfway through the ceremony to introduce the 2015-16 team. "You shared in it."

The first banner to be uncovered was the one representing the Western Conference championship. Olczyk then moved quickly into introducing the array of people lining the boards stretching far past each bench.

Blackhawks ambassadors Denis Savard, Tony Esposito and Bobby Hull were here. So, too, were Stan Mikita's wife, Jill, and his grandson. Mikita was unable to attend because he is battling Lewy body dementia.

On down the list went Olczyk, eventually getting to general manager Stan Bowman, president John McDonough and owner Rocky Wirtz. Each received a cheer louder than the previous. The fans chanted "Rocky, Rocky, Rocky" for Wirtz.

Wirtz's reception was rivaled only by the one the fans gave to coach Joel Quenneville, who waved to the crowd as they chanted, "Quuuuuuuu."

Olczyk turned it over to Foley, who first asked the fans to give a "warm Chicago welcome" to the newest Blackhawks' players: forwards Viktor Tikhonov, Artem Anisimov, Ryan Garbutt, Kyle Baun and Artemi Panarin, and defensemen Trevor Daley and Ville Pokka.

The first player from the championship team to come onto the ice was defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, who brought the Stanley Cup with him, raising it over his head before placing it onto the table with a white cloth covering it at center ice.

Kimmo Timonen was the only player from last season's team not on the 2015-16 Blackhawks who was in attendance and introduced.

Captain Jonathan Toews was the last player introduced, to a roar similar to those that accompanied Bowman, McDonough, Wirtz and Quenneville. Toews skated onto the ice, to center ice, where he lifted the Cup and showed it to the crowd before putting it back down one last time.

The fans were directed once again to the video board for one more video looking back at how the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last season, the sights, sounds and memories all encapsulated in the three-minute video.

"This is the part of the ceremony that will never get old," Foley said as the spotlight came back to him following the video.

Goalie Corey Crawford, defenseman Brent Seabrook and right wings Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa hooked the 2015 Stanley Cup championship banner up to the wires and it started rising out of a long, rectangular box that was stretched over the home goal crease.

"That banner forever represents the 2015 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks," Foley said.

Before the lights came back on, Blackhawks national anthem singer Jim Cornelison came out, flanked by two armed forces veterans, and belted out his now-famous version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" over a roaring crowd.

At this point, the New York Rangers were on the ice, but the Stanley Cup was too, resting on its table in Crawford's crease.

The lights came on, the Cup was escorted off the ice, and the Blackhawks were all of a sudden just like every other team, 0-0-0, staring at an 82-game grind that, if successful, would give them a chance to do this all over again next year.

"It was pretty awesome," forward Teuvo Teravainen said. "It's great to be a part of that kind of ceremony. I just had some great memories again come up from the last year."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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