WASHINGTON -- The Chicago Blackhawks completed a presidential hat trick Thursday.
The Blackhawks were honored for winning the 2015 Stanley Cup with a ceremony at the White House hosted by President Barack Obama. It's the third time during Obama's two-term presidency that the Blackhawks have taken the Cup to Washington.
"It truly is the best trophy in sports," Obama said of the Stanley Cup. "I'll admit I was hoping you'd give me a day with it this time around. Before I was president the Blackhawks had gone almost half a century without seeing this thing. Now you've got the hat trick. I think it's pretty clear the luck I've brought to this team."
During his remarks, Obama focused on defenseman Kimmo Timonen and goaltender Scott Darling, each of whom won the Stanley Cup for the first time last season, rather than the Blackhawks' bigger-name stars.
"I want to give the spotlight to two unsung heroes on the team," he said. "They're the kind of guys behind the scenes on every winning team in sports and beyond."
Timonen joined the Blackhawks in a trade last season with the Philadelphia Flyers. He recovered from blood clots in his lungs and calf to play late last season, his 16th in the NHL.
"Kimmo already had a great career before last season," Obama said. "Had been to the Stanley Cup Final, Olympic final, World Championship final. He had lost them all. … He was traded to Chicago midseason, fought back on the ice, and, in his final NHL game at the age of 40, Kimmo finally hoisted the Cup. As an old guy, that makes me feel good. And it's a sign of a great career that he was able to stick with it and continue to contribute."
Timonen said he had no idea the president was going to mention him by name and said he struggled not to start crying while standing on the riser behind Obama.
Enjoying retirement while doing some scouting for Team Finland for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, Timonen said he couldn't miss one more chance to be around the teammates with whom he won the Stanley Cup.
"Winning the Stanley Cup, it comes with a few great things you can do," Timonen said. "This, obviously, is one of them. When I heard the date I said I'd be there. It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I wouldn't miss this for anything."
The president then mentioned Darling, who backed up Crawford for most of the championship run. But rather than talk about a moment during the Cup win, Obama pointed to a more recent story about Darling's interaction with a homeless man during a road trip in Arizona. Rather than giving him a few dollars, Darling took him to a hotel and paid for him to stay there for a month. The only person Darling told about the encounter was his fiancée, but days later the story became public.
"I couldn't have more respect for Scott's modesty," Obama said. "But now that it's out there I think it's the kind of good deed that bears repeating. A champion reached out to help someone who needed a hand. Even though he didn't have to, even though nobody was looking, even though he wasn't asking anybody for credit. I like to think that reflects something about our city, about Chicago. It's a very American thing to do."
Like Timonen, Darling said he was stunned to hear the president mention him by name.
"I was just incredibly nervous and shocked," he said. "Just trying to not lock my legs and pass out. Happy that I made it through. It was an incredibly nice thing for him to do and a huge honor to hear my name come out of the president's mouth."
Teammates were proud to hear Timonen and Darling get mentioned so prominently.
"I think that's important too," forward Patrick Kane said. "The last couple times we were here, he went through the playoff runs and mentioned some of the bigger-name players. For him to recognize some of the lesser-known guys who, at the same time, had some unbelievable accomplishments was great too. Shows how well prepared he is and how much he knows about our team and the game too."
Kane was one of six current members of the Blackhawks to be part of all three Cup winners, along with Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson. While the White House trip has become a frequent one, the players said it never gets old.
"I don't think any of us are jaded or desensitized in this type of situation," Toews said. "It's something we appreciate and we know it's part of the experience of winning the Stanley Cup. We're all honored to be here."
Making it even more meaningful is the president's Chicago connection. Although Obama has not been able to see a Blackhawks game in person at United Center, owner Rocky Wirtz helped make the trip a bit easier for the president by giving him a reserved parking pass.
"This is the best gift I've ever gotten at the White House," Obama said.