Every NHL fan knows that watching a game in person changes everything. You follow hockey differently after that. During the Stanley Cup Final, NHL.com Editor-in-Chief Bob Condor was watching the games from various locations inside the arenas in Chicago and Philadelphia -- to give both the fan and insider perspectives.
PHILADELPHIA -- Here's what was so fitting about Patrick Kane, at least for maybe 20 seconds, being the only Blackhawk to know his bad-angled shot represented the game-winning goal for Chicago's first Stanley Cup in 49 years: The American winger seemingly couldn't stomach his Team USA's overtime loss to Canada back in February, at least during media interviews after the game.
Kane was nothing but stoic about it over the next week as his team returned to NHL play, posing for all of the requisite photos, silver medal around his neck, standing alongside three Chicago teammates who were grinning with the gold.
When Kane scored to end Game 6, knowing the puck was in, he skated all the way back down to his own team's goal, throwing off his gloves in the neutral zone before subsequently jumping in the arms of Finn phenom (can a 26-year-old be called that?) goalie Antti Niemi before other Blackhawks mobbed him.
This time, Kane got a head start on celebrating the heaviest of metal, the Stanley Cup, while gold-medal teammates Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook lagged just a bit. Watch the replays of the game-winner; Keith can be spotted looking back at the Philly net, presumably trying to figure out if the goal light was on yet, as Kane and others (Patrick Sharp was an early believer) were hugging with Niemi. Even as part of the happy pile, Toews is on screen, still a bit unsure, looking back down ice for any confirmation.
The NHL's Hockey Operations handled the ensuing minute expertly and professionally, reviewing the goal on video so referee Kelly Sutherland could confirm it on the ice.
Three periods? Not enough to cover what happened for the Chicago Blackhawks and their clearly loyal fans Wednesday at Wachovia Center.
Three days is more like it.
Of course, there were the four minutes and six seconds of overtime, just for starters. Once Kane scored the dream of every kid who's ever laced up skates or wielded a floor hockey or streetball stick, the whole, rollicking, shake-your-head, drop-your-jaw game night morphed into a team after-party that lasted well into Thursday's daytime hours. Friday brought a championship parade and rally that, honestly, as someone fortunate enough to be Sports Editor at the Chicago Tribune back then, went throat-to-throat with the first Michael Jordan-Chicago Bulls rally in 1991. Players reported a thunderous roar along the parade route -- and it was even louder at the rally point, not far from the city's landmark Wrigley Building.
Not that it was quiet at Wachovia Center on Wednesday night. Flyers fans were in usual high-decibel form, offering huge cheers for scoring sensation and black/yellow-eyed Danny Briere pre-game, then providing even louder rock-concert-equivalent noise on the ice-level NHL.com decibel meter when Briere scored a go-ahead goal in the SECOND PERIOD.
The most distinct ice-level sounds of the FIRST PERIOD were the muffled but still noisy THUD-THUD-THUDs of pucks ricocheting off Michael Leighton's legs as Chicago muscled 17 shots on net in the first 16 minutes or so. The boards along the timekeeper's table were rumbling and rattling during the first 20 minutes. Lots of hits and, for what's it worth, Philadelphia right wing Claude Giroux seemed be skating faster than anyone else on the ice.
Chris Pronger was sent to the penalty box twice, once at 8:42 for holding and again at 16:29 for high sticking. The first time Pronger, seated, rapped his extra-long stick twice on the glass hard and yelled, "Let's go!" It wasn't clear if he was urging on Sutherland and partner Stephen Walkom or his Flyers teammates.
The second time, Pronger was standing from the start and shouting at Walkom as the referee reported his decision to off-ice official Augie Conte. Nothing obscene, just some pointed questioning from the Flyers defenseman. Philly fans surrounding the glassed-off penalty box area were, naturally, adding their unique brand of what might loosely be called support. Before heading out for the next faceoff, Walkom took a moment to open the penalty-box door and provide a bit of explanation to Pronger. Hard to do with the noise and stand-up for reasons that are not hard to imagine. Pronger seemed satisfied with the private conference, though he did tap on the glass once after Walkom left.
Twenty seconds later, Dustin Byfuglien scored the game's first goal from just outside Leighton's crease. Pronger stepped out of the box without comment or even another rap of the stick.
Blackhawks Cup parade (Courtesy: Brian Hedger)
At 19:07, Chicago veteran defenseman Brent Sopel took his second penalty of the opening period.
"What for?!" pleaded Sopel, as he sat down. No answer from the referees this time.
Twenty-six seconds later, the game was tied on the first of Scott Hartnell's two goals for the Flyers. Hartnell, of course, tied the game again late in the THIRD PERIOD. His rebound score at 16:01 prompted an ear-ringing din that lasted the remainder of regulation.
Fast-forward to the Blackhawks happily milling around the ice after the Stanley Cup was presented. Brian Campbell was hugging his two brothers hard and at the same time, yelling and asking over and over, "Can you believe we won a Cup!?"
Winning the most hard-won trophy in sports apparently is a family affair. Scotty Bowman just yesterday -- or so it seemed to him after Game 6 -- was worrying over son Stan's stem-cell transplant (he's twice been diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease). On the ice Wednesday, wearing one of those spiffy 2010 Stanley Cup champs hats with the classic Blackhawks logo, he recalled former GM Dale Tallon calling to ask if he would consider joining the Chicago franchise as a senior adviser. Then employed with Detroit, Bowman sought input from the Red Wings' brain trust, who said basically, "it's not a decision and you should go."
Look closely at the official on-ice team photo. Scotty is holding Stan's hand.
Stan, you know the story, was named after the Stanley Cup. Here's a story Scotty told on the ice: When Stan was 2 or 3 years old, Scotty used to pick him up and say, "This is my Stanley Cup." So when Scotty took Stan the toddler to a government office once to pick up an official document, the elder Bowman reported his son's name as "Stanley Glenn." On the drive, a bewildered Stan asked Dad why his name wasn't Stanley Cup any more.
One more scene from ice level: The perpetually somber/intense Joel Quenneville grinning the entire time. The coach's mustache is now instantly revered with Mike Ditka and Phil Jackson, a couple other guys ending long Chicago championship droughts.
Upon landing in the team plane early Thursday morning, 4 a.m. range, Quenneville simply said the plane ride was even more fun and emotional than the game and the on-ice Cup celebration.
Later in the morning, local news cameras shot footage of Toews (some year for that guy) eating breakfast (fried-egg-on-a-bagel sandwich) at the North Side restaurant Ann Sather and carrying out a to-go box that Chicagoans know contains puffy, gooey cinnamon rolls that go to favorites of the Ann Sather servers. Authentic Chicago stuff for a guy who grew up in Winnipeg and was named Best Forward during a stellar Olympic tournament.
The overflow crowd, filling blocks-long stretches of streets, chanted owner Rocky Wirtz's name when he first appeared in the parade and later again when he addressed the crowd. There were even fans at United Center -- OK, at least one -- who sported Blackhawks jerseys with "Rocky" for the name and "1" for the number.
That does not happen is many sports cities, period.
Patrick Sharp was his usual funny self at the rally podium ("What's up, Chicago? Hey, does anybody want Patrick Kane's cell number?" he asked, holding up a phone). Kris Versteeg rapped a self-penned song (let's score it as "brave") and Ed Olczyk, the ex-Hawk and current superb local and national analyst, was strong as the master of ceremonies.
Kane joked about keeping his shirt on and gave a shout-out to all cab drivers.
But Toews, a true believer on this Stanley Cup champion, provided the common-denominator feeling of all players. Bottom line, he said, he and his teammates may have dreamed of winning the Stanley Cup in backyard rink games or on sheets of ice during shooting drills for traveling teams. But never could Toews or Kane or Keith or Sharp imagine the type of ear-shattering reception showered on the Blackhawks on Friday at the start of Chicago's Magnificent Mile.