After the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup four seasons ago victory, fans who had not so much as thought about NHL hockey for several years – possibly ever -- started coming out of the woodwork to support a team that in the early years of the new millennium was regarded as one of America’s worst-run professional sports franchises.
The Hawks prior to the 2010 playoffs had qualified for the postseason twice in the past 11 seasons, and there was a time in the not so distant past that tickets could not be given away; literally, an ESPN Chicago promotion during those lean years once found no takers for free tickets.
Those dog days are over. All but forgotten. History. The previous two paragraphs may be the last time that era is ever mentioned in print.
Amazing what two championships in four seasons will do.
Today, after bringing Lord Stanley’s Cup home to Chicago in both 2010 and 2013, the Hawks are the toast of the town; and the exponential growth of the team’s fan-base contributed last week to one of the largest championship celebrations in Chicago history. An estimated 2 million people – which if accurate would represent more than 20 percent of the population in the Chicago metropolitan area -- descended on downtown Chicago last Friday for a parade and rally held to honor the guys Hawks’ goalie Corey Crawford called “the biggest bunch of beauties in the league.” Old fans, new fans and bandwagon jumpers alike, some wearing No. 7 for Chelios or Seabrook or No. 27 for either Roenick or Oduya, were draped in black and red and constituted a sea of people that cheered on Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Stanley Cup heroes Brian Bickell and Dave Bolland and the rest of the crew.
For Chrissy Sipla, 24, of Chicago, there was never a doubt in her mind the Hawks would come home from Boston with the Cup.
“I’ve been a Hawks fan my entire life, even when tickets were $10 a piece,” Sipla said. “I know there are a lot of new fans since the Hawks won the Cup in 2010, but it’s still great to have such good fans in Chicago.”
R.J. Puoli of Schaumburg was cheering on the Hawks amidst fans’ chants of winger Marian Hossa’s name and renditions of the introduction to The Fratellis’ “Chelsea Dagger.” Puoli either watched or listened to every game this abbreviated NHL season, he said. He recounted how he had chills before the decisive Game 6, and the excitement of the Hawks winning the contest and clinching the Cup with two 17 goals seconds apart late in the third period.
“I’m still trying to actually comprehend it right now to this day,” he said of the tallies by Bickell and Bolland, the latter’s coming with 58 seconds remaining in regulation. “Me and my buddies were all there sitting at the bar, we see two minutes left and we’re down a goal and that’s just to tie it. I got the chills, and boom-boom, there we go and there we win it.
“I feel like a part of the team, I wish I could be of the team,” he continued. “I’m just happy to be part of this. It’s a heck of an experience, not just for me for Chicago, for everyone.”
Chicago resident Megan Meo never stopped believing in the Hawks, the NHL’s best team from the season-opening points streak to the Finals – even when the squad was down three games to one to the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference semifinals.
“I kept saying during the Finals, ‘you can’t stop believing,’” said Meo, 25. “From start to finish the Hawks were the best team this season. I knew we were going to pull it out in Game 6 with the Cup, it was a crazy game and I was on the edge of my seat, but I knew somehow we’d walk away with the Cup.”
Mike Kruzel and Marcus P of Chicago’s South Side came to the rally with an oversized Stanly Cup Champions flag and a homemade Stanley Cup built from cardboard and duct tape. P had stayed up until 3 a.m. the morning of the celebration making the trophy, which featured a red plastic bowl that contained a curious residue .
“You can drink out of it,” P said his Cup, adding that he had, in fact, been drinking “everything and anything you can think of” out of it. Should the Hawks win the Cup again next season, he plans to house a mini-keg in the replica’s bottom.
For 26-year-old Val Neuzali, the Stanley Cup is representative of all Chicagoans.
““I’m from right here, baby. I’m from the city with the Cup,” Neuzali said emphatically. “This is the greatest city in the world with the greatest hockey team in the world.”