Chicago celebrates Summer of Stanley
It may have been short, but it sure was sweet.
The lockout-shortened 2013 NHL season proved the old "quality over quantity" adage, with enough drama to fill several seasons and a finish for the ages. The Chicago Blackhawks started with an NHL record 24-game point streak and finished by hoisting the Stanley Cup for the second time in four seasons, capping a classic final series with the Bruins.
The season may have started late, but for this Blackhawks fan, the wait was worth it …
Saturday night I was at the United Center in Chicago, cheering on the Hawks as they grabbed a 3-1 victory in Game 5, putting them one win from Lord Stanley.
As the final horn sounded and the stadium sang along to the Hawks' unofficial anthem, "Chelsea Dagger," Blackhawks fans all over the country started making plans for what could be a very, very big Monday night.
I immediately thought back to June of 2010, when I joined friends (and Blackhawks legend Bobby Hull) at Harry Caray's Tavern to watch the Blackhawks beat the Flyers on a Patrick Kane overtime goal. We partied at the bar then hit the streets, where we tried (unsuccessfully) to ride the helmet-wearing lions outside the Art Institute, high-fived strangers outside the United Center, drank into the wee hours of the night at the bars on Madison Street and, finally, at 7a.m., watched the Hawks arrive at The Pony Inn in Chicago with the Cup for their last bit of partying.
I spent all day Monday thinking about Game 6, and try as I might to avoid counting my Cups before they were clinched, I couldn't help but think of another win and a repeat of that postgame victory lap around the city.
I arrived at The Fifty/50 in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago about two and a half hours before the puck dropped and watched as fans filled every seat and spot in the bar. Our group of 11 friends downed 60-plus wings, put away our fair share of beers and settled in for what was sure to be a nail-biter.
And boy was it.
With just 76 seconds remaining, the Hawks were trailing the Bruins 2-1 and it looked like the series was headed back to Chicago for Game 7. Then, in a magical 17-second span, back-to-back goals from Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland put the Blackhawks up 3-2 with less than a minute to play and they fought off one final Boston rush to clinch the win.
The bar went absolutely nuts.
There was screaming, hugging, jumping and yelling, people knocking over chairs and drinks in the process. We looked over the rail to the downstairs bar and saw bottles of champagne being popped and sprayed all over the room and bartenders lining up victory shots. My friend Andy, wearing the same lucky helmet he wore in 2010, waded through the crowd getting head-slaps of encouragement from fellow fans.
I borrowed his helmet to recreate my celebration shot from 2010.
After some more reveling at the Fifty/50, we jumped into Andy's car to start our trek around the city, stopping first to pose with his totally baller (and perfectly apropos) license plate.
Our first stop? The United Center, where fans were lining the streets to sing, dance and high-five. Chicago Police were prepared for the celebration, blocking driving access to the front of the building and keeping the crowd under control.
We turned down Madison to a stretch of bars that are always full before, during and after Hawks games. First stop, CrossRoads, where the floor was sticky with spilled champagne and the waitresses were as drunk and happy as the fans.
As we celebrated, we watched TV coverage of the celebration in Wrigleyville, a seemingly endless stretch of revelers filling the streets (and giving Chicago police quite a headache). It's ironic, and awfully sad, that the top spot to celebrate a championship in Chicago is just outside the doors of Wrigley Field, home to the team that's waited the longest for a celebration of its own.
Watching the youngsters cause trouble up North we were happy with our lively, but civil, celebration on the West side of town. We headed down the street toward Third Rail, but had to pause while Andy did an interview. The helmet, always a crowd favorite, earned him some camera time for a second straight year, as well.
Walking into the Third Rail we were overjoyed to find an inflatable Stanley Cup just like the one we'd paraded around town in 2010. Of course we had to hoist it for a few photos, imagining ourselves to be just like the Hawks, who were likely still sipping beer out of the real Cup in their locker room in Boston.
Last stop, the West End, complete with goal horn, flashing light and several rousing rounds of "We Are The Champions" and "Chelsea Dagger." As we sipped our last beer, we watched highlight after highlight of Bolland's winning goal and the Hawks' locker room celebration. We could have gone for hours more, but we could already hear the brain-splitting sound of our alarm clocks, set to ring in just a few hours' time.
What a night! And the party has just begun. The Hawks are certain to be out with the Cup every night this week and the city will hold a rally Friday (I'm taking bets on whether the new, more mature Patrick Kane will "boot and rally" again this year).
For a second time in four years it will be The Summer of Stanley for Chicago and the Blackhawks. And what a sweet, sweet summer it will be.