I had the pleasure of spending almost the entire day and night of October 7th down at the United Center in Chicago witnessing the final celebration of the Chicago Blackhawks as the 2015 Stanley Cup Champions. I was there entirely as a fan. I had no special access to people, players or seats. I wouldn’t have it any other way. As a lifelong fan (I am in my late 40’s), it never gets old going to Banner Raising Night. How could it? Here is my take on the events of the day and night, along with videos for those of you who may have missed it.
The Red Carpet
We bought our tickets on-line at a premium but scored 300 levels seats, third row, center ice. “Only” cost me about three times face value per ticket. That was in July. At last check similar seats were even higher priced. I am in the wrong business. Anyway, on to the festivities. We arrived at the United Center early afternoon to get in line so we could get a choice location on the Red Carpet for player introductions. Basically, we stood in line, then ran to a spot behind the barricades right on the carpet when we were allowed to do so by security. Sweet, great picture opportunities! We got to our spot at 2:45 P.M. and waited, and waited and waited. However, we were right in front of a great live band playing on stage and on the right side of the street for refreshments. The excitement was palpable and everyone tried to pass the time by out-doing each other with pictures of the Stanley Cup from the Summer and players they met. I held my own thanks again to Daniel Carcillo and Chapter 5. We also spoke a lot about the Chicago Cubs – more on that in a bit.
The 2015-2016 team Red Carpet walk began at about 4:25 and was over by 4:50. It included confetti, all the current players, confetti, Blackhawk Ambassadors, confetti, TommyHawk, confetti and Lord Stanley itself. I took way more pictures and video than I can possibly share. My only question: How did I miss the fashion fad where guys where “skinny” suits? Everyone was extremely well-behaved, even though the security guards seem to accidentally on purpose photo bomb all of our attempted pictures of key players like Toews, Keith and Seabrook. Tip for those in the future: make friends with the security team. It makes a difference, especially if you need a little favor from them later to get that once in a lifetime photo.
Inside The United Center
The gates opened at 5:00 P.M. and even with the new metal detectors, everyone was orderly and all went smoothly. The United Center did some remodeling, including new restaurants. Who knew tacos were such a game day favorite? Of course the Blackhawks Stores had all the latest Championship and Banner Raising clothing (I got me a sweet t-shirt), souvenirs, etc. Oh and yes Jostens was there to hock replica rings, pendants and other fine things to further persuade us to part with our money. I got drawn into purchasing a very cool pair of Indian Head earings for my truly beloved and always Game Day partner/wife. What was most shocking however, and admittedly sad, was that they did away with the Game Day Program salespeople. I cannot believe it cost that much to keep them employed.
They also added entire banks of video screens on the concourses. They are so very cool. The United Center also added new high-definition televisions throughout so you can watch the game while waiting in line for food, beverages or the bathroom. On this night they also broadcast parts of the Cubs game, which seemed to be all anyone cared about once the banner was raised. It might have also been because we were losing to the New York Rangers.
At 6:30 we were asked to take our seats and put on our bracelets. The Blackhawks also did this in 2013. They change colors, blink and are programmed to work with all parts of the ceremony. Oddly, some 24 hours mine are still going, like a VCR clock blinking that you can’t shut off. I don’t know who first came up with the idea to have video and pictures projected on the ice, but whomever it was, stick taps to you.
Eddie Olczyk served as the MC and introduced the non-players that are such an integral part of the team. Not surprisingly, Coach Q got the biggest and longest ovation. Also not surprisingly, Gary Bettman didn’t. Why was he introduced on this night anyway? This was to celebrate the Championship one last time, what role did he play? Anyhow, things were then turned over to Pat Foley for player introductions, and the Stanley Cup was brought in by Niklas Hjalmarsson. There was no truth to the rumor he laid down to try to block the spotlight from reflecting off the Cup and thereby ruining all of our photo opportunities. The Banner was then raised with the assistance of Keith, Toews, Kane and Crawford. What was most interesting is it was not carried on to the ice and escorted by the players like in 2013. Instead, these four just hooked it up, then up it went. And just like that, in the span of about 30 minutes, it was done (se the entire ceremony video below). Some cried, most cheered and some were watching the Cubs game visible from televisions at the top of the 300 level. That explains the odd cheering during a lull in the ceremony as the Cubs scored their first run at about 7:15.
The “Other” Game
By now you know that the Chicago Cubs baseball team was in a one game playoff against the Pittsburgh Pirates for the right to move on in the playoffs. The Cubs showed the Blackhawks playoffs games on their jumbotron during their season, and players ever wore Blackhawks Sweaters during their batting practice in the Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks also brough the Cup the day fater winning it to a Cubs game. Clearly these two organizations get it.
The Blackhawks did the best they could to keep fans updated, as outlined above, while not taking anything away from their own night. I would say they nailed it. My favorite part of the actual game was when play was along the boards and a crazy cheer went up from the top of the 300 level behind me. Everyone immediately pulled out their phones or looked at score banners around the United Center. A young stud named Kyle Schwarber hit a home run and the Cubs were on their way to victory. The other amusing event: the baseball game had a near brawl, not the hockey game. Just as the baseball game ended, the Blackhawks thought they had scored the tying goal with less than a minute remaining. But alas on this night, it seemed the Gods were only baseball fans, as the goal was waved off.
While the Blackhawks may have lost the game played this night to the New York Rangers, it truly was a most memorable and banner day/night that I hope all of you have the chance to experience some day. Until next time all, Go Cubs!
Rick is fortunate to live off the I-90 hockey corridor where both his beloved Chicago Blackhawks and Rockford IceHogs (aka Baby Hawks) call home. Hockey has been in his blood since the early 1970’s when he saw his first Blackhawks game at the “Old Barn”. His favorite player is Keith Magnuson followed closely by Bobby Hull (old school!). When not covering the greatest sport, he enjoys watching live music and has even been known to join his beloved bands on stage for a song or two. Follow Rick on Twitter via @HawksStrength