On Saturday night, when the puck drops in Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals, it will be a new experience for a majority of the fans in the United Center. After all, it’s been 18 years since the last time the Blackhawks hosted a Finals game, and 49 since they won a championship.
And yet, for the youngest team in the NHL, it’s nothing special?
Looking up and down the Blackhawks’ roster, the championship pedigree is everywhere.
John Madden has two Stanley Cup Championship rings. Tomas Kopecky and Andrew Ladd each have one. Jonathan Toews has already won golds in the World Juniors, Worlds and Olympics. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have Olympic golds from February. Adam Burish won an NCAA championship (as the captain) at Wisconsin. Dave Bolland won a Memorial Cup with the London Knights. Patrick Sharp won a Calder Cup with the Philadelphia Phantoms (as a teammate of current Flyers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter).
“It’s not the same level or magnitude, but it’s the same situation I’ve been through,” said Burish. “The Frozen Four, for me, at the time it was the biggest thing I’d ever been a part of. Now I come here and it’s 100 times bigger, there’s 100 times more [media] around, but it’s still just the most important game you’ve been in.”
‘It doesn’t really matter where you’re at. When you’re there, it’s always a huge deal, whether it’s the World Juniors or World Championship, if it’s something new to you, a new experience, it’s so exciting,” said Chicago’s captain.
That championship experience filters throughout Chicago’s lineup so that, during nearly every second of the game, someone on the ice has been to the mountain top before. Even though they haven’t been champions, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa have played in a gold medal game and two-straight Stanley Cup Finals, respectively, and see this experience through the same lens.
“It almost feels like it’s back at the All Star game in Montreal, when everyone had their little podium and a lot of media outlets around, too,” said Kane. “So it’s a huge deal. Seems like it’s… the Olympics to me right now, to be honest with you.”
Throughout the playoffs the Blackhawks have overcome their own long odds. The epic comeback in Game Five against Nashville was perhaps the greatest example of this team overcoming an enormous obstacle. But that’s what champions do: they win when it counts.
“You know you don’t want to feel the feeling of disappointment if you lose, so you work hard and you learn kind of what it takes to win and how to overcome what your opponent is throwing at you,” said Toews.
So after five days off, and the hockey world’s media attacking the United Center for the last two days, it’s not about playing the games. But, as Burish said, the Hawks are ready because they’ve been “there’ before.
“[We] have all played in high pressure situations,” said Burish. “It’s not the first time guys have played in a championship game. Your first time doing that it’s like ‘Oh man, I can’t believe I’ve got the chance to do this,’ and you can get wrapped up in the whole situation.”
“I think if you look around this room the whole team’s having fun with this. Guys are excited to get going.”
At 7 o’clock on Saturday night, they’ll get their chance.