I always pick the perfect time to come home.
The Chicago Blackhawks became Stanley Cup Champions in June 2010 for the first time since 1961. Shortly after, I decided my life was complete enough to leave not only Chicago but the USA to pursue my dream of seeing the world. I packed up my things, moved to Istanbul and never looked back.
Since I left the USA in October 2010, the Hawks have been Stanley Cup champions twice more – in June 2013 and again in June 2015. Both times, I was able to fly back to Chicago in time for the winning game and celebration.
In 2013, it was an unplanned trip due to a serious illness. I watched the game in pain sitting on a couch but was unable to jump up and down after the incredible “17 seconds”. Doesn’t matter. I was cured by joy.
In 2015, I booked my flight home four months earlier for a pair of weddings. I was able to see all of the games with friends and family, including huddling around a cell phone for Game 5. That game occurred during my best friend Pete’s wedding in which I was the best man. Some of my best man duties went unperformed. Pete understood.
The first two cup runs were special for one reason or another – growing uncontrolled playoff beards for several weeks on end, celebrating in the Greektown parking lot by spraying bottles of champagne on my friends in 2010, the sounds of Chelsea Dagger, or getting up at 3am in Istanbul to watch the playoff games.
The 2015 Stanley Cup, however, has had a much more special and deeper meaning. Not only was it the third cup in six years, but we won it at home. In Chicago. On our ice. This meant I was able to celebrate in my seats I have held since 2002-03 with friends I have made because of our love for the Hawks.
Our core group of loyal fans has stuck together through the worst years in Blackhawks history only to taste victory three times. There have been weddings and babies, unfortunate deaths, graduations, and other significant life events that we otherwise wouldn’t have experienced together if not for the common “One Goal” we have shared. I have my regular family, my friends, and my Blackhawks family.
If you haven’t been up in Section 301 since the beginning, you have no idea what we’ve been through together over the years. We could write a book.
The Blackhawks had a 3-2 series lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning. We arrived at the United Center during a torrential downpour to watch Game 6. The gates opened and we quickly got up to our seats. As the other season ticket holders trickled in, there was an air of nervousness but confidence. It was an atmosphere of restrained celebration. Nobody wanted to jinx us out of seeing the Stanley Cup, so we talked more about “if” rather than “when”.
We settled in and participated in an awe-inspiring anthem by Jim Cornelison that rocked the entire building. I had never heard the place any louder.
Our nerves were tested as Steven Stamkos rung a shot off the post early in the first period, but were calmed by the solid effort put in by the Hawks the rest of the period. Late in the second period, Duncan Keith scored the opening goal of the game off his own rebounded shot. The crowd erupted and high-fived as Chelsea Dagger blasted through the stadium.
The Lightning had some quality chances to tie the game but failed. Patrick Kane’s goal after a sweet no-look pass by Brad Richards gave us some insurance, and everyone in the building knew it was just a matter of time before the curtain would close on the Tampa Bay Lightning.
As time expired in Game 6 and sticks and gloves were flying all over the ice, all of those memories and experiences of the past 13 years flashed through my mind. When the clock showed zero, the Stanley Cup countdown on the scoreboard also showed zero, and my eardrums were nearly shattered from the explosion of cheers from the crowd. I knew I was exactly where I belonged, where I was meant to be at that moment – with my Blackhawks family. Through all the hugs and high fives and even some tears, we were there to celebrate together.
All this may sound cliché, but consider the fact that no Blackhawks team had clinched the Stanley Cup on home ice since way back in 1938. My grandmother hadn’t even been born!
Everyone stuck around to see Duncan Keith presented with the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs, and of course Jonathan Toews lift the Stanley Cup over his head and the team pass it around to each other. It was well after 11pm when I left the United Center. Everyone was still on the ice celebrating and giving interviews. It was an incredible scene full of joy and emotion, and something I will never forget.
A few days later, I attended the Blackhawks championship rally at hallowed Soldier Field. The sea of red in the huge football stadium was a sight to behold, but it was sort of anticlimactic. I was surrounded by strangers that didn’t have the same connection to the Hawks as I did with the other season ticket holders from my section. The acoustics were also terrible and the speeches were inaudible. It was a great celebration, but it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as I had hoped.
Another year is coming up soon and I’ll have plenty more games to attend when I’m home. Some players will leave, new ones will join the team, and the Blackhawks will fight again for the Stanley Cup. But my experience on June 15, 2015, will never be topped.
Thank you to John, Rachael, Becky, Rob, Nick, Larry, Janet, Mark, Al, Tom, Paco, and Joe, and of course Mark and Kelly who weren’t able to make it for Game 6.