Today was the first day of the first-ever (and hopefully annual) Chicago Blackhawks Convention. So far, I am having mixed feelings about this event. It has been a lot of fun, but overall it has been very disorganized.
Here is a recap of what I did on the first day of this event.
My Aunt Gayle, my girlfriend Shellie and I showed up around 4:45 PM at the Chicago Hilton Hotel, which was downtown (and not very far from where I teach at an art college). The fans all herded into a large room for what was termed “Opening Ceremonies”. What transpired for the next hour was one surprise after another…after another!
Former Blackhawk player and Convention Ambassador Eddie Olczyk greeted us, and then the soloist (I forgot his name) from the Blackhawks games sang the Canadian National Anthem. But then came the first surprise. Former Blackhawks anthem singer Wayne Messmer came out and sang the Star-Spangled Banner. Messmer sang at Chicago Stadium in the 1980s and 1990s, and the place would literally get as loud as a jumbo jet during the U.S. National Anthem. He has not sang before a Blackhawks game since 1994, when he was released by the team for buying into the minor league Chicago Wolves franchise. This was a sore spot for fans, who have wanted him back since then. The place erupted in cheers, crescendoing at “And the rockets’ red glare / the bombs bursting in air”…just like old times. As a long-time Blackhawks fan, this made me feel very happy.
Following the anthems, Olczyk introduced many former Blackhawks, including Ab McDonald, Dennis Hull, Cliff Koroll, Pit Martin, Stan Mikita, Tony Espostio, Pierre Pilote, Denis Savard and Bobby Hull. Shortly afterward came the second surprise: the Blackhawks are going to retire uniform number 3 to honor both Pierre Pilote and Keith Magnuson. This is huge. Pilote, a memmber of the Hockey Hall of Fame, was an amazing defenseman. Keith Magnuson was a popular member of the Blackhawks in the 1970s–a heart-and-soul kind of player.
Next up were the current players, guys like Dustin Byfuglien, Adam Burish, Patrick Sharp, the newly signed Brian Campbell, rookie of the year Patrick Kane and new team captain Jonathan Toews. Yes, tonight the Blackhawks announced that Jonathan Toews would be the next team captain.
A hat trick of surprises tonight. Things were getting good.
Shellie, Aunt Gayle and I next went to go check out the autograph area. We ended up getting herded into a really long line for Jonathan Toews’ autograph. Deciding that we did not want to wait forever and a day for his autograph, we opted to check out the rest of the convention area.
Several trophies were on display, including the Art Ross, the Hart, the Rocket Richard and the Conn Smythe. The Stanley Cup was not present though–I guess the Red Wings wouldn’t give it up for a weekend for the Blackhawks Convention.
The Art Ross Trophy and your truly.
There was also a small room of about 40 or so dealers and vendors, selling everything from pucks to hockey cards to old photographs. After looking around for an hour or so, we decided to go check out an improv comedy performance, featuring Second City and several Blackhawks players. Since I study improv at Second City, there was no way I was going to miss this!
Blackhawks players Adam Burish (left) and Brent Seabrook (right) on stage with a Second City improv actor.
Brent Seabrook and Adam Burish joined a troupe of six improv players on stage. Seabrook and Burish did some “improvised” stuff with the actors. The actors also did numerous Blackhawks-centric sketches. Here is one of my favorite sketches:
MAN (to wife): Honey, thanks for going to the Blackhawks game with me.
WOMAN: This is fun. Tell me, what is that player called?
MAN: That’s a Right Wing.
WIFE: And who’s that player supposed to be?
MAN: That’s a Left Wing.
WIFE: And what about that player that everyone is booing and spitting on and throwing things at?
MAN: Oh, that would be a Red Wing.
Three Second City actors perform a scene.
Hilarious! These guys really knew their audience. Jokes ranged from Al Secord (“I’ll get Al Secord on your ass!”) to the Hartford Whalers (“Rest in peace.”) to the former lack of televised home games. And the Red Wings were dissed–a lot!
Seabrook and Burish had the “deer in headlights” look whenever they had to think of a word or phrase for some of the improv “games” that they played. But I give them a lot of credit–those two Blackhawks are funny, even if unintentionally so.
Every person in attendance was given a canvas “Blackhawks Convention” tote bag. Kind of nice, but no big deal if you didn’t get one.
I did not purchase anything tonight. I’ll save my spending for tomorrow.
While the Opening Ceremony and Second City performance were a lot of fun, most of the fans were frustrated at the lack of organization. The convention area felt too small for the several thousand fans in attendance (8,000 convention passes were sold)–and it felt like there was too much waiting in line for everything. But overall, I had fun. Lots of fun. I’m looking forward to day two.