What You Need to Know Before Going to the ‘Hawks Con This YearNOTE: David Schauer is another new member of Team Puck Junk. Please give him a shout out in the comments below!
The annual Chicago Blackhawks Convention is right around the corner, and we at Puck Junk thought it might be a good idea to share some of the knowledge that I’ve gained over the years of attending. In fact, this is the 11th annual convention and I personally have gone to the last nine. I’m still kicking myself for missing the first one. All of that experience adds up to a unique insight on what to expect and tips to make your visit even better.
Prepare for a CrowdFirst off, this is a convention. Think ComicCon. Think Disney. It’s crowded, it’s busy, and it’s a ton of fun. In past years, the Blackhawks Convention has drawn 10,000 fans. The Hilton Chicago ballrooms are large, but when holding that many fans, they’re easily filled. This isn’t a bad thing as you’ll get to mingle and converse with Blackhawks fans from all around the country. Just be ready to be shoulder-to-shoulder with folks for quite a bit.
Bring a BagWith all of the vendors who are selling or giving away quality Blackhawks merchandise, storage and carrying ability is a real concern. Bring a purse, a backpack, pants with deep pockets, or have a plan to carry swag. The convention does give away a bag for attendees, but the bags can only hold so much. Overload them and they will rip and tear. Also keep the crowded factor in mind when considering a place to carry your stuff. Big strollers, suitcases, oversized bags will just get in the way and become cumbersome to drag around. On the flip side, there is nothing worse than losing an autographed puck, or misplacing a wallet or phone. Something efficient and organized is a good middle-ground, planning is key.
Wear Comfortable ShoesAnother big part of planning is what you choose to wear. Having been to several of these, I’ve seen it all. While those six-inch Blackhawks stilettos you bought of Etsy look great and you want to show them off, you’ll quickly regret it when going up and down stairs, waiting in lines, or walking all day. More sensible shoes may be better, since you’ll be standing a lot. Keep in mind the weather as well. It may be a scorcher along the lakefront in Chicago, but the Hilton keeps the ballrooms cool. Jerseys are warm and they’ll show off your team or player pride. For more diehard fans, keep an eye on names on jerseys as you mingle around the hotel. You may see some rare Blackhawk names, like my Harold “Mush” March jersey.
Get Something to Eat
All that walking is bound to work up an appetite and the convention has you covered. There are food vendors in the downstairs ballroom, typically offering classic Chicago cuisine like hot dogs and Italian beef. For Chicago fans, this is ideal. If you’re looking for a more sit-down atmosphere, the Hilton has three restaurants and a cafe which are all usually open during the convention. They offer great food with a relaxed experience. If that wasn’t enough, there are restaurants all around the Hilton on Michigan Avenue that will have convention attendees grabbing a bite. Prices are reasonable at all options.
Shop for Blackhawks Merch
The prices for vendors are within reason as well. In the downstairs ballrooms vendors are hawking their Hawks fare and you’re sure to find whatever you’re looking for with prices lower than what you may find online. I never thought I’d find Blackhawks official newspaper reporter press passes from the 1960’s, let alone only pay five dollars, but last year I hit the jackpot. However, the vendors area can get crowded quickly. Remember to be courteous to those around you. Be patient and bring cash. No pushing or shoving; we’re all fans here. The vendors are also great about providing items especially for the convention too. If you need a last minute 8×10 color photo of Stanley Cup winner Jim Pappin because you didn’t realize he was signing today and don’t want to miss your opportunity, someone downstairs has you covered.
Get AutographsSpeaking of signings, autographs are a cornerstone of the Blackhawks Convention. Over the history of the convention, the organizers have come up with a system to keep things running smoothly and to make sure everyone has a great experience. To know who is signing, and where, you’ll need to get your hands on a convention schedule early. Schedules are invaluable during the convention. Before you get an autograph of a player, you’ll need to arrive to the signing area early and get a wristband for that player. This guarantees you a spot in line. Be aware that you can only be wearing one wristband at a time. You’ll have to plan early who you want to see. The lines are long. You may end up sitting on the floor. Some fans have been bringing small bag chairs or buckets to sit on and that’s not a bad idea. When you do finally make it through the line to the singing table, be gracious to the players. They’ve all got families and they are giving their time to be there and sign for you. Always thank them for their time with the fans. Show respect, especially to retired players. Shake hands or pose for a quick photo but know that there is a long line behind you and the player probably has dinner plans. Move along.
A quick note on autographs is to always be ready. Players and staff will be hanging around in the hotel all day. I’ve met Team President John McDonough while waiting in line at the check-in counter of the hotel. I ran in to General Manager Stan Bowman while waiting for the elevators. You may just happen to run across someone, so have a Sharpie ready.
Fun StuffKids are welcome at the convention and the Blackhawks organization takes pride in growing the game with, as Eddie Olczyk would say, “all you young fans out there.” Every year, the Blackhawks Convention has an area where kids can play some ball-hockey, take photos, and have interactive experiences. It’s also not unusual for some players to come down to the ballroom and play some floor hockey with the youngsters either. One thing the convention organizers do is get NHL trophies on loan from the Hockey Hall of Fame and place them near the Kids’ Zone. Fans, especially “young hockey players,” will get a chance to see Art Ross Trophy or the Vezina Trophy up close. That’s an inspiring experience for future NHLers and it encourages them to appreciate the past of the game and value the hard work that went into getting your name etched in history. If you have a chance to get a close look at awards for the NHL’s best, take a solemn moment to do so.
While this is a fun event, it’s important to remember to act appropriately as to not ruin the experience for those around you. Enjoy the tradition and history that comes with the Blackhawks and the NHL while being kind to new fans just discovering the game. Security around the hotel is top notch, with many security personnel being some of Chicago’s finest. They’re professionals who want everyone to have an enjoyable and safe time. Everyone is there to enjoy being a Blackhawks fan and for anyone wanting to get a little bit closer to the team, this is a great experience.
I’ll see you there. ■
Follow David Schauer on Twitter @David_Schauer.