Eric Daze has endless memories of the United Center. The building opened during his rookie season (1994-95) and remained his hockey home for the next decade.
But the former Blackhawks right winger’s two favorite memories are as fresh as they are warm. He took his 9-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son to their first game last season.
‘‘My daughter was 2 years old when I retired, and my son never saw me play,’’ Daze said. ‘‘When she saw my name on the Jumbotron, she just turned around and looked at me.
‘‘My son is really into hockey. A few months later, I took him to the Montreal game. I brought him down to the net, and we watched the Hawks win in overtime. He was pretty pumped up.’’
Daze has an interesting perspective on the Hawks’ rapid ascent, if only because it isn’t hard for him to imagine himself being part of it. He was only 31 when three surgeries in a five-year span to repair herniated disks in his back forced him to retire in 2006.
He would’ve been 35 when the Hawks brought the Stanley Cup back to Chicago for the first time in 49 years after the 2010 season. That’s a year younger than John Madden was that season.
The Hawks won the Cup again in 2013 with 36-year-old Michal Handzus contributing.
Instead, being named the most valuable player of the 2002 All-Star Game was the highlight of Daze’s career. He was the first Hawks player to accomplish that feat since Bobby Hull in 1971.
‘‘The first couple of years after I retired, I watched this team and wished I was playing and winning with these guys,’’ he said. ‘‘I wish I could’ve played longer because I was at the peak of my career when I injured my back the second time. But I’m proud of what I did. My back wouldn’t let me play anymore. It was time to move on.’’
Daze has had a front-row seat for the Hawks’ rise. He and his wife, Guylaine, grew up in Montreal but decided to raise their family in Hinsdale.
Guylaine teaches French, and Daze relishes his role as a stay-at-home dad. They head to Montreal to visit family during the summer, just like in his playing days.
‘‘We made a decision to live here,’’ Daze said. ‘‘I’ve spent more years in Chicago than I did with my parents. I left home when I was 16, and I’ve been in Chicago for 20 years. It just feels like home.’’
Daze worried he would suffer from a lifetime of back pain. For the first four years after retiring, he sometimes struggled to pick up his daughter. But his back has improved so much in recent years that he has started playing again.
‘‘I didn’t play for seven years,’’ he said. ‘‘I kept my equipment in the basement. We had an alumni game last year, and I said, ‘Let’s try it.’ Now I’m playing once a week, and I’ve fallen in love with the game all over again.’’
The game has changed a lot since his playing days, at least at the NHL level.
‘‘The first thing is the speed,’’ he said. ‘‘Guys train real hard and are in great shape. Most of the players can really skate, but the biggest difference I see as a forward is the blocked shots. You can’t just shoot the puck like you used to do. You used to have a couple of specialists on every team that blocked shots, but now everybody does it.’’