Blackhawks fans, players arrive early at United Center as city braces for celebration

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Tony Hammond and his girlfriend, Heather Mackowiak, were outside the United Center early Monday. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

As Blackhawks players began to trickle into the United Center Monday morning, Tony Hammond tried to discern on-ice talent from front office worker as fancy cars entered a lot to the west of the arena.

“Kane was easy to spot. He’s in a Hummer. His dad was driving today,” said Hammond, a regular who arrived at 8:30 a.m. and had seen most of the team’s roster by 9:30 a.m.

“Marian Hossa is easy to spot because he has a white Mercedes,” said another fan, who asked not to be named.

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“This guy’s got a beard — is he on the team?” said Hammond’s girlfriend Heather Mackowiak as a cab carrying a well-whiskered man pulled into the players’ entrance.

“Sometimes it’s difficult because they have tinted windows,” said Hammond, who works for Southwest Airlines as a ramp agent. He and Mackowiak don’t have tickets, but they still wanted to soak up some Stanley Cup atmosphere.

He was right about Kane. The dad of the Blackhawks’ sharpshooter was in the neighborhood. After Kane was dropped off, his father, Patrick Kane Sr., joined two other players’ dads, Gary Seabrook and Bill Bickell, and a crowd of other people for breakfast at the Palace Grill, 1408 W. Madison St., a few blocks east of the United Center.

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Player dads Gary Seabrook (far), Patrick Kane Sr. (middle) and Bill Bickell (near) ate breakfast Monday at the Palace Grill near the United Center. | Photo courtesy of George Lemperis

Back outside the arena, Jonathan Lupa, 32, had unfolded his lawn chair by Gate 3 along Madison Street at 9 a.m. Lupa was going to see the game in person, but “see” is a relative term when you are at the back of the upper deck.

“I have standing-room-only tickets and they’re first-come, first-serve so I want to be one of the first people in when they open the gates to get a good spot,” said Lupa, who works for a logistics company and lives in Lake View, a neighborhood with its own concerns.

Thousands gathered on Clark Street near Wrigley Field in 2013 when the Hawks last won a Stanley Cup.

Police arrested 23 people that night as revelers climbed the facades of buildings, crowd-surfed and refused to disperse.

A Cubs home game Monday night will ensure a crowd in the already lively entertainment district.

A police spokeswoman declined to go into too many specifics in a statement issued Monday afternoon:

“We are hopeful that tonight’s game will give the city reason to celebrate; in order to be prepared for potentially large crowds tonight, we have adjusted our public safety plans to ensure all communities are safe and secure,” spokeswoman Jennifer Rottner said in the statement. “While maintaining normal manpower throughout the city, there will be an increased police presence in the areas where fans traditionally gather to celebrate. As always, we are collaborating with all City and outside agencies to make sure fans, residents and communities are able to safely enjoy celebrating, should the Hawks clinch the championship tonight.”

Another police source said problems are expected again along Clark Street. That source said many officers have been recalled from their off days and specialized police units have been activated and will be on standby.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to attend the game Monday night.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who serves the Lake View neighborhood, could not be reached early Monday. But a Tunney spokeswoman said police already were taking steps to keep things safe in the area.

Police issued a directive to Lake View bar owners to serve drinks only in plastic cups and bottles — no glass — on Monday, said Erin Duffy, Tunney’s director of community outreach.

If the Blackhawks lose Monday, forcing the series into a deciding seventh game in Tampa on Wednesday, the same rule will be in place, she said.

“We’re trying to limit the things people can pick up and throw,” Duffy said. “We’re hopeful for a big win and a peaceful celebration.”

Bars will have extra security and there will be an added police presence, she said.

Beginning at 8 p.m. Monday and lasting till 8 a.m. Tuesday, parking bans will be in place in these areas: Clark Street, between Belmont Avenue and Grace Street; on Sheffield Avenue, from Belmont to Addison Street; and on Belmont, from Halsted Street to Sheffield, Duffy said.

The parking restrictions also will be in place Wednesday night, should there be a seventh game.

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