This Stanley Cup was the toughest one yet for the Blackhawks

SHARE This Stanley Cup was the toughest one yet for the Blackhawks

The “news” helicopter hovering above his house was a new one, and once he saw the images on TV — just how much of his rooftop deck you could see — Patrick Sharp started wondering about all those times he’s been up there working on his tan. But what really caught Sharp off guard was the drone that was snooping around.

“I don’t know where that came from,” Sharp said with a laugh. “It was buzzing around our heads, pretty close to us. That was a little creepy.”

Chicago’s obsession with the Blackhawks and with the whereabouts of the Stanley Cup hasn’t waned with each championship. If anything, it’s gotten more intense, fans and reporters alike going to great — and sometimes disturbing —lengths to catch a glimpse of the bearded men with bloodshot eyes and their massive trophy.

“You’d think that by now they’d be sick of us spraying champagne and hoisting the Cup,” Sharp said. “But it seems like it’s picking up steam. It’s been a special couple of days.”

Winning never gets old. But it can become routine. There was nothing routine about this championship run, however.

Of the three Stanley Cups this group has won, this was by far the hardest —physically and emotionally. And perhaps nobody dealt with more than Sharp. He spent all season knowing that it could be his last with the Hawks because of salary-cap reasons, with trade speculation running rampant and reaching a fever pitch at the trade deadline, and again this week with the draft looming. He, like so many others on the team, had to cope with the stunning deaths of assistant equipment manager Clint Reif and former teammate Steve Montador, both in their mid-30s.

And Sharp had to deal with sordid rumors about his personal life and those of his teammates, which even the most vehement denials failed to put to bed in the stubborn era of social media and unscrupulous talk radio.

“I blocked a lot of things out this year,” Sharp said. “I thought it was a pretty unfair year, some of the stuff I was hearing about myself and my teammates. But that’s the kind of group of guys we have. We stick together. We got it done, and we got through it.”

The Hawks were too young and inexperienced to feel the weight of the 2010 Cup run. The 2013 lockout-shortened season was a mad (and mostly dominant) sprint to the finish line. This one was different. Every season’s a roller coaster, but the lows were lower this time around. The lulls were longer. The frustration was evident. And the off-ice pain bled into the on-ice play.

“There is no doubt that there were some moments throughout this season where we faced some new challenges,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “You’re going to have some rougher moments, and I think as teammates, we try to help each other through that, whether it’s on the ice or off the ice. That’s the real sense of team that we have in our room, that we’re able to help each other that way, and at the end of the day, rise above it all and find a way to win a championship. A lot of respect to a guy like Sharpie for going through what he did and still contributing, and still being a difference-maker, and putting everything else aside and wanting to win for his team. That’s what it’s all about.”

The Hawks also had to overcome Patrick Kane’s broken clavicle, suffered on Feb. 24. He was the league’s top scorer at the time, enjoying his best season in the NHL. It looked like it would be a devastating, potentially crippling, blow for the Hawks. Instead, Kane came back five weeks early, in time for Game 1 of the playoffs. And his injury cleared just enough cap space to bring in Kimmo Timonen and Antoine Vermette at the deadline, the latter of whom had three game-winning goals in the last two rounds. It also forced the Hawks to adopt a more defensive style, which came in handy in shutting down the high-powered Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final.

“Our doubt and our concerns were [at the time], can we make the playoffs?” coach Joel Quenneville said. “That’s what we had to worry about.”

But through it all — the on-ice struggles and the off-ice trauma —the Hawks stuck together, and stuck it out. It’s always fun to celebrate a championship. But with all it took to get here, and all that might happen in the next week and a half, you can forgive the Hawks for dragging out the party as long as possible.

“The locker room is a special place,” Sharp said. “The guys we have on our team, I’ve been with for a long time. They’re special friends.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus

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