Obama welcomes Blackhawks for a third time

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President Barack Obama holds up a United Center parking pass that Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz gave him. (AP Photo)

WASHINGTON — A couple of weeks ago, Blackhawks backup goaltender Scott Darling ran into a man — a total stranger — in Scottsdale, Arizona, asking for money. Rather than give him a few bucks, Darling put him up in a hotel for a month to help him get back on his feet. Darling didn’t tell the team about it so they could make a sappy video. Didn’t tell reporters so they could lionize him in print. Didn’t tell anyone but his fiancee.

But word got out through an Uber driver and a beer-league hockey player, who posted the tale on Twitter. And on Thursday, the president of the United States told the story in the East Room of the White House, with Darling — just some kid out of Lemont a little more than a year ago — standing mere feet away.

“Scott, I suspect, recognized some of his own struggles in the past,” President Barack Obama said, alluding to Darling’s early career struggles with alcohol. “A champion reached out to somebody who could use a hand. He didn’t have to. Even though nobody was looking. Even though he wasn’t asking anybody for credit. I’d like to think that reflects something about our city, about Chicago. It’s a very American thing to do.”

The Hawks’ third White House visit in six years allowed Obama to skip past the usual suspects — Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Corey Crawford and others have had their moment in the spotlight. Obama instead singled out Darling for his act of kindness, and Kimmo Timonen, who came for the celebration, for his perseverance.

“His final NHL game, at the age of 40, Kimmo finally hoisted the Cup,” Obama said. “As an old guy, it makes me feel good.”

As he was the last two times, Obama was affable, funny, and eager to take credit for the Hawks’ success. When Obama took office, the Hawks were just starting to climb to the top of the NHL. Now, with 11 months left in office, the president’s getting greedy.

“Before I was president, the Blackhawks had gone almost half a century without seeing [the Stanley Cup],” Obama said. “Now, you’ve got the hat trick. So I think it’s pretty clear the kind of luck I brought to this team. And we’ve got a state dinner with Canada coming up, so we may just leave it right in the middle of the room.”

Toews said he’d have to let the dig on his native country’s struggles “slide,” adding, “I don’t know if I can really make a comeback to that one there.”

The president cracked that director of scouting Mark Kelley offered to help pick a Supreme Court nominee and noted that a mustache was clearly the key to success for Chicago coaches. He also was presented with a permanent United Center parking pass by Hawks owner Rocky Wirtz, which appeared to catch Obama off guard. “This is the best gift I’ve ever gotten at the White House. This is really cool. I might sell this on eBay.”

Obama has never pretended to be much of a hockey fan, and he’s never been to a Hawks game. Team president John McDonough said it won’t happen during Obama’s presidency, but that he hopes to welcome him to a game once he leaves office.

The White House visit, combined with Sunday’s outdoor game in Minneapolis, could be distractions as the Hawks make their playoff push. Instead, the unusual events are a way to break up the monotony of a grueling season, a reward of sorts.

“It’s always nice to have those special occasions, whether it be the outdoor game or something like this,” New Jersey native Trevor van Riemsdyk said. “It is definitely nice to just have something to really look forward to like that. It’s a pretty rare thing and you feel lucky to be able to do it.”

Well, not too rare. Not for the Hawks, at least.

“It’d be nice to squeeze one more in there before I leave,” Obama said. “Because then I definitely will take credit. And let’s not give up hope on the Bulls, or the White Sox, or the Bears, or heck I’d even take the Cubs.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus

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