The 35-pound silver trophy was somewhere else, being passed around by front-office types in suits, along with their friends and family. His other prize was sitting on a carpet on the other end of the rink. Duncan Keith had a more treasured prize in his arm, a few pounds lighter than the Stanley Cup or the Conn Smythe Trophy— his 2-year-old son, Colton. With the little boy latched to his right side, working on a bottle of lemon-lime Gatorade, Keith pointed up to the scoreboard high overhead, which had a live shot of the two of them.
“That’s you!” Keith said, in a high-pitched, doting voice far from the deadpan monotone fans and reporters have become familiar with. “Look! That’s you!”
All around him on the United Center ice, it was fathers and sons. Fathers and daughters. Husbands and wives. Niklas Hjalmarsson toted his kid around and did bilingual interviews. Daniel Carcillo plopped his son in the bowl of the most famous trophy in sports. Kris Versteeg gleefully held his two-week-old boy, enormous blue headphones dwarfing his face. The friends and families of Clint Reif and Steve Montador were there, too, greeted warmly and emotionally by men in the throes of wild celebration.
In 2010, the Hawks were brash kids, winning a championship on skill and youthful oblivion. In 2013, they grew into proper champions, men with full beards and indomitable resolve. In 2015, they grew into legends, three-time Stanley Cup champions, the authors of an unthinkable story of success in an era designed to prevent it.
With their 2-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night, the Hawks did more than just celebrate on home ice for the first time in 77 years. They cemented their place in history — the team of the decade, even though it’s only half over. The parade is expected to be on Thursday.
There are no dynasties anymore, not in the modern era, not in the salary-cap world. There will never be another team like the 1980s Islanders, winning 19 consecutive playoff series. There will never be another team like the 1950s Canadiens, winning five straight Stanley Cups.
But there was never supposed to be a team like the 2010s Blackhawks, either. A team with three championships in six seasons. A team with four conference final appearances in six seasons. A team with a core group of astounding talent and indomitable resolve, and an ever-rotating cast of supporting actors, staying together for a run of unprecedented and unexpected success in a system designed to avoid it, in a city that had not too long ago all but forgotten it.
“It’s been really special,” said Keith, who had the game-winning goal in the second period, an emphatic punctuation mark to his brilliant Conn Smythe run; the voting was unanimous as Keith went from respected to revered with an incredible combination of endurance and dominance for four grueling series. “Playing with the same guys for a long time, you develop a bond. Then when you win a championship, it reinforces that. To be able to do it three times, we’re all proud of it, and we’ve all talked about what it would be like. We’re just super proud to be a part of a group like this.”
This one was different, too, because it took place at home. They won in Philadelphia in 2010, and in Boston in 2013, celebrating and flaunting the Cup in morgue-like rinks, in front of a smattering of their fans and a swath of curious onlookers in opposing sweaters, their shouts of joy echoing throughout the barren arenas. On Monday night, the Madhouse was a madhouse all night long, from the national anthem to Keith’s goal to Corey Crawford’s big saves (25 stops; if there were a Final MVP, he’d be a fine choice) to Patrick Kane’s insurance goal with 5:14 to go, which snapped his own goal drought and sent the 22,424 in attendance into delirium.
“We wanted it,” Jonathan Toews said. “We wanted it for each other, for the city. In so many ways, winning a championship like this in your own city in some way transcends the sport. Everyone wants to be a part of it. It’s amazing. You can feel the energy.”
The game, like the whole series, was riveting. Until Kane’s goal at the end, neither team had led for more than a goal all series.
In the wake of the loss, the truth came tumbling out of the Tampa Bay dressing room — Ben Bishop fought valiantly with a torn groin; Tyler Johnson battled a wrist injury. The Hawks felt no pain, despite all their own bumps and bruises, but Hjalmarsson finally admitted, “Yeah, I was tired.” Keith showed the slightest crack in his armor when he had to lower the Cup for a moment during his victory lap before throwing it back over his head.
It was extraordinary theater to cap an extraordinary playoff run for a team that muddled through an ordinary regular season. Whether they were saving their best for last or merely hit their stride at the right time is immaterial. They are now immortal.
There are names like Toews, Kane, Keith, Hossa, Seabrook, Sharp, Hjalmarsson — the three-time champions are now etched in the annals of Chicago history, their accomplishments to be bronzed and bragged about in perpetuity by a city that fell back in love with a sport and a team that wallowed in misery and obscurity for so long. There are names like Crawford, Shaw, Saad, Versteeg, Kruger, Oduya, Bickell — the two-time champions were newcomers in 2013, but are now icons themselves, part of something much larger than themselves, two short years later. There’s Teuvo Teravainen, starting such a promising career in the biggest way possible. And there’s the likes of Brad Richards, Antoine Vermette, Andrew Desjardins, Kimmo Timonen — the one-year rentals who could have been mere footnotes in Hawks history, but now will be linked to the Hawks forever. They got the Cup first, Toews starting with the beloved veteran Timonen, who won his first and last Stanley Cup in his final game.
The immediate future is uncertain for the Hawks, salary-cap casualties looming in a matter of days before next week’s draft, key members of the core potentially on the block. But their place in the more distant future is secure, their names forever hallowed, forever etched in silver.