A smiling, clean-shaven Patrick Sharp strode to the lectern and issued an impromptu, and very early, invite.
“What do you say we get back here and do it again next year?” he said to the Hutchinson Field crowd at Grant Park. The crowd, of course, was happy to accept.
Yes, it was bold and even a bit haughty. It was also in good fun, which is what the Chicago Blackhawks have been having barrels full of since they claimed their second Stanley Cup in the past four seasons in Boston on Monday night. On Friday they capped their celebration with their second parade in the past four seasons.
On a warm, windy day the Blackhawks once again traveled by double-decker buses to meet a million (make that closer to two million) of their closest friends in the park. Finally, after 48 games in a lockout-shortened season, four rounds of postseason hockey and too many bumps and bruises to count, the Blackhawks unwound, took the top down and reveled in another title.
The caravan of buses and trolleys carrying family and media wound its way from the United Center to Grant Park on a relatively speedy pace. Confetti exploded along the closing Columbus Drive route, engulfing spectators and players in a sea of red, white and black.
“We didn’t think there was a chance we could outmatch that performance by the fans, but you guys did it somehow,” said a hoarse Jonathan Toews to the massive crowd. “This shows how unbelievable this city is. Unbelievable.”
The Blackhawks were their unhinged best: from Corey Crawford’s colorful –- mostly blue -- acceptance speech of the team belt for ‘MVP,’ to Toews’ raspy thank you to Duncan Keith channeling his inner Roman proverbs (“It is better to live one day as a lion than 1,000 as a lamb… .”) Veterans Michal Handzus, Michal Rozsival and Jamal Mayers tapped into their inner 20-something-year-olds in jubilance.
You’ll have to forgive them: it’s been a heck of a haul. As the calendar turned to January we all wondered aloud if there would be an NHL season at all, let alone one that turned out to be another memorable one for the city of Chicago. Several Blackhawks spent those lockout months skating at Johnny’s IceHouse West, biding their time, hopeful for a season. Their staying ready was tantamount to the season: because when hockey was back in session in mid-January, no team was more ready for it than the Blackhawks. Check that 21-0-3 start for reference.
[RELATED: Photos from Stanley Cup parade]
The immediate post-Cup furor will start dying down now. Players will head back to their respective homes, where each will have his day with the Cup later this summer. General manager Stan Bowman will get back to tweaking and honing this team and picking up future hopefuls at Sunday’s 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
As for that Sharp speech beckoning folks to rejoin him in the park for another Cup celebration soon? Well, it’s not that far out of the realm of possibility. The Blackhawks should remain largely intact this offseason, a far cry from their post-2010 Cup depletion. There are a few catches. First, it’s hard to repeat. The Blackhawks are the only tea in the salary-cap era to win it more than once, let alone back to back. Second, with this very short offseason, they’ll be suffering from a Cup hangover that no team has experienced since the New Jersey Devils after their 1994-95 triumph.
Still, this Blackhawks team has a chance to keep doing special things for the next few seasons. The core is still the core. Some of the supporting cast, just in its early 20s, is now hitting its stride. And (gasp) there may not even be a goalie controversy next season.
The Blackhawks’ big talk, raspy talk and blue talk were parts of another colorful Cup parade. The Blackhawks want to plan more of them. It’s very possible they may.