It was an emotional night at the United Center last night, as Keith Magnuson and Pierre Pilote's number three was raised to the rafters of the United Center, joining the likes of Glenn Hall, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Denis Savard, and Tony Esposito.
A raucous crowd of over 22,000 people was in a frenzy, as dignitaries and front office staff were joined on the ice by every member of the retired-number fraternity (with the exception of Glenn Hall, who was ill and unable to attend) in honoring the accomplishments of Pilote and Magnuson, two of the greatest defensemen the team has ever known.
From 1956 to 1980, these two defensemen lit up the National Hockey League, bringing a Stanley Cup (Pilote) and a gritty, fighting spirit (Magnuson) to the city of Chicago. Both of these players lived and breathed hockey, and were to be able to be in the arena last night when both of them were honored for their contributions to the sport and to the city.
Kevin Magnuson had many laudatory things to say about his father Keith, and about the ownership of the Blackhawks. "My father was always proud to be a Blackhawk," he said in a press conference before the game. "I know my father is watching us right now. And I also know that for once he's not in the penalty box," he said to a roar of laughter from the United Center crowd.
Pierre Pilote was at the ceremony, with his wife at his side. He was humbled by his inclusion in the ceremony, citing his "love of hockey, and of the fans of the city". He also said in the pre-game press conference "my head may not have gotten bigger, but my heart is really pounding right now", when it came to understanding fully the honor of having his number retired.
The pomp and circumstance of the evening reached a premature crescendo when the team introduced players whose numbers had already been retired. When Denis Savard was announced, the crowd absolutely exploded, roaring its approval and expressing its feelings about his premature departure earlier in the season.
The hair stood up on the back of my neck in a way it hasn't since the Cubs retired Ron Santo's number. The electricity in the building was palpable all night, but in that moment especially I really felt as though the Hawks are officially back and relevant in Chicago. When the ceremony ended, and the National Anthem reverberated through the UC, it was time to play.
The game was one that Magnuson and Pilote would have loved to play in. There were a lot of penalties (19 of them to be exact), and both goalies played fantastic hockey, holding the Hawks and Bruins to one goal apiece. In the overtime, the drama became especially thick when the Bruins had a rare powe- play opportunity, only to have the Blackhawks thwart it with an excellent penalty kill.
After the power play, the building one again went to DEFCON-One when Patrick Sharp was awarded a penalty shot. More than likely the most exciting of situations, it unfortunately was a bad omen for the Hawks, as Sharp was stoned by Tim Thomas. After a couple more furious attempts by the Bruins, the game went to the all-important shootout.
The Hawks picked the opportunity to go first, and sent out their shootout ace Jonathan Toews, who was perfect on the season. He unfortunately was stopped by Thomas—and on the next shot, Blake Wheeler flipped the puck past Khabibulin. Patrick Kane tied the shootout at 1-1 with his first SO tally of the season. Khabby then stopped Phil Kessel to give the Hawks a legitimate shot to win.
In a controversial move, Joel Quenneville sent out Dave Bolland, who had never taken a shootout attempt in his young NHL career, for the third shot. He nearly got his first tally, but it was once again blocked with a sparkling save by Tim Thomas. PJ Axelsson then ended the shootout by making a great deke on Khabibulin, giving the Bruins the game.
The air was electric in the building the entire night, with the fans getting into every hit, shot, and penalty. Bustin' Dustin Byfuglien's fight in the first period was about as exciting as fights get, and when Jonathan Toews scored in the third, I could feel the ground shaking beneath my feet in the upper tank.
I've been to a lot of Blackhawks games in my young life, but the one I attended last night was by far the best. Between witnessing an emotional pre-game ceremony, to seeing hockey played the way it was meant to be played, it was certainly an appropriate reminder of where the sport has been in Chicago, and where it is going. As Pilote said before the game, "My teammates and I won the Cup in 1961, and I think it's coming back to Chicago soon." Let's all hope so.
On a quick side note, the Blackhawks' Patrick Sharp will be signing autographs at the Grant's Appliances in Orland Park on Saturday from 3 to 5 pm. Information can be found on the Hawks' website.