Bobby Hull's advice: Try to appreciate this
After many Blackhawks games, Bobby Hull hangs out near the loading dock at the west end of United Center.
The 71-year-old NHL Hall of Famer kibitzes with old friends as they pass by, chats with the current players' families and shares a few words with the young men who wear the same sweater he donned many years ago.
If there's one lesson he's trying to impart to the Hawks as they finish prepping for the Stanley Cup Finals - especially the younger guns like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane - it's to try to grasp the significance of winning the Cup.
When the Hawks won their last Cup in 1961, Stan Mikita had yet to turn 21. Hull was 22 years and 3 months old. The high-scoring winger didn't even try to put his precocious achievement into perspective.
"No, I didn't appreciate it enough," Hull said. "I thought it was going to be one of many. There I was, 22 years old: 'Hah! Nothing to this! We're going to win many times over.' "
Instead, the Hull-led Hawks lost three Stanley Cup finals (in 1962, 1965 and 1971) before the "Golden Jet" broke away to the fledgling World Hockey Association.
And while the Hawks and their fans are achingly aware it has been nearly a half-century since Chicago held the Cup, Hull offers an anecdote that accentuates the lengthy gap.
Modern hockey fans are accustomed to the tradition where each player and coach on the NHL champion gets to control the Cup for a day to dent it, douse it or drink from it as they so choose.
That tradition didn't exist in 1961, so Hull and his teammates never enjoyed a personal moment with the sport's grail.
In his eyes, though, that's OK. Players of his era treated the Cup with a bit more reverence.
"When we won the Cup in Detroit, they wheeled it out on the ice and put it on a little table," Hull said. "They presented it to Ed Litzenberger, our captain at the time, but there was no carrying the Cup around the Olympia.
"We went down to our dressing room, took a couple pictures around the Cup and then we didn't see it again until our Stanley Cup party at the Bismarck Hotel."
The Wirtz family owned the Bismarck, which made it a natural for the party. But the Hawks didn't take turns passing around the Cup.
"They put the Cup on a pedestal with lights shining all over it," Hull said. "I'm not saying we had a lot more respect for it, but we did put it on a pedestal."
At this stage, the young Hawks seem to understand where they stand at this stage in their careers.
"We have to look at this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Kane said. "You never know in this day and age how things are going to work out."