Blackhawks, Memories And The Stanley Cup

You didn’t have to be in Chicago with the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup to understand the power of public memory.


Sharing memories like this one with the people we love bolts us to the ground. It fixes us in a time and a place and we cling to it, that moment of joy that’s already changing even as we try to hold time still.

“Right now, I’m remembering my grandfather, who taught me everything about hockey,” said Christina Koukos, who after a night of chasing the Cup was having breakfast with friends and family Tuesday morning at the Palace Grill near the United Center.

“We’re remembering together, but I’m also thinking about my grandfather,” Koukos said. “He taught me how to skate. He taught me to love the game. That’s what I’m remembering.”

They were all wearing Blackhawks gear. She’s a bartender, as is her friend Jay Claffey. With them were his daughter Kaitlyn, a college freshman, and Kaitlyn’s brother Tyler, who’s going into eighth grade. Also along for the Cup chase was the couple’s good friend Jon Herrera, another rabid Blackhawks fan.

After the Blackhawks won the game, the group rushed out of their house in the western suburbs on a mission to find the Cup. They went to the United Center parking lot, then followed a line of limousines to Mid, the bar on Halsted Street where Blackhawks players guzzled victory.

By dawn, over eggs and coffee at the Palace, they were exhausted.

“Back in the day something major would happen, not the Cup but something big, and we’d have stories to tell,” Herrera said. “Now we have memories and we have social media. The pictures hold it together for everybody.”

There is a memory of games, yes, of public contests, the drama of bad calls, of a great team growing older, winning its third cup in six years, a dynasty.

But that’s not the whole of it. What counts is having someone to share it with, even a stranger in a bar, or in your living room with your family, or at the game with your brother or your wife or kids.

New York knows this, with the Yankees in their hearts years ago and those great Islanders teams of the early 1980s, and Boston with the Patriots, and Los Angeles back with the Showtime Lakers. And of course Chicago with Jordan and the Bulls.

Those embedded public memories don’t have to be about professional sports. They can just as well live in a wrestling gym in Iowa, a Friday night on some Texas high school football field, or a soccer Saturday on a frosty spring morning in Evansville, Indiana.

Or on the South Side of Chicago 10 years ago now, with Paul Konerko spreading his arms wide, rounding first after clubbing a home run, and later in Houston, catching the ball thrown from short, stepping on first for that White Sox World Series ring.

There are two things I can’t shake from that series. The first is my cousin Johnny, who was dying, but he got to see his Sox win.

The second is that I worked through the series writing, and wasn’t able to sit in our seats with my boys, who were little then, and watch one World Series game with them. I know, there was work to do and I’m lucky to have work, to write about my hometown in the paper I love. I understand this.

But my boys aren’t little any longer. That time is gone.

There are other kinds of memories that have nothing to do with sports.

There are things you share with family, memories that bind you together, stories told around the dinner table, and over time those telling and those listening know how the story goes, when to smile, when to hug.

There is another kind of memory. The private memories that you keep to yourself, not to hoard them exactly, not because you fear them, but to protect them.

Because if you talk about them too much they can grow wings and fly, and then they won’t be your memories alone any longer.

But there is always that public memory of a great communal event. I found a news photo that captured this in a Tribune Internet gallery after Monday’s game.

It wasn’t of game action. It was of two men up at the United Center, in what looked like standing room only. Two friends, maybe siblings, one guy with his arm around the other, touching the back of his friend’s head, as they down stared at the ice.

And I could see myself doing that to my brothers Peter or Nick, or with my sons, or my wife, with the Blackhawks winning the Cup, if we’d been there.

At the old Chicago Stadium when I was a kid, standing room was how we’d watch the Hawks after a long day at the family market. Up high, looking down at Bobby and Dennis Hull, Whitey Stapleton, Doug Jarrett and Stan Mikita, and those tiny hateful figures of John Ferguson or Derek Sanderson far below.

At the Palace Grill, there was a man wearing a red Blackhawks sweater with the number 21. And I had to ask.

No. 21 was Mikita’s number. And if you’re a Blackhawks fan and you read Chris Kuc’s brilliant, heartbreaking story about Mikita in Monday’s Tribune, then you know the great Hall of Famer’s memory is gone.

“I wore it for him,” said Tom Pierce. “He was a gentleman.”

And so are you Tom Pierce. So are you.

For remembering.

John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His e-mail address is [email protected], and his Twitter handle is @john_kass.

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