The Blackhawks way

"Keep those posters up," the director queued the crowd, and -- like everything else the Chicago Blackhawks did Thursday and do nearly every day -- it was perfectly choreographed.

The kids did indeed keep those posters up. The players, Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky, who were seated in front of the cheering throng, said all the right things in a news conference carried live on Comcast SportsNet and streamed on the Internet.

And they said it at the prescribed time, the day before some 10,000 strong will gather at the Hilton Chicago for the Blackhawks' fan convention.

"It's a great atmosphere," said team president John McDonough of Thursday's scene, the kids coming from youth hockey camps and bused in as a backdrop to introduce the newest Blackhawks. "I think it sends a great message. The demographic that has grown the fastest with the resurgence of the Blackhawks is the youth demographic. So we're hoping to see more of it. We have a young team, we have a young fan base and that's a pretty good merger."

Jay Blunk, vice president of business operations and McDonough's right-hand man, gets the credit from McDonough as the architect of this particular idea.

"He and I have spent a lot of time together," McDonough said of Blunk, "and the No. 1 thing we ask is, 'How we can do this differently than it's ever been done before and better than it's ever been done before?' We're going to make mistakes, we're going to fail at things, but you've got to be able to embrace [change] once in a while, to try things we think will work and are different and impressive."

Partly in that spirit, the team also changed its general manager this week, replacing former player and longtime front-office man Dale Tallon, 58, with his assistant Stan Bowman, 36.

If it wasn't a great time for Tallon, who was reassigned to senior adviser, McDonough said it wasn't easy for him, either. But like everything else, it was nothing if not well-choreographed.

"I didn't sleep well; I got to the health club earlier than usual," he said. "It's tough because Dale Tallon is a great person and he did so many positive things for this franchise, but it was a decision [we] contemplated for quite a while."

The plan was to have the new GM and the new players in place for the convention because, for McDonough, "It's like the season opener for us."

"It's a celebration of the fans' allegiance to the team," he said. "It's a bridge from the end of one season to another. It puts the team on a 12-month marketing cycle."

This is the second annual convention, and the concept is McDonough's baby; he started a similar program with the Cubs 25 years ago. Although the Hawks don't sell out every room in the hotel as the Cubs do, the plan is for it to grow gradually.

"It knocks down that wall that fans can never ask questions of players or general managers or owners or presidents, which certainly this week will be very interesting," McDonough said. "But we're there. There's nothing in between. If someone wants to step up to a microphone and weigh in on something, I want them to touch every aspect of our product."

Just as he wants every aspect of his product to touch back, which is why Hossa and Kopecky already have started to be indoctrinated to the Blackhawks way.

"There's a certain type of player we're going to acquire," McDonough said of the notion that this team is different with the Martin Havlat departure and the additions of Hossa and Kopecky. "We have classy players who understand the big picture, and we sell them on it -- how to interact with fans, how to engage in interviews.

"If you notice Blackhawks players in interviews, they call the interviewer by name, they thank them afterward. That's very important to me. That personalizes it. There's going to be a Blackhawks way of doing things."

Another facet to the Blackhawks way is an interaction between the hockey side and the business side that McDonough said is not seen in many sports organizations. There are weekly meetings with department heads from both sides, and players are strongly encouraged to mix with the front office.

"That's very important to me," McDonough said. "On a regular basis, they come up and talk to our front-office people, thank them for their efforts in filling the building. They know their names."

And Friday, the sides will unite again to celebrate everything Blackhawks, with the unpleasantness of Tallon's ousting sure to be addressed, but in its time and in its place.

McDonough's message to the fans this weekend?

"That although we had a very successful year and there was a dramatic improvement, our commitment is unwavering that our goal is to win the Stanley Cup, and we appreciate their allegiance," he said.

Like everything else, it is well-rehearsed.