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Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Beyond the brand

By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- The song of the city's summer, that brief holiday between hockey season and football season, is, and will be, Daft Punk's "Get Lucky."

Sure, Kanye said it's "Yeezy season," but Chicago likes to dance. Save the dark, contemplative stuff for what remains of baseball season.

Patrick Kane
Patrick Kane may call himself "The Benefish," but the Hawks are benefiting from the rare, young talent.
Late into the night Monday, while my reporter friends hustled around the ice in Boston, I watched happy Blackhawks fans dance to Daft Punk at Lottie's Pub, my corner bar.

Get Lucky? We'll drink to that. The fans are lucky, the Blackhawks got lucky and we're all lucky to be living in a time when a Chicago team wins.

I've written a lot about luck during the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup run, and it's not an insult or a putdown of hockey's capriciousness.

To "Get Lucky" one must prepare to capitalize on opportunities. And the Blackhawks did that better than anyone else.

Just think: What can YOU do in 17 seconds?

In the time it takes me to find my keys, the Blackhawks scored two goals right in front of the net and won a Stanley Cup with a 3-2 win in Boston, setting off a party in Chicago and rewriting history.

Two Stanley Cups in four years. Six years ago, this team was a rumor. Now it's a budding dynasty.

Three years ago, I was in Philadelphia, slipping on the ice as I interviewed player after player, Jonathan Toews' mom, team president John McDonough. This time, I got to enjoy walking into a crowded bar a half-hour after the win and watching people dance and sing and enjoy the rarest, truest moment in sport.

This isn't Detroit or even Pittsburgh, not yet, cities where hockey talk is second only to football, but it's getting there. The excitement is morphing into dedication, and it's growing. Schools across Chicagoland are filled with children who know nothing but Toews and Kane.

The bandwagon is big enough to choke the Kennedy/Edens junction.

In the coming week, you'll hear people, typically reporters, credit John McDonough, the Wrigleyville expat, or his longtime sidekick Jay Blunk, and especially team owner Rocky Wirtz for these Cup wins, for "changing the culture" and other marketing buzzwords that have almost nothing to do with what happened on the ice.

Give them their due, especially Wirtz (even when he laughably reminds us the team's not making money), for doing their jobs correctly and without pause, but save your real applause for the guys in the sweaters.

Not that the actual Blackhawks need any more applause or free drinks, but boy, do they deserve everything they get and more.

We're not used to repeating champions in this city, or frankly, champions at all. The White Sox have been annual disappointments since that amazing run in 2005, drawing sub-Pittsburgh crowds. The Bears still live in 1985, and the Bulls have to defeat the new Jordan before escaping the shadow of the original one.

But the Blackhawks' core and complementary cast have done the near impossible by winning two titles.

Organ-i-zations build the foundations for teams like this, but it's the players that take it to another level, from playoff caliber to championship caliber. It takes something you can't quantify to perform miracles in nanoseconds. It takes years of honing fast-twitch muscle memory and training your mind to work in collusion with your body. From Brent Seabrook's overtime winner against Detroit to Patrick Kane's hat trick to close out the Kings to Toews' two-point night to beat Boston, I marvel at the mental acuity and physical dominance of this team.

We can talk about the contributions of the so-called supporting cast, but as we know about repeating champions in this city -- i.e. the Jordan-era Bulls -- it's really about the stars. Don't kid yourself. It's about the so-called core, the high-priced players that general manager Stan Bowman kept while he and his staff rebuilt the complementary players.

"I think there's something about our core," Kane said. " Hopefully we can stay together a long time, because that's two Cups in four years, and we seem to only be getting better and better as players as time goes on here."

This could've been a second-round-and-out team, a footnote, a historical reminder to never count out a lower seed in the NHL. How would the organ-i-zation have looked then? Instead of being hailed as the guy who rebuilt a Cup winner, Bowman would've been criticized for not getting that second-line center.

Bowman knows it's not about taking credit. In a question-and-answer session with the team's website, he astutely rejected the notion that this is "his team," as opposed to his much-loved predecessor Dale Tallon, who led the front office when the core of the team was put together.

"I do hear that a lot, but it's based on a false premise," he said. "There are group contributions to all teams. For it to be said this is 'my team' implies I make all the decisions when, in fact, we have a great staff finding players and great coaches developing them. I own my decisions, but I am not a one-man band here. Quality people are everywhere."

He's right. It's not his team. It's their team.

I give 100 percent of my respect to Toews, Kane, goaltender Corey Crawford, future free-agent lottery winner Bickell, the much-maligned Dave Bolland, iron man Duncan Keith, the bloody, unbowed Andrew Shaw, a hobbled Marian Hossa and the rest of the gritty goal scorers, lockdown defenders and all the guys behind the guys.

And they will get their just rewards, and I'm not talking about Bickell's free-agent riches. The memories they will carry with them will last the rest of their lives. There is no one wealthier than a man with no regrets.

Certainly Kane won't have any. Watching Kane handle the puck is mesmerizing, like Derrick Rose exploding to the rim or those rare moments when Jay Cutler fires a perfect pass. You can see why he's special.

He proved he can do it all with those hands, scoring on a deflection and a rebound in Game 5, the kind of dirty goals typically left to the likes of Shaw and third-line grinders. Kane's nine goals and 10 assists earned him the Conn Smythe award. Fitting, given that Toews, with whom he'll be forever linked -- like Jordan and Pippen -- won it in 2010.

"We actually came up with a name for myself this morning, calling me 'The Benefish,' for the beneficiary of all their hard work," Kane said Monday night. "I had a couple chances to finish and ended up doing that, so got to give them the credit."

Just one loss away from dropping that series to Detroit, not even master of minimalist motivation, coach Joel Quenneville, could have come back from that hole. Only these players, who never wavered in their confidence. Once they won Game 5, I figured they were set for that series.

In the NHL, it's not uncommon for a top seed to fade away in the first two rounds, never reaching its prime. Pittsburgh getting swept by Boston is just the latest example. But when a team gets hot, watch out.

Asked about Toews -- who was rightly criticized for not scoring earlier in the playoffs and this series in particular -- getting two points in the clincher, Kane said, "All you can say about Jonathan Toews is he's a competitor, and he leads the team in the right way, and we all follow."

It was the workers who won this, not the culture, not the brand.

The most famous quote we associate with the post-Bill Wirtz Blackhawks is "Commit to the Indian," the logo on the sweater. It's not a motto fit for a licensed T-shirt, but when former coach Denis Savard said that in 2008, it resonated for all the right reasons. It spelled out how this franchise had to change and it had nothing to do with marketing.

The players had to commit to being better than average. Quenneville is a masterful coach, worthy of a big contract extension, but he can only do so much. From the wretched power play to the deathly penalty kill, it's always on the players. Always.

It's a lot harder than it sounds, committing to being great, but these guys did it. It wasn't luck that led to them to this point. They deserved every bounce.