Seems like just yesterday I was a newbie to the Blackhawks Convention…and here I am on my third go around! A lot of the heavy hitters weren’t available this past weekend, but plenty of current and past players made the trek down to the Hilton for a celebration of hockey in July.
Arrival time on Friday night was around 4pm. My dad checked us into the hotel while I checked us into the convention. Since we were staying at the hotel two nights we were guaranteed one VIP autograph (Since it would be chaos to have Jonathan Toews or other top line players signing in the general autograph area VIP autographs are limited to either people with two night stays or Scratch & Win ticket winners. There are three sessions for the former and eleven sessions for the latter). Down in registration I picked up our programs (the Bible of the weekend), backpacks, and Scratch & Win tickets. After meeting back up we scratched off the tickets and low and behold we had two winners! We traded them in for two passes for two separate VIP sessions for the weekend. They were both at 2:30pm on Saturday so we each randomly took one. The VIP session for the hotel stay was at 4:30pm on Saturday.
Since the Opening Ceremonies are always crazy crowded we headed down into the autograph area (I call it the pit) to line up for Brandon Pirri and Michal Rozsival respectively. Since most people were up at the Opening Ceremonies it was easy to obtain the wristbands for those autographs. 315 wristbands are given out for each autograph session (150 for each photo session) about an hour or two hours ahead of the start time. It was about 5:00pm now so we grabbed some dinner and studied the program. The third person signing that night was Nick Leddy. I’m a huge Leddy fan, but since his line was crazy long (and I had met him before) getting his signature wasn’t on the agenda for that evening. Around 6:45pm we headed down to get in line. The signings were going to start at 7:30pm. Once you have a wristband you are guaranteed an autograph, but I like to get back in line early for the actual signing so I’m near the front. I chatted with a fellow fan in line and the time passed quickly. Next to the stage I was at was one of the VIP stages. That night Coach Q was on deck. He got a warm reception and many congratulations on his contract extension. Back on the other side of the VIP curtain…Brandon Pirri arrived! He was extremely nice. He signed a puck for me as well as a birthday card for my friend. He even posed for a photo with me!
He looks a little squinty, but that’s okay. The whole experience was great. After that was over I headed up to the International Ballroom for the Second City comedy show. The show featured Shaw, Bickell, Ben Smith, and Saad. As usual it was hilarious. The guys were really good sports. It was bedtime after that because the next morning was going to start early.
At 4:45am my dad went downstairs to check on the autograph line (That’s the line to get in line for autographs. During the day four autograph sessions are going on at once and two photo sessions). The doors for the pit weren’t going to open until 8am, but if you want to get inside quickly you need to be in line early. Saad was the main draw that morning. He was about 60 people back so he called me and told me to hurry up and get down there. Once I secured my spot in line the time passed quickly. Again (this happens every year) people save spots for people that want to sleep in. I don’t mind if it’s one or two people, but when you bring your entire extended family and their friends it’s a little annoying. Anyway, it didn’t matter because we got the Saad wristbands at 8:30am for the 9am signing. Saad was as adorable as ever and signed my puck and the birthday card. You’re only supposed to have one thing signed so I put the card down first and the puck on top. Without even noticing Saad signed the card and then went for the puck. The handler saw what I did and said, “That was really sneaky. He can only sign one thing.” I kind of made a face and then the handler relented. Saad didn’t mind and then shook my hand.
After that signing I got a wristband for Rozsival since I had missed him the night before. I grabbed a quick breakfast and then got back in line. Since my dad had gotten a puck signed the night before I just had him sign the birthday card. He was very nice. He shook my hand and asked me how I was. There were no other autographs I wanted to get that day so I exited the pit and headed upstairs to see Lord Stanley!
The Cup was behind a rope and you were only allowed to look at it. The line moved very quickly and in about 15 minutes I was in front. I was able to snap a few pictures before being pushed out. Some more time would have been nice, but at least I could say I saw it!
Once that was over I headed upstairs to see a few panels. On my way to the International Ballroom I saw a looooong line on the stairs. Crawford was doing a photo session at 6pm and people were already lined up at noon. I can’t imagine just sitting there for six hours, but then again I waited a really long time for Saad so…yeah. The first panel I attended was ‘Most Wanted’ featuring Sharp, Shaw, and Bickell. Sharp is such a charmer and the entire panel was hilarious. The guys talked about living in Chicago and anything and everything the fans asked (which was a lot of autograph requests…which was kind of annoying). Next up were the 2:30pm VIP sessions. 20 minutes before the session starts they tell you who the guest will be. Since a lot of the current players had already signed and the rest were currently in panels I had a feeling I was going to get an alum. I was right. My session was for Stan Mikita and my dad’s was for Pierre Pilote. Mikita was very nice and signed a puck for me. It’s a great addition to my collection!
I ducked back over to the International Ballroom for another panel called ‘Reliving the Stanley Cup Final’ featuring Toews, Kane, Crawford, and Handzus. It was a wonderful panel. The guys have such great chemistry together. It was also really awesome to relive those 6 games. Sharpie made a special appearance to remind everyone that he scored 10 playoff goals. It was hilarious. The second best part was Toews and Kaner having a dance off. Those guys are something else! When that ended it was time for my last VIP session. It was for Coach Q! I was super excited to meet him. During my wait in line I watched the Andrew Shaw photo session one booth over. That guy is a good sport because fans ask him to do really crazy poses. Q was very nice and signed both the puck and birthday card for me. I congratulated him on his contract extension and he was very gracious.
We decided to see the Cup again before it was leaving that night. The line moved much slower this time because you could have your picture taken with it now. I was still sad I couldn’t touch it, but at least I got a cool pic!
Day two complele!
Sunday started much later. I got downstairs at 7:30am. I was only interested in the photo session with Ben Smith that morning. (Saad was doing a photo session upstairs, but his line was Crawford length so I decided to skip that). Most people were down there for Brandon Bollig and Bobby Hull. I got inside at 8am and got my wristband at 8:30am. Since the session wasn’t until 9:30am I grabbed breakfast before heading into line. The time passed quickly and the line moved fast. Ben was very nice and the picture turned out great!
My dad and I went to the interactive area (it’s mostly for kids, but it’s still fun). They had three photo ops this year. You could pose with a full size zamboni, put your head behind a cut out that looked like you were holding up the Cup, and another cut out where you looked like you were on the bench. On my way back to the vending area I spotted John McDonough signing autographs in the hallway. He was nice enough to sign my pass and take a quick photo. He was very sweet and asked me how my weekend was going.
I did a little more shopping and then it was time to go. Another successful year in the books!
One side note: Last year on Sunday morning they handed out all the Scratch & Win tickets that weren’t claimed on a first come, first serve basis. (I was lucky enough to get Hossa that way.) This year the secret was out and everyone knew this little trick. No tickets were passed out. I can understand why they didn’t do it, but it was kind of a bummer for those hoping they might get a chance to brush with greatness.