In Their Own Words


Monday, June 15th, Stanley Cup Finals, Game 6

Tampa Bay Lightning @ Chicago Blackhawks

United Center, Chicago, IL

Chicago Blackhawks Superfan


story by: Zan
Zan and Brett
Zan (left) and Brett (right) take a quick pic before heading to the game.

My name is Zan. This is my story of “The Gift of the Cup”.

It was Monday, June 15th, 2015. The day of “Game 6” where the Chicago Blackhawks would play the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 6th game of the Stanley Cup Final. This would be the Blackhawks’ chance to win the cup at home in 77 years. It would also arguably cement the Blackhawks franchise as a “modern dynasty” should they win the cup. Tonight was very important for a multitude of reasons. To me, for the first time in my life, the game of hockey itself defined something much more: my past relationship with my father.

A little more than two weeks before this night, my father died due to complications from an aggressive cancer. I was at the foot of his bed while he died. I functioned as a strong pillar for my family to lean on throughout my tragic event. Since then I’ve been back to my “sweet home Chicago” to rest and to decompress with my girlfriend to see how the rest of the NHL hockey season unfolded. For me, hockey was not only the best sport to watch, but it was a social point where my father and I could relate and talk. He was a jock and a peace officer. I am a creative-type and a computer programmer. We never saw eye-to-eye on much; but with hockey we were closer than ever.

I had taken this day to work from my apartment as I didn’t want to waste any commute time in getting ready to watch hockey history. Just after 9 AM I had logged onto my work computer. There were no new emails so I decided to pop up Reddit’s largest hockey community webpage. After browsing through a few posts I noticed a topic along the lines of “Hello! I’d like to take someone to the Stanley Cup Final. Leave me a personal message and a brief description as to why I should take you.”

I thought for a moment about writing to this benevolent stranger in hopes to attend the game, but quickly thought “Nah, I shouldn’t. There are people more deserving than me.” So I went on with my day working on some scripts, programs, and documentation. I had a phone-in meeting to prepare for, so I had to wrap up a few projects by noon. By lunch time my girlfriend Lisa called me.

“Hey babe. What’s up?” I answered. “Did you see that Reddit post about someone offering to take someone to the Stanley Cup Final?” She asked. “Yeah… That’s not for me. I can’t bring myself to ask to go. Someone else deserves to go…. Hello?” I paused. “Zan, I contacted him and got a response. He is considering you as a candidate! I hope you don’t mind, but I gave him your phone number; so if you get a call or text from a stranger, you’ll know it’s not a scam!”

I was taken back by my girlfriend’s gesture and thoughtfulness. “Are you sure?” – “Yes! Now get off the phone because he might be calling you right this minute!” I hung up the phone. My computer’s instant messenger started going off reminding me I had to call into my phone-in meeting. Nervously I called into my work’s phone bridge and got connected. As the meeting was half-way through I got a text:

“Zan? I got your number from your girlfriend Lisa. I wanted to confirm this is your number. This is Brett.”

“Hello! Yes, this is Zan. I’m in a phone work meeting. I’ll be available around 1:30”.

I’m starting to sweat at this moment. What will this person say to me? Will I really be going to the Stanley Cup Final tonight? No, that’s impossible. No way. Then I get another text:

“Welcome to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals!”

I hurriedly got out of my meeting as soon as I could so I could receive his phone call. We spoke on the phone and exchanged some pleasantries. Brett went on to explain that my girlfriend wrote him about my father dying recently and how things have been tough for me. Brett told me how he related to my situation and felt like I deserved to go to a Stanley Cup Final game with him. I was absolutely taken back. I almost couldn’t believe what was happening and how this great kindness was bestowed upon me. We then made plans to get dinner and drinks before heading over to the United Center.

At 3:30 I got a cab and headed over to where Brett was staying. I ended up waiting on the street for almost 5 minutes. After the 3rd or 4th minute I wasn’t sure if I was a victim of a cruel internet-type prank, but sure enough Brett emerged with his Whalers jersey in hand. “Hey there!” “Hello!” We shook hands and went on our way to the restaurant as we talked. My senses of reality were currently under arrest.

Once at the restaurant we sat, chatted up some hockey fans, and got to know each other some more. The more I got to know Brett the more I knew we would have naturally been friends, had we met under other circumstances. We had quite a bit in common – most importantly our love for hockey. Brett explained to me his mission and how he wants to try to give the gift of the cup every year. This would make me his 2nd guest he has taken to a Stanley Cup Final. We finished our food and our beer, paid up, and headed for the door.

What was once a cloudy cool afternoon, had since turned into a grey rainstorm of intense proportions. Gobs of water were smashing on the ground everywhere. Gobs. That’s how heavy the rain was. Brett looked at me and then the street “What do we do now?” – “Oh, I’m sure we can get a cab in a few minutes.” We were standing close among a few other small groups outside under a canopy. A cab pulled up and picked up the group in front of us. I saw a cab down the street and pointed it out to Brett. “Let’s get that one!”

We ran out into the rain only to find there was another line at the corner of the block waiting for cabs. “Hey pal! Line starts over there.” We looked around the corner. There had to be literally dozens of people waiting down the street – then suddenly Brett shouted “Zan! Over there!” a cab had pulled into the side street and was waving us down. Brett had already run halfway to the cab before I could even move.

Once safe inside the cab we headed to the United Center. Rain was pouring everywhere. Severe weather sirens were blasting from a few blocks away – a strange alien-like warble sound. 15 minutes of stop-n-go traffic we had finally made it. We got out of the cab, then jogged and skipped past traffic to make it to the North-facing doors. We’re here. I’m here. I can’t believe this. “aaand here you are!” Brett said as he extended his extra Stanley Cup Final ticket to me. It was now my ticket. I was now out of my fantasy dream of meeting a new friend and simply talking about hockey, about the Blackhawks, about my father. I was about to step into one of the most memorable nights of my life. The next thing I remembered was stepping in the doors and into the ticket-checking line.

Smile. A giant smile grew on my face as I greeted the ticket checkers “Hello! Great night for hockey, eh?” A young and pretty woman handed me a Stanley Cup Final towel and smiled. “Enjoy your time!” Brett turned and looked at me with anticipation and said “Well? How about we walk around and soak up the atmosphere!” Nothing sounded more perfect. We walked over to the nearest beer vendor, paid for pair of beers, and then walked around the 1st floor.

We saw other vendors, news outlets, United Center staff, and fans. So many fans. I don’t recall seeing one Tampa Bay fan. To my recollection we mentally noted only two non-Blackhawk jersey-wearing fans in attendance: One person in a Team Sweden hockey jersey and Brett in his Hartford Whalers jersey. “Hey! Whalers!” or “Yo-YO Quenneville!” people would occasionally shout at Brett. Sometimes we would stop and talk to people who called out at us. After about an hour we decided to head near the ice to soak up some of the atmosphere, take some pictures, and then find our seats so we could rest for a moment.

Before the beginning game ceremony Brett got up to get another beer. The lights dimmed. I reached for my phone and told Brett “Dude! The on-ice projection is about to start! Get back!”. Brett came back and we all screamed, applauded, and shouted as the public announcer Gene Honda introduced the players, the organist Frank Pellico, and finally the anthem singer Jim Cornelison. Jim’s anthems are always awe-inspiring, but tonight was very special. I clapped and whistled as loud as I could. “You need to teach me how to whistle like that!” Brett shouted over the collective applause and then smiled. We both turned back to the sea of mostly red and white jerseys while the anthem finished. What a show.

As the game pressed on we would take turns dipping in and out of concession stands or restrooms. Brett would school me on some technical terms in regards to strategies. I did my best to keep up with his knowledge. We’d both call out a beautiful saucer pass or incredible positioning by the defense. I think we must’ve gone on and on about how well Keith, Hjalmarsson, or Kruger were playing.

It was after the 2nd period where we walked over to meet another person from Reddit who knew Brett and also knew about me, Brett’s special guest. “So this is the guy!?” the man exclaimed. “Yup! This is the guy!” I couldn’t hold back my grin. To everyone else my smile probably looked like a great beard parting to show two rows of teeth.

By the time the 2rd period was half-way through we were planted in our seats waiting for someone to score. Would it be the Lightning? Would it be the Blackhawks? Lines dashed madly back-and-forth. I think the Lightning had hit a few pipes and definitely one deflection off of the crossbar by the Lightning’s captain Steven Stamkos. Still, the score was 0-0 and the tension was rising even higher. Brett had mentioned that, due to the severe storm, with all of the soaked fans in attendance, the humidity had been raised in the United Center, and thus could be affecting the ice surface.

Then, like storm chasers predicting where a tornado would touch down, Brett and I saw a play developing really fast. A turn-over. A pass. Another quick pass to Kane. Kane is all alone by the high slot outside the right circle. The Lightning rush in to get into position. One of the Lightning players move forward to check Kane. Kane passes the puck over the defender’s stick and onto the tape of Duncan Keith. One shot! A rebound! Keith catches it back on his stick and roofs the puck up top – HE SCORES!

We went wild. Absolutely wild. We hugged. We jumped. I screamed and whistled as loud as I could. Music started playing, at which time we started high-fiving our adjacent fans. We then fell into a clapping rhythm of the goal song while we sang along. It wasn’t long into the next period where Richards and Kane sunk the 2nd and final goal, which would inevitably secure our position as the score leaders.

As the third period came to a close, we earnestly waited in our seats as the clock was ticking down. “We want the cup! We want the cup!” I would chant with the crowd. “5.. 4.. 3.. 2.. 1… YEAHHHHH!” The game was over. We won the cup. Players danced on the ice. They hugged, clapped, and smiled; just as we all did in the stands. I saw couples kiss. I saw family members embrace each other. I remembered my father and how he would have felt during this very moment. He would’ve been in his chair sipping on some whiskey and cheering while his dog got excited. I realized that there wouldn’t be a call from my father when I got home. But thinking of how happy my father would’ve been let me know I was going to be OK.

I was given a gift that taught me that there are kind people in this world who want to simply share an experience with you. In that moment I turned to Brett, bumped him with my forearm and thanked him for a wonderful, unforgettable experience.

A few announcements were made. People were recognized. The Conn Smythe was awarded to Duncan Keith. Then the Stanley Cup was brought out, welcomed by cheers from everyone. We watched as each player took hold of the Stanley Cup and took their official “skate” around the ice.

Blackhawks Stanley Cup Ceremony
The Chicago Blackhawks 2015 Stanley Cup ceremony.

We stayed in the stands while Blackhawks family, friends, and staff flooded the ice to join in on the celebration. Oddly we were mostly silent during this time. We stared at the ensemble on the ice. We studied them. Occasionally we’d point out something going on or we’d recall past games and how crazy it was that the Blackhawks won a third cup in 6 seasons(!). We debated whether or not the NHL would recognize the Blackhawks as a “modern dynasty” or if they’d wait until the Blackhawks seized a 4th cup the following year. We speculated about possible trades and how the Blackhawks would have to adjust.

We then talked about my relationship with my girlfriend Lisa. I joked a few times about how I would make this up to her for reaching out to Brett. I told him how much I loved her and how she’s one of the kindest people I know. I talked about how lucky I am to be with her and how incredible this whole night has been for me.

Then security came.

We were officially getting kicked out. There weren’t more than a few handfuls of us fans in the 300 section. We stood up and I took in one last view of the ice before we departed.

We made our way out of the stadium. There were people cheering, dancing, and a few setting off fireworks in a distant parking lot. We played the time-honored Chicago traditional game of “Gunshots or Fireworks?” (they were fireworks). We walked past the north-side parking lot to the next street where we were to meet our Uber car. Brett and I turned back to look at the United Center and there was a giant, brightly lit animated sign showing that the Blackhawks were the champions. There it is for the world to see. The Blackhawks made it one more time.

Hawks Win!
The Chicago Blackhawks are the 2015 Stanley Cup Champions

We rode in the car back to where Brett was staying. We talked to the driver about how crazy things were across Chicago as the Blackhawks’ radio announcement for the game final was being replayed as the Stanley Cup Final came to a close. “For the third time in 6 seasons! One Goal achieved! The Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup! The Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup! The Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup! The Chicago Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup! Lord Stanley, the Blackhawks organization along with the greatest fans in all of Hockey welcome you back to your new home in Chicago.. Illinois.. in the U.S.A!”

So many things cemented the night for me. Holding the ticket. Seeing Keith score. Watching the clock run down.

Getting the gift of the cup.