There ain't no scene like it

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:13 PM ET

EDMONTON - CHICAGO — It’s one of the most inspiring scenes in all of sports. Or one of the most intimidating, depending on which side of centre ice you happen to be lined up on.

When Jim Cornelison revs up The Star Spangled Banner, accompanied by the near deafening roar of 20,000 United Center faithful, it brings tears to eyes and chills to spines — no matter how long you’ve been around or how many times you’ve heard it before.

“It’s crazy,” said veteran Blackhawk John Madden, who’s seen a lot of sights in his day, but few like the powerful moments before the puck drops in Chicago. “It just raises you up. If you’re not feeling 110% on a certain night, that will certainly fire up your legs. If it doesn’t get your pulse racing you have something wrong with you.

“It never gets old. I still get exited when they start it up. You’re like ‘I wonder how loud they’re going to get tonight.’ ”

A tradition that began with Wayne Messmer at Chicago Stadium during a 1985 playoff series with Edmonton and peaked at the 1991 NHL All-Star game at the start of the Persian Gulf war can spook the pants off of visiting players.

“Every time you’re out there you get chills,” said Patrick Kane. “You hear the anthem and the roof is rocking. It’s awesome. When you score a goal you even get more chills.”

But some wonder if the atmosphere in Chicago isn’t working against a young and already emotional Blackhawks team. They’re 7-1 on the road and just 3-3 at home, where maybe they’re getting just a little too caught up in the hype.

“That might be our problem at home, to be honest with you,” said Kane. “You hear the anthem, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing — I don’t want them to stop — but it’s almost like you’re too excited and you’re trying to make too much happen. You want to hear that roar again.”

It’s been 12 days since they last heard it, and since they’ve been gone they’ve eliminated Vancouver and taken the first two Western Conference final games in San Jose, so expect a wild homecoming Friday for Game 3.

How they deal with it remains to be seen. They’re doing all they can to guard against a hometown letdown, even staying in a hotel Friday, but there isn’t much they can do to prepare for the wall of noise that will greet them Friday.

“There’s nothing better, the fans love it, but we have to use it to our advantage,” said Patrick Sharp, adding there’s a fine line between getting fired up and being out of control. “There have been times, I think we saw it in the Vancouver series, that we came out flying and wanted it too badly and it worked in the other direction. We have to put all of our focus on playing the way we have the last few games.”

Keeping their heads about them is a full-time job for a team that’s so close to a Cup final they can almost reach out and touch it. The city is on fire, everyone is telling them how great they are, they’ve got the first place team on the ropes ... it’s hard not to picture themselves as Chicago’s first Stanley Cup champions in 49 years.

“You have to guard against that, constantly,” said Madden. “Block everything out. The best way I can relate that to the guys is to shut everything off, shut the phone off, shut the TV off, don’t listen to the radio, just listen to what’s going on in this dressing room.”

Jonathan Toews compares it to his quest for an Olympic gold medal in Vancouver.

“You fight those emotions as you go along,” he said. “You want to win so bad that every night you go to sleep thinking about the end results, which seems so far away still. You just have to keep focusing on what matters, that’s how we work.”

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca


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