On a brilliantly sunny day in the nation's capital, the Blackhawks received the spoils of their 2015 Stanley Cup championship when they met with President Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday.
It marked the third time in six years the Hawks visited Obama, having done so after capturing the 2010 and '13 titles, and the theme throughout this latest meeting was that while thrice is nice, there's still time for another before that pesky term limit kicks in.
After congratulating the Hawks on their latest Cup win, Obama said he hopes they "can squeeze one more in before I leave. Because then I definitely will take credit for this amazing championship run. I haven't given up hope on the Bulls or the White Sox or the Bears — heck, I'd even take the Cubs."
Hawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz echoed the president's words, saying, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could do it a fourth time and see if we can sneak it in there before he leaves office? You never know, funnier things have happened."
With Hawks players, coaches and team personnel assembled behind him and the Stanley Cup on a table to his right, Obama basked in the glow of honoring his hometown NHL team.
"It is always fun to have the Stanley Cup here," Obama said. "It truly is the best trophy in sports. I'll admit I was hoping you'd give me a day with it this time around. Before I was president, I just want to point out ... the Blackhawks had gone almost half a century without seeing this thing. Now you've got the hat trick. So I think it's pretty clear the kind of luck I've brought to this team.
"And, by the way, we've got a state dinner with Canada coming up, so we may just leave it right in the middle of the room," Obama added, triggering an eruption of laughter and applause in the East Room. "We could gloat a little bit."
Obama pointed out that seven players participated in all three championships, but Thursday he paid particular tribute to two "unsung heroes," backup goaltender Scott Darling and now-retired defenseman Kimmo Timonen. Obama praised Timonen for his great career and overcoming blood clots before joining the Hawks last season. Lemont native Darling was spotlighted for his act of kindness to a homeless man during a recent Hawks road game.
"I want to highlight something (Darling) did just a couple weeks ago, when this team was on a road trip in Arizona," Obama said. "He struck up a conversation with a man down on his luck. Scott, I suspect, recognized some of his own struggles in the past (and) thought he might be able to help. He set him up in a hotel room, paid the bill for a month, hoping that that would be enough time for the man to get back on his feet."
Obama went on to point out that while Darling didn't publicize the moment, it eventually went viral when an Uber driver passed it on "to a beer-league hockey player."
"And I couldn't have more respect for Scott's modesty, but now that it's out there, I think it's the kind of good deed that bears repeating," Obama said. "A champion reached out to help somebody who could use a hand — even though he didn't have to, even though nobody was looking, even though he wasn't asking anybody for credit. I like to think that reflects something about our city, about Chicago. It's a very American thing to do."
The recognition for Darling and Timonen pleased Hawks captain Jonathan Toews.
"What makes winning a championship so special is that you're surrounded by guys like that and the fact that the president highlighted that shows what type of leader he is," Toews said. "It was a cool thing for the two of those guys to get a little shout-out in that moment."
Most of the other moments in the ceremony were lighthearted as Obama had a grin plastered on his face. When presented with a permanent parking pass to the United Center by Wirtz, Obama beamed and remarked it was "the best gift I have gotten at the White House" and that he might sell it on eBay.
The consensus among the players, coaches and team personnel who have been honored three times — including Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, coach Joel Quenneville, Wirtz and team President John McDonough — is that the experience never gets old.
"Maybe the two words that are the most impactful is when they say, 'Welcome back,' " McDonough said. "We'd love to come back one more time during President Obama's regime."
Added Toews: "The fact we've been able to come here three times while President Obama has been in office is a pretty cool thing. He might have a point that there's a connection to Chicago and he has something to do with our success. We're happy to be here again."