It was really the first extended quiet moment for the Blackhawks players after they won the 2010 Stanley Cup in Philadelphia.
On the team flight home to Chicago, the players took their spot in the back of the plane with the Stanley Cup joining them, and the reflection began. Adam Burish remembers a group of seats around the trophy as guys hopped in and out, swapping stories from their long path together to that moment. It was just the players. Coaches and other team employees were up front. Family was on a different plane.
Just the guys who made it happen.
They shared stories of prospect camps where people questioned if a college player like Burish could have an impact on a championship team. Or if Duncan Keith was too small to be a franchise defenseman. Or the times when they would have to run five miles together and do pushups until they heaved everything in their stomachs.
Those grueling moments that led to the ultimate moment, the moment that would permanently link this group of players for the rest of their lives.
"It was kind of a peaceful time," Burish said of that flight home that precluded a summer full of celebration. "Knowing once this flight is over, there would never be a time again [that] you would get us all together in one place. No cameras. Nobody asking us questions. You kind of knew it was the last time it was going to happen."
Those are the moments Burish thinks about now as he organizes his charity hockey game for next week, reuniting many of the players who were on that plane. Many, like Burish (now with the Sharks), have scattered across the NHL.
As the CBA negotiations kept the players off NHL ice, Burish started getting antsy. He had to do something. Play somewhere.
He pitched the idea of a charity game to his agent, Bill Zito of ACME World Sports, and Zito told Burish to see what kind of interest there was among his friends in the league.
So Burish did what we all would do. He sent a mass email pitching a charity game to his friends, including the guys on the 2010 Stanley Cup-winning Blackhawks.
Within half an hour, a dozen guys responded that they were in. By the end of the day, he had heard back from everyone.
"I called Billy back and said, 'Hey man, we have a lot of guys in on that,'" Burish said.
Zito took it from there.
The result is Champs for Charity, a game that will played Oct. 26 at All-State Arena in suburban Chicago. Tickets are available through the arena box office or Ticketmaster.com. And the lineup is loaded: Jonathan Toews, Brian Campbell, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Kris Versteeg and others are scheduled to play for the reunited Chicago team. Among those representing their opponents are Ryan Suter, Jack Johnson, Kimmo Timonen, Ville Leino and James Wisniewski. Goalies Craig Anderson and Niklas Backstrom are scheduled to go head-to-head.
The beneficiary of the impressive collection of talent headed to Chicago next week is the Ronald McDonald House. Although the Blackhawks Alumni Association has done great work with the Ronald McDonald House, it was Zito who made the connection for this game.
A family illness meant Zito spent more than 200 nights in hospitals in 2011, and during that time he learned the ins and outs of trying to get any rest while caring for a loved one. He can tell you exactly where the hidden couches are at Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago. (If you’re wondering, take the elevator to the second floor and go left. There are conference room couches tucked away, available for a quick nap.)
"When I went through what we went through, I just gained so much appreciation for what [the Ronald McDonald Houses] offer families and kids," Zito said.
Zito credited not only the players for their eagerness to play but also their agents. Often rival agents hardly acknowledge each other’s existence, let alone help each other, so Zito wasn't sure what kind of response he'd receive when organizing the game.
He made a call to Pat Brisson, who represents the two biggest stars -- Toews and Kane -- and there was no hesitation to pitch in.
"Pat was like, 'What else do you need?'" Zito said. "Honestly, it makes you feel good. People in hockey are really good people. The first thing out of everyone’s mouth is, How can we help?"
If there’s a CBA settlement before Friday, the game is off. The ticket money will be refunded to fans. But if not, it's something positive while the doom of stalled negotiations and canceled games dominates the hockey news cycle.
"As players, we want to play hockey," Burish said. "We’re probably not good at a whole lot of other things. You take that away from us, we feel kind of useless. Our hands are tied. This is our livelihood taken away, and in planning this everybody has been great. Let's put our ego aside. Let's play a charity game and let's have some fun doing it."