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Patrick Kane's return and Chris Chelios' jersey retirement makes for memorable day in Blackhawks history

Patrick Kane's return and Chris Chelios' jersey retirement makes for memorable day in Blackhawks history originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

For weeks, I tried to figure out how I was going to document Sunday's spectacle for Chicago Blackhawks fans that had the potential to be one of the most memorable days in franchise history. I can't remember the last time there was this much buzz around a regular-season game.

You had Chris Chelios' jersey retirement to look forward to, which was worth the price of admission itself. You had franchise icon Patrick Kane returning to the United Center for the first time as a visitor, with the longtime rival Detroit Red Wings nonetheless. And you had the NHL's newest face in Connor Bedard at center stage, an 18-year-old phenom who's capable of doing something special on any given night.

With so many storylines funneled into one day, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to give every one of them its proper attention. But I'll try my best.

The day started with Kane speaking to the media at Detroit's team hotel around 10:45 a.m., which was at his request because his desire was to have all the focus on Chelios prior to puck drop. No surprise, right?

Kane reflected on his time with the Blackhawks, what it was like to be back in Chicago, and much more in a 17-minute interview.

"When you fly back into the city, drive back downtown, see the skyline and everything like that, it hits home a little bit more," Kane said.

When I arrived at the United Center just after 1 p.m., there were thousands of fans lined up along Madison Street waiting to enter the East Atrium to get into good position for the pregame panel discussion featuring some of Chelios' former teammates Tony Amonte, Ed Belfour, Jeremy Roenick and Gary Suter, hosted by legendary play-by-play announcer Pat Foley.

The three most popular jerseys I saw in line: Bedard, Chelios and Kane. Fitting.

After the panel ended, the United Center started to fill up. Around 2:45 p.m., Kane made his entrance and four former teammates greeted him in the hallway: Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp. Kane lit up when he saw them.

At 3:15 p.m. sharp, the lights went down and it was time for the Chelios ceremony to begin.

The Blackhawks' bench was full as players and coaches watched the ceremony together. Kane and his Red Wings teammates also came out to watch.

After a video montage and the introduction of his family, friends and former teammates, Chelios made an incredible entrance. He showed up in an old-school Cadillac, which is one I've seen him driving around Chicago a few times. His mother was with him in the passenger seat.

Then Chelios stepped to the mic.

"The path, the journey, where we came from, where I came from, it's so hard to believe this is happening," Chelios said. "I still can't believe I'm making this speech quite honestly. This is crazy!"

Chelios' speech lasted about 30 minutes. He shared stories from his playing days. He chronicled his journey as a homegrown kid. He reiterated his love for the Blackhawks, even after he was traded to Detroit. He even shouted out the Blackhawks' core members from the dynasty era, including Kane who received as loud of an ovation as you'd expect.

Watch Chris Chelios' full speech here.

"I've got to include him: This guy will go down as the greatest American-born player," Chelios said. "Patrick Kane, unbelievable. That jersey looks kinda funny Kaner, but it'll grow on you. And don't worry, it will work out in the end, same as me. But just be careful, don't go stealing my thunder today, OK? I've got money on the board to shut you down."

Chelios wrapped up the speech by giving his thanks to the Blackhawks organization and the city of Chicago. He acknowledged this would be a tough memory to top in his life.

"I couldn't be more proud to represent you, the Chicago Blackhawks, the city of Chicago, as one of your own," Chelios said in closing. "I hope someday someone standing here from Chicago does the same thing. But it's going to take them a long time. Alright, thank you everybody!"

And then, No. 7 was officially raised to the United Center rafters, where it will hang forever with eight other numbers in franchise history and soon to be joined by a few more.

After the ceremony ended, there was roughly a 30-minute cool-down session before warmups. Everyone was ready at this point to see No. 88 step onto the United Center ice for the first time since he had that near buzzer-beater in overtime against Vegas before the trade deadline.

When Kane stepped onto the ice for warmups in a Winged Wheel jersey, it sure did look weird. A nice touch by the Red Wings by throwing an "A" on his sweater.

Kane played catch with Alex DeBrincat during pregame warmups, like they used to do together in Chicago. He tossed quite a few pucks to Blackhawks fans as well. He left the ice around the same time as Bedard but wasn't the last one, which was a superstition for him in Chicago.

Detroit gave DeBrincat and Kane a courtesy start, and both of them received nice ovations. But it didn't compare to the one Kane got during his video tribute, which aired during the first television timeout.

Kane took not one, not two, but three laps around the United Center because the sold-out Chicago crowd of 21,141 wouldn't stop cheering. Three curtain calls? An all-timer.

With the Chelios ceremony in the books and Kane's official welcome back behind us, it was time to focus on the game, right? Well, sort of.

Seemingly every other stoppage break, a celebrity was shown on the video board: Wayne Gretzky first. Mark Messier next. Then Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, followed by legendary former professional tennis player John McEnroe.

Chicago Cubs executive Theo Epstein and American fashion model and television personality — Chicago's very own — Cindy Crawford were in attendance as well, with both of them participating in the Shoot the Puck contest. Crawford scored on the first end of the rink, which drew loud cheers.

Former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman made an appearance in his suite, with Chelios acknowledging earlier in his speech: "They still love you, Dennis!"

Michael Jordan was on the invite list but he couldn't attend due to a death in the family. He submitted a video message that aired inside the arena before puck drop.

Late in the third period, the Blackhawks were up 2-1. I was starting to mentally accept that there wouldn't be much drama at the end and that Bedard laying a hit on Kane earlier in the period would be the final highlight of the night — Kane joked after the game: "He’s lucky he had the bubble on or I was going after him."

But boy was I wrong.

Alex DeBrincat — remember him? — banked one off Blackhawks goaltender Petr Mrazek for the game-tying goal with 4:16 left in regulation. Kane was credited with the primary assist. A Red Wings fan then threw an Octopus on the ice, which the Chicago faithful did not appreciate.

The game eventually went to overtime, and you just knew something special was going to happen. Kane wasn't on the ice to start, but he had one leg hanging over the bench just waiting to hop on for the next shift like a dog getting ready to pounce on a bone.

When he did jump on the ice, you could see the game-winning moment developing in real time, with Kane finding himself all alone near center ice for a breakaway after retrieving a stretch pass off the rebound. He took one look back, slowed down, and then fired the puck top shelf before celebrating accordingly by screaming "Showtime!" to Blackhawks fans.

In a way, it felt like justice from the last time Kane was at the United Center when he had his buzzer-beater goal in overtime taken away against Vegas, which ended up being his final home game with the Blackhawks before he was traded.

"Maybe," Kane smiled. "That’s a good tradeoff, I’ll take that."

After emerging from the pile, Kane made one final salute around the United Center to show his appreciate to the fans before heading down the tunnel.

"I think just the whole night was weird, to be honest with you," Kane said. "Different kind of night. Obviously you’re trying to stay focused on a game, didn’t really feel like I was into it to start. Once the tribute happened, it was nice to get that out of the way and start just focusing on hockey.

"I think I found my game in the second. Just a lot of emotions right now, scoring that goal, being back here, being on a different team. Just tried to show the fans there at the end they’ll always have my heart here. Special 16-17 years, whatever it was, I don’t even know. But that was great."

After the game, I could only laugh when thinking about the Chelios ceremony and the way he jokingly warned Kane not to steal his thunder on this night. No. 88 apparently didn't listen.

As I sit here at about 9:15 p.m. on Sunday, about to hit publish on a story that's well past 1,500 words — I'm not sure if that's not enough or too many — I reflected on the thought I had on my morning drive to the city, wondering if the day would live up to the enormous hype.

Did it ever.

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