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Blackhawks’ thrill ride ends on somber note

Published: Monday, June 2, 2014 12:42 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, June 2, 2014 9:46 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Nam Y. Huh)
Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings greet each other after the Kings defeated the Blackhawks 5-4 in the overtime period in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals in the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Sunday, June 1, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

CHICAGO – All but a few dozen fans remained in the building.

Both teams had left the ice, one to celebrate and the other to commiserate.

The Blackhawks’ season had come to a sudden, stunning end with a 5-4 loss against the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals. Kings defenseman Alec Martinez had scored 5:47 into overtime, sending the Hawks (and their fans) home for a summer without a parade.

From the seventh floor of the United Center, Frank Pellico stayed behind. He pressed on the keys of the stadium organ. He wore a Hawks sweater with “Pellico – 61” stitched on the back.

Pellico picked a song from 1939, a classic from Vera Lynn that was covered perfectly by Johnny Cash. The song’s title is “We’ll Meet Again,” and Pellico hit every note as he sat on a black bench in front of the custom made, 20-year-old instrument from Allen Organ Co.

The song selection came naturally to Pellico, 73, as he wrapped up his 23rd season with the Hawks. He hadn’t planned it ahead of time. It just flowed from his fingers and through the speakers.

“Because of the words,” Pellico said.

“We’ll meet again

Don’t know where

Don’t know when

But I know

We’ll meet again 

Some sunny day…”

Pellico is right. The season might be finished – a season in which the Hawks came oh-so-close to another trip to the Stanley Cup Final – but the team’s championship window remains wide open.

In his two-plus decades with the team, Pellico has seen a little bit of everything. He played at the old Chicago Stadium for three years, then at the United Center for the past 20 years. He played when the Hawks were a laughingstock, and he played as they developed into two-time champions.

Pellico held his hand open to reveal two massive, shiny Stanley Cup championship rings in the palm of his left hand. The rings glistened despite the dim light that filled his private seating area.

“I just took them off because my hands hurt,” Pellico said. “They’re very heavy.”

How close Pellico and the Hawks came to battling the New York Rangers for ring No. 3. The Hawks would have been the odds-on favorites to win the series, but instead it will be the Kings who will host Games 1 and 2 of the championship round that starts Wednesday.

“I can’t believe it,” Pellico said, shaking his head at the outcome. “We were all really hyper about it before we even started [overtime]. In fact, even my boss said on the headset, ‘Take it easy, everybody, just simmer down.’ Because it’s really hard and exciting to watch. We came so close.”

“Keep smilin’ through

Just like you

Always do

’Til the blue skies drive

The dark clouds

Far away…”

Yes, Pellico works for the Hawks, but he also is a devoted fan. Disappointment filled his face as he prepared to leave the building, to say farewell for now to the giant organ that includes three keyboards with 61 keys apiece and a full pedal board with 32 notes.

“When I get in the car and call my brother at home, he’ll just drive me crazy with what went wrong,” said Pellico, who lives in Palos Hills. “I’ll hear about it all the way home. But, tomorrow, I’ll have more work to do.”

The Hawks fought hard until their season’s final second, Pellico said.

“They played great,” Pellico said. “They really just played their hearts out.

“Somebody has to win, somebody has to lose. It just happens that way, you know?

Yes.

“And will you please say hello

To the folks that I know

Tell ’em that I won’t be long

And they’ll be happy to know

That when you saw me go

I was singing this song…”

Pellico will be back next fall for his 24th season with the team.

The Hawks will be back, too, chasing their dream once again.

“You couldn’t have a better job, just to watch the game, let alone try to help them out and get the crowd going,” Pellico said. “It’s exciting. It always is.”

“We’ll meet again

Don’t know where

Don’t know when

But I know

We’ll meet again

Some sunny day.”

•  Tom Musick can be reached at editorial@shawmedia.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.

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