Ghosts of the United Center: A Strange Tale

One night earlier last week, it was 3 a.m. and I was feeling adventurous…also a little hungry. This would be no vast quest, mind you. I’m not ready to cross oceans in canoes or climb the highest hill in my neighborhood anytime soon. But, I needed to get out of the house nonetheless.

Soon, I found myself heading toward the city (if by some chance you’re not from this area, I’m not talking about Naperville). It was a clear night and the skyline was my beacon. The plan was: cruise the Lakeshore looking for some thrills of the non-narcotic and/or hooker variety.

I know. Lame adventure.

I was nearing 90/94 when I figured “Eh, what the hell, I’ll do a “Chicago Tour de Stade.” Except without me having to get out and run and do all the things you do in a real tour de stade. Deal with it. My adventure, my descriptions.

After catching a 100lb. sturgeon in Lake Michigan (lie), I passed Soldier Field and headed up to Wrigley Field before finally looping back toward my final destination – the United Center. This is where things…got interesting.

Some of you might believe this. Most of you, probably, will not. All I can say is this account of what happened at the United Center that early morning follows exactly the outline my boss and I discussed yesterday.

I wasn’t satisfied with a mere drive-by of the Madhouse. It was different from the others. Wrigley, there hasn’t been a reason to stop since Ted Lilly was tossing 12-6 curveballs while getting minimal run support. Soldier Field? I’m lucky if I get to see one game a year at the generosity of a friend. U.S. Cellular? It was 3 a.m. Probably a fair number of drive-bys were in the works already.

The UC was different. It beckoned me. It may have been the knowledge that I wouldn’t be there for an extended period of time, or I love hockey too much. Or not enough? All are probably true. With nobody there, I was able to get pretty decent parking a couple of rows from the statues of Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull.

I walked across the lot and up to the “Monuments to Excellence” and stood at their skates. They are remarkable tributes to two great players. Yet, the experience was lacking without the crowds of happy humans coming and going. Also, I wanted a cold beer, as per usual before taking my seat for a home game.

Needless to say, I was shocked when the Golden Jet knelt down and handed me a Coors straight from Golden, Colorado. They don’t even serve Coors at the United Center. And statues don’t drink beer from anywhere. Perplexed, I made my way to Gate 4 and was stunned to find the door not just unlocked, but wide open.

What followed was a whirlwind of bizarre and randomness:

-Organist Frank Pellico playing an earsplitting rendition of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and loving every minute of it.

-Patrick Kane and ex-Blackhawk John Madden playing beer pong at center ice on, yes, on a limousine.

-Eddie Olczyk chasing me around the United Center screaming “Stop it right there!” with an unplugged Telestrator trailing behind him.

-Jim Cornelison, ceaselessly singing the anthems of every country one after another.

-Cristobal Huet was circling the rink, looking for a way back in.

-Marian Hossa getting destroyed by Raffi Torres in a terrifying, endless loop while the linesman bleeds from his eyes.

-Tommy Hawk hitting a drum, which thankfully made no noise.

-Disembodied chants of “Detroit is Cool” cascading from the 300 level.

-Chris Pronger trying to steal the 2010 Stanley Cup Champions banner

-Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr, picking both my pockets while I watched Dustin Byfuglien row a boat from one crease to the other.

…and then I woke up. Believe me when I say I want the NHL to resume as soon as possible. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t use some time to get over that dream. Oh man, I need some hockey to watch…and soon.

It seems without it, we’re doomed to askew versions of memories past.

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