WASHINGTON — In an East Room packed with government workers and hockey fans alike, President Barack Obama welcomed the Chicago Blackhawks to the White House Thursday to celebrate the team’s third Stanley Cup championship during his administration.
Obama, who hosted similar receptions after the Blackhawks’ wins in 2010 and 2013, seemed as comfortable and friendly as ever with his hometown team, whose 2015 victory was the first on home ice in 77 years.
“It’d be nice if you could just squeeze one more in there before I leave,” Obama joked, extending the offer to all Chicago’s sports teams — White Sox, Bulls, Bears, and “heck, I’d even take the Cubs.”
After congratulating the Blackhawks for their on-ice achievements during “one of the most dominant stretches in all of sports,” Obama singled out a few individuals for praise.
Head coach Joel Quenneville got a shoutout for becoming the second winningest coach in NHL history last month, with the president saying his record proves that, like Mike Ditka, Phil Jackson and Ozzie Guillen before him, Chicago teams need mustachioed coaches to win championships.
The Blackhawks’ scouts also got a huge round of applause after Obama thanked them for their offer to help him pick the next Supreme Court nominee.
Taking a more serious tone, the president turned the spotlight on two of the team’s “unsung heroes,” defenseman Kimmo Timonen and goalie Scott Darling.
Timonen, 40, overcame a debilitating blood clot disorder to finally hoist the Stanley Cup in his last NHL game.
Darling recently helped a man who was down on his luck, buying him groceries and paying for a month-long hotel stay in a hotel while he got his life in order. The story went viral after the Uber driver who took Darling and the man to the hotel mentioned the kindness to another customer, who tweeted it.
“A champion reached out to help somebody who could use a hand, even though he didn’t have to… even though he wasn’t asking anybody for credit,” said Obama. “I like to think that says something about our city of Chicago and it’s a very American thing to do.”
Like any good guests, the Blackhawks didn’t come to the party empty-handed. They presented Obama with a custom jersey, a miniature replica Stanley Cup and a parking pass for the United Center, courtesy of team owner Rocky Wirtz.
Even though this was his third presidential reception, team captain Jonathan Toews said the experience hasn’t lost its luster.
“We all appreciate this moment,” he said. “It’s something that goes along with winning a championship that makes it special.”