I had plans for this weekend that fell through early in the week, so on a whim I decided to spend Saturday watching the Blackhawks practice in The Edge, a rink in Bensenville, IL. I didn’t realize, if not for the fantastic @suzechooch, that watching the Blackhawks practice meant I could also possibly get autographs from them too, so I started to make plans. Because not everyone may have a go-to gal like @suzechooch, here’s a guide I’ve written for if you ever find yourself in Bensenville.
Most people who went there had their own Sharpies to hand to players, and some even had jerseys put up on cardboard or flat panels so that players didn’t have to worry about finding a hard surface to write on. Myself, I only had with me two Sharpies, my Keith jersey, and two caps– one for me, and the other for @carolineduda.
Know where to go.
The best way to get to the arena is by driving there, but it is accessible by commute. Take the Metra’s Milwaukee District – West line headed to Elgin from the Union Station and get off at Bensenville. It’s 30 minutes away by train, and another 25 minutes on foot. (You can probably call for a cab from the station though. I would have if I didn’t end up with plenty of time to make the trek to and from the arena.) It isn’t very far from O’Hare either, so you can also probably pick up a taxi from the airport if that’s easier.
Come early, leave late.
The Blackhawks practice anywhere between 10am to 11am, but players come in earlier than that, and your best bet is to meet them as they enter The Edge. Some of them come in super early, and some of them leave super late, and really it’s up to you to decide how long you would want to wait. Nothing is set, to be honest, and it’s a combination of luck and effort, in the end.
The Edge has three parking lots– one at the back (which has been roped off to avoid cars accidentally backing into people), one at the front across the street, and another to the side. There are two entrances as well– the back door and the front entrance. Players used to park out front but since more fans have been watching them practice, it’s gotten harder to enter that way without signing for a few minutes, so most of them park in the back. It may be advisable to stay in the back, because when people like Kris Versteeg, Jonathan Toews, or Cristobal Huet come in through the front you’ll be able to tell by the crowd that starts gathering there, and you can always catch up to them.
Talk to the fans.
Some of the fans out there will know infinitely more about what’s going on than I ever will–talk to them! Make friends! They’ll tell you which cars the players drive (You know Tazer and Kaner have Tahoes, and Versteeg apparently drives a Hummer), which ones usually sign autographs (Huet and Toews, hands down; Patrick Sharp used to but not as often anymore), and so on.
One woman told me about the time her daughter and her friends went out with the boys one time, and one of the girlfriends, who knew absolutely nothing about hockey, turned to Patrick Kane and asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Ready? Get set. Go!
Notice the St Patrick's Day Cubs cap.
Jonathan Toews was not the first player to come in, but somehow I’d forgotten to take photos when David Bolland entered (through the back, and looking rather grumpy– at being up so early in the morning, I hope) nor when Kris Versteeg walked in. (Should have told him I had Glamorous stuck in my head thanks to him.)
Toews, however, did stay long enough that I gathered my senses soon enough to snap a couple of photos. He posed with the kiddies, but I was rather unable to say anything so all I got was of his cap. Sorry.
Huet came in after and I was hardly able to get the autograph, let alone a photo. Some guy asked him about his son being a goalie and Huet said, “Well, only if he wants to.” D’awww.
Practice happened, and I was even worse at taking photos.
So then the team started practicing, and I went to grab lunch–for $5 I had a disgusting pork BBQ sandwich, chips, and a soda– and tried to snap photos from where I can. The lines were Sharp-Toews-Brouwer, Kane-Pahlsson-Versteeg, the regular Ladd-Bolland-Havlat, and Eager-Fraser-Burish. Now that Eager has been suspended for three games I’m not sure if Byfuglien is gonna end up out of defense again or not. I guess we’ll see. Practice ended fairly quickly afterward, though. It started at 11:45 and was done about an hour later.
I went out to the back parking lot, figuring I’d already gotten the front-entrance players, and managed to get Soupy and Burish, as well as my ability to make small talk. “Nice hit!” “Great goal!” I missed Havlat because of the crowd, sadly, and Patrick Kane went out to sign only for the kiddies before his dad drove them out, running two red lights in the process. (Or so reported the boy who ran after their car. Um.)
Awkward, but sweet.
Khabibulin drove off, and Seabrook also snuck out, and I waited around for a bit. I’d been told some players could stay out as late as 3pm or 4pm, and it was only close to about 1pm, so there was plenty of time to wait, but I really had my heart set on getting both Keith (jersey!) and Sharp (since I missed his signing).
Finally, they were outside. Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith came out at the same time (look at that, how lucky) and were both signing autographs for the fans in the back.
I walked up to the crowd, finally managing to get my way up to the front. A little awkwardly, I managed to snap a photo of Patrick Sharp. (I would have asked him to look up and pose for Caroline’s benefit, but as I had to ask him to sign the caps twice I felt like I was asking for too much already, haha.)
Well, he's a hell of a player.
Both players were basically going back and forth signing things that hadn’t been signed yet, and for Keith I held out the jersey and caps.
“Hell of a jersey!” said he. (I have quoted this too many times. I cannot help it. It pleased me.)
“I know!” said I, rather lamely. (Half an hour later, my lightning wit finally struck, and I realize I should said something more along the lines of the caption under his photo. Tragic, the things left unsaid.)
And he signed my jersey and the caps. (“I have two nephews!” I blurted out. “Oh really?” he said. Not that either of my nephews were even hockey fans, but I figured it sounded less creepy than “My BFF and I think you’re the best and your minutes are insane and you’ll get your +/- back will you stay a Blackhawks forever pretty please?”)
After a few minutes, both of them drove off (same car, yes; Sharpie on the wheel, if anyone wanted to know). It was about 1:15pm by then, and I’d gotten autographs from Bolland, Versteeg, Toews, Huet, Campbell, Burish, Sharp and Keith. It kind of felt like Christmas, and I figured it was a good last autograph note to end on, so I made my way back to the train station.
Which autograph is whose?
I used a Metallic Silver Sharpie, so the light reflected off it. Oops.
Here's a better view.
“Hell of a jersey,” he said.
It was a hell of a day, I decided.