CHICAGO — As soon as the Highland Park Giants got off the charter bus, they knew this was no ordinary team-bonding experience.
Cheering members of the Chicago Blackhawks organization welcomed the high schoolers to the Fifth Third Arena Community Ice Rink, aka the Blackhawks practice facility.
“We understand the trying times that you’ve gone through,” said Blackhawks Head Coach Luke Richardson, who was among the welcoming party. “We just want to make sure you all know that us — the Blackhawks — we’re all with you guys.”
After each player changed into their own custom Blackhawks jersey, two Chicago legends — Johnathan Toews and Patrick Kane — made their rounds getting to know the team.
“I mean Patrick Kane complimented my hair twice … how much better does it get than that?” said PJ Donahue, a sophomore on Highland Park’s hockey team.
“The Blackhawks won all the championships when they were learning to fall in love with hockey,” said Michaela Donahue, PJ’s mom. “They played hockey because they love the Blackhawks and to get to meet them, to get to meet their heroes [and] to get to be here in this building, is just an amazing experience for them.”
The day was capped off by a scrimmage on the ice of the Blackhawks’ practice facility, providing an escape for kids affected by the Highland Park 4th of July mass shooting.
“There’s a lot of kids that are struggling, I think there are a lot of people in Highland Park who are struggling,” said Kimmy Mindel. “I think this will definitely help the boys, especially with some happy times to get their minds off of everything.”
The Highland Park Giants kick off their high school hockey season Thursday with a matchup against Prosper, while the Blackhawks also have their first training camp practice of the year Thursday too.