Long time coming

CHICAGO -- When it comes to the Chicago Blackhawks, Bob Gertenrich has seen it all.

Well, almost.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Philadelphia Flyers will mark Gertenrich's 2,022nd consecutive Hawks home game. He's been a season ticket holder for 44 years, yet he's never seen his team hoist the Stanley Cup.

But Gertenrich believes that's about to change.

"I think they could handle Philly," Gertenrich said.

And if the Blackhawks do win their first Stanley Cup since 1961, Gertenrich will be cheering from his seat in section 333 of the United Center.

"These guys are very explosive," Gertenrich said.

Gertenrich has been a Blackhawks season ticket holder since 1966 and celebrated attending his 2,000th consecutive game Feb. 3 this season. He was invited into the locker room to take pictures with coach Joel Quenneville, general manager Stan Bowman and several of the players. Gertenrich was also given a team jersey autographed by each player.

"I was 63, acting like 16 the way I felt," Gertenrich said.

The excitement continued the next day when he received a voicemail from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. When Gertenrich returned the call, he said Bettman was the nicest guy and asked if he could help Gertenrich with anything.

"I told him I'd been looking for an NHL records book for years but couldn't find one," Gertenrich said. "He said, 'Bob, I'll personally send ya one.' Then I get this 600-plus-page book in the mail. In the front cover was a little note on NHL letterhead that read, 'Good to talk to you. Thanks for being such a terrific fan.' And it was signed 'Gary/B.'"

When Gertenrich began going to Blackhawks games, a beer was 50 cents a bottle, he said.

"The first year I had season tickets, they cost me $92.50," Gertenrich said. "Next year, I'm gonna have three seats. Each seat is $2,200."

While prices, players and coaches have changed, Gertenrich has remained a constant at Blackhawks home games. Since he bought his first season tickets, Gertenrich has never considered not renewing them. And only a few instances stuck out that threatened his streak of consecutive appearances.

Gertenrich's mother died early in the morning Oct. 6, 1991. Still, he was at the Blackhawks game that night because, as he put it, what was he going to do if he stayed home?

Five years later, Gertenrich's streak was again in doubt when he broke his wrist. But against doctor's orders, he was at the game that night with his wrist in a cast.

Shelly Lynn, who's been friends with Gertenrich for 40 years, said there was one night he actually tried to prevent Gertenrich from going to a game because of a blizzard. But Gertenrich, who has never driven to a Blackhawks game, was relying on Lynn to give him a ride.

"He kept calling us saying, 'We're going, aren't we? We're going, aren't we?'"

Lynn obliged.

"We were the only thing moving down the highway," Lynn said. "There were maybe 200 people there."

With his unblemished attendance record, Gertenrich has witnessed plenty of the organization's highs and lows. From the joys of attending three Stanley Cup finals to the agony of being there to see the Blackhawks lose Game 7 of the 1971 finals to the Canadiens after leading 2-0.

"They were up 2-0, and Bobby [Hull] hit the crossbar," Gertenrich said. "We could have put it away right there. It was the most disappointing game I've seen. There have been a lot of tough games. A lot of great games I saw too, though."

Of those great games, one of Gertenrich's most memorable was this season, when the Blackhawks pulled off the biggest comeback in franchise history, erasing a 5-0 deficit and beating Calgary.

Gertenrich said the difference between this Blackhawks team and the '61 squad is the fact guys like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have been playing together for just a few seasons.

Gertenrich said his all-time Blackhawks team is Hull, Stan Mikita and Steve Larmer up front and Pierre Pilote and Duncan Keith on the blue line with Tony Esposito in net.

"The '61 team was a lot more experienced, because they were playing together longer," Gertenrich said. "These guys have only been together 2-3 years."

Hull is Gertenrich's favorite player, partly because he met Hull at a speaking engagement this year and was able to spend some time conversing about old-time hockey.

"It was surprising when they let Hull go, he was such an icon," Gertenrich said. "But Rocky [Wirtz] did a hell of a job bringing the guys back."

A lot of fans have come back, too, but there's one who's been there for more than 2,000 straight home games. And he believes he's about to see something he's never seen.