It’s Hockey Night at Lord Stanley’s

Today’s column from the Kankakee Daily Journal and The (Ottawa, Ill.) Times

It’s Hockey Night at Lord Stanley’s


June 5, 2010

Back in the Spring of 1962, the defending NHL champion Chicago Blackhawks were proud protectors of the Stanley Cup. And Ken Kilander didn’t much like that.

So, during a playoff game between the Hawks and Kilander’s beloved Montreal Canadiens in Chicago, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

Quite literally.

As the story goes, Kilander was so upset at seeing the Stanley Cup glistening back at him from behind a glass case in the lobby of old Chicago Stadium that he opened it, reached inside and snatched the Cup off its stand. While making his way toward the building’s exit with Cup in tow, Kilander was spotted by a police officer who halted him and asked why he was taking the Stanley Cup out of Chicago Stadium.

“I want to take it back where it belongs,” Kilander explained. “To Montreal.”

As it turned out, the Cup did head to Canada after the ’62 playoffs, although it went to Toronto – home of champion Maple Leafs, who beat the Blackhawks 4-2 in the Finals – and not Montreal.

In the 48 years since Kilander’s attempted pilfer, the Stanley Cup has been to cities across North America, but never back to Chicago. That’s because, as you might have heard, the Blackhawks haven’t won an NHL crown since the one back in ’61.

So, considering that, how exactly does a bar in Illinois get named Lord Stanley’s when his Cup hasn’t “resided” here since the Kennedy Administration?

Wishful thinking?

That’s exactly what I went to investigate on Wednesday night, when I skated my way in to Lord Stanley’s Sports Bar in DeKalb for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers.

“Where better to watch the Stanley Cup than Lord Stanley’s?” Jess Galle, 28, of Elburn, asked rhetorically on Wednesday while he and his wife, Krista, sipped beers at a table, clad in matching Blackhawks jerseys.

Tucked along Lincoln Highway in downtown DeKalb just a few slapshots from the campus of Northern Illinois University, Lord Stanley’s has been a local institution since 1990. Known for its cheap drafts, delicious pizza and rowdy atmosphere, the place is also one of the few bars in Illinois with a distinct hockey theme which, until recently, was a sport about as popular in Chicago as cricket.

These days, however, with the Blackhawks out from under the tight-fisted reign of late owner Bill Wirtz, back on television during for regular season home games, and now in the Stanley Cup Finals, hockey is suddenly what’s hot.

“I think, at least here, this is bigger than when the White Sox were in the World Series in 2005,” Lord Stanley’s owner Mark Thompson, 48, said about the NHL Finals. “And, honestly, maybe even the Bears Super Bowl [in 2007]. I think with the Bears it was more expected.”

With a faded pennant from the 1991 NHL All-Star Game at Chicago Stadium, a green street sign reading “BLACKHAWKS DR.” and an old Denis Savard No. 18 banner among the memorabilia decorating the bar’s walls, Lord Stanley’s is clearly no Johnny-come-lately to the hockey game.

But how did the bar get its name?

“Well, I worked here for six years before I bought the place in ’90,” explained Thompson, decked out in a red Hawks jersey with “LORD STANLEY’S” stitched on back. “Back then, it was named Shamrock’s, and I wanted to give it a new name.

“Even though I’ve never played, I’ve always been really big into hockey. I love the sport. But I didn’t want this to be only a hockey bar, so while talking about it over a few drinks, I decided to also put a drawing of Stan Laurel on the Cup.”

Yes, Lord Stanley’s official bar logo not only features the Cup, but also the mug of comedic legend Stan Laurel.

“I always liked Laurel and Hardy,” Thompson said with a grin.

What Thompson also likes is the idea of the Blackhawks winning their first NHL championship in his lifetime, although he’s hardly happy with the wait.

“If the Hawks win, the feeling will be more ‘About Time’ than anything else,” Thompson said. “Bill Wirtz took so much out of hockey fans for so many years. But I’m very happy that things are the way they are now.”
Oh, and one last thing about Lord Stanley’s.

“This building has been a bar for 52 years,” Thompson said. “But before that it was a furniture store. And it was called Wirtz & Wirtz.”

I wonder if they sold furniture with Cup holders.