CHICAGO - Michael Jordan turned up Friday morning at the United Centre wearing a white helmet and Jonathan Toews' Chicago Blackhawks sweater.
Well, maybe not Jordan himself. But the statue of the Chicago Bulls basketball legend, which catches him in mid-dunk, had been fitted with the items overnight.
It was just the latest sign of the hockey fever that rose to a white-hot temperature this week after the Blackhawks made the Stanley Cup final, putting themselves in position to win their first NHL championship since 1961. The fever has been building over the last couple of years since Rocky Wirtz took over ownership of the team after the death of his father Bill.
"It would be nice to end one of the longest droughts in sports history," said Toews' linemate, Patrick Kane after practice on Friday. "It's been a long time coming for the fans.
"The city is on fire right now."
Having the game re-embraced by an original-six franchise after years of inept stewardship under Bill Wirtz is a tremendous boon for the NHL. Interest from fans in one of the largest television markets has goosed American television ratings.
"I think it will be a great achievement for everybody," Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said of the prospect of winning the Cup. "I think the city will go wild and crazy.
"I guess we're all in this position right now that we get to enjoy the excitement that's in Chicago. It's been special, whether you're out in the streets or you're just about coming to the rink every day."
The Blackhawks were back on the ice Friday after a day off for media day on Thursday. One player who was not was forward Andrew Ladd, who suffered an undisclosed injury in Game 4 of the Western Conference final and has not played since.
On Thursday, Ladd said he hopes to play in the opening game of the final against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night but Quenneville stopped short of that Friday.
"He's still day-to-day," Quenneville said. "We expect him to play."
Quenneville said he meant that Ladd will play at some point in the series but not necessarily in Game 1.