If you watched the Chicago Blackhawks’ run to the Stanley Cup title, you might’ve noticed the smiling Lemonhead logo alongside all the other national ads circling the rink at the United Center. When the Hawks clinched Lord Stanley’s Cup in that 4-3 overtime win in Philadelphia, another beaming face from Forest Park’s Ferrara Pan Candy Co. was in Philadelphia to share the team’s sweet taste of success. But it would’ve been hard to spot uber-Hawks fan Salvatore Ferrara II from TV coverage. This four-decade disciple of the team was pulled away to the party pronto.
“Blackhawks personnel welcomed us down onto the ice,” Ferrara told the Review about the marathon celebration that started the night of June 9. “I brought my girlfriend, Andrea, down with me and the players gave me the Stanley Cup. I went into the locker room and we were all drinking out of the Cup.”
Ferrara Pan Candy Co. has been a sponsor of the Blackhawks for years. Its president and COO has been a season ticket holder for 40-plus years.
After the champagne-soaked soiree in Philadelphia, Ferrara flew back to Chicago with a small entourage including agent Pat Brisson, who represents Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Back in Chicago, Ferrara reconvened with Blackhawks players, officials and their families for an all-night private party at Harry Caray’s. The memorable three-day binge of drinking, partying, dancing to “Chelsea Dagger” by the Fratellis (Hawks goal scoring anthem), and exchanging high-fives and hugs culminated with the Blackhawks parade in downtown Chicago.
Yes, he was there for that, too.
“They put me on one of the buses for the parade,” Ferrara told the Review. “The parade was really good for the city. Hawks fans really mean a lot to the players. If you talk to any of them, they always mention the fans.”
Fanship is something he knows about. Ferrara has been cheering the team even when it was nowhere near restoring Chicago’s proud NHL franchise. For Ferrara, what happened in Philadelphia during Game Six of this year’s playoffs was a welcome return to the good old days.
“I was 10 years old when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 1961,” he say. “The Hawks had great players like Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Pierre Pilote. The whole town was caught up in the Hawks back in those days.”
During the team’s exhilarating run this year, Ferrara attended all the Hawks postseason tilts except road games in Vancouver.
“I had some different experiences down in Nashville,” Ferrara recalls. “I went up the very first game, and they had one little bar that served hard liquor. I ordered four double tequilas. The bartender told me, ‘Listen, Mr. Chicago, you don’t understand how it’s down here in the Bible Belt. You get one drink, so you can have one double or two singles’.”
Ferrara says he and the bartender became friends during the playoffs.
A Fenwick grad who loved playing hockey as a kid, Ferrara has a son, Nello, who is still playing competitive hockey at 34. Ferrara is a board member of the Blackhawks Alumni Association, which provides a scholarship fund for high school hockey players in Illinois.
Over the years, he’s collected pucks, sticks and autographed photos of many Blackhawks players. He has so much Hawks memorabilia, he told the Review he couldn’t pose for a photo with his collection because, after a local move a few years ago, he’s still dealing with treasured items in storage.
This historic season has netted Ferrara’s favorite souvenir to date.
“My photos drinking out of the Stanley Cup are more important than any of that other stuff,” Ferrara says. “This season was just really special.”
Ferrara Pan, the candy company his grandfather founded and which he now owns and runs with his cousins, is displaying a 20- by 30-foot banner celebrating the Stanley Cup title on its tower. During Hawks games, Ferrara Pan sponsors a Lemonhead Zamboni race, a Black Forest Gummi shootout, and Blackhawks Alumni signings.
“The Blackhawks wouldn’t be as successful as they are without the contributions of Sal,” says Cliff Koroll, a former Blackhawk. “From a business perspective and building relationships, Sal is a great resource for the Blackhawks and our alumni organization as well.”
The Blackhawks’ recent resurgence happened when Blackhawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz took over and needed philosophical changes followed within the organization.
Wirtz, Blackhawks President John McDonough and other top members of the new team brass actually met with Ferrara for his feedback.
“I told them the fans had been pushed away over time,” Ferrara says. “Their old solution of making money was by cutting expenses. You could cut the quality of your product and it creates a negative snowball effect. That’s not how you make money.
“I didn’t really tell them anything that they didn’t already know. They have spent the money now and look what’s happened.”
During the playoffs, Koroll often conspired with his friend Ferrara to conjure good karma.
“Sal and I are both a little superstitious,” Koroll says, laughing. “We would meet in a suite at the games. If the other team scored a goal, we would switch seats. If the Hawks scored, I would tell him, ‘Don’t move’.”
Ferrara, a fan of Hawks right winger Marian Hossa, took the mojo a step further with his good luck Indianhead sweater. While fellow Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith collaborated with their Slovakian teammate to realize their dream win, Ferrara also had Hossa’s back.
“I wore my Hossa red sweater during four playoff games this year,” Ferrara says, “and the Hawks had no losses in those games. The Hawks did the hardest part by winning the first one. Now, they know they can win it all.”