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Hawks have the luck of the Aussies going for them

Ice HockeyChicago BlackhawksSoccerTrips and VacationsPatrick KaneStanley Cup Playoffs

Blackhawks fans would be interested to learn three things about Paul Wilkins' life.

One, the first time the native of Australia came to the United Center (and America), Patrick Kane scored his first NHL goal. Two, the 31-year-old has attended four Blackhawks games, and the Hawks won all four (including Sunday's Game 5 against Minnesota). Three, he's staying in Chicago until June 9.

Last year during the Stanley Cup Final, Wilkins traveled 18 1/2 hours plus an eight-hour layover from Melbourne, and slept on the couches of kind Chicagoans for a chance to be a part of Chicago sports history.

On Sunday, right after travelling for 22 hours on three hours of sleep, a red-eyed Wilkins returned to the UC with more luck from Down Under. RedEye caught up with Wilkins over the phone before his latest trip back to Chicago.

How does someone from Australia become a die-hard Blackhawks fan?

I had a work trip, and I sort of had a loose end one night in Chicago [Oct. 19, 2007]. I was at the hotel and the concierge said Blackhawks tickets are really easy to come by. It was Kaner's first season. I went out to the Madhouse and there wouldn't have been over 15,000 people there. It was pretty half-empty. It was [against] Colorado, and Kane scored his first NHL goal.

What was it that made you a fan right away?

I think it was the opportunity to support a team that was doing it from the ground up. I thought I just had a great time, the atmosphere was great, the people sitting next to me were really friendly, and I thought "Look, there's a really good chance to go on a journey with these guys." It's gone pretty well so far.

How have you kept up with the team since your first trip to Chicago?

Within the last few years with Twitter becoming a lot more prominent, it's been easy. In the early years I would happen to listen to the games on WGN. Sometimes the games run here. Within the last couple of years I've been able to get a [NHL] Game Center subscription. So I get to watch whatever game I want. It's awesome to listen to Eddie Olczyk and Pat Foley.

Did you fall in love with the TV broadcasts as much as you did with being there in person?

Oh, absolutely. I think one of the games the other day, one of the Blues games I was watching, I can't remember what commentators they were, but I was like, "These guys are just hopeless." It made me really miss the games with those two guys [Foley and Olczyk]. Just the excitement and passion they have, it's brilliant. Pat Foley has to be one of my favorite broadcasters, definitely.

Who's your favorite player?

Oh mate, from day one it was Patrick Kane. He was the first jersey that I bought. I saw him score his first goal for the Blackhawks back in 2007, so he would definitely be my favorite.

When you first came to America did the toilets flushing backward freak you out?

No, no. It's all good. I love the States, love getting over there as much as I can.

Tell us about your trip to Chicago last year for the Stanley Cup Final.

So last year I was watching Game 1 at home, I think that game went to triple overtime and I was like, "This sucks, I'm getting on a plane." So I checked my frequent flyer points and booked my flight to leave the next day.

That Game 5 that I went to [the Hawks beat Boston 3-1] ... I've been to two World Cup finals in soccer, I've been to big sports events in Melbourne, but that Game 5 I reckon is the best sports event I've ever been to.

I had a little Australian flag, was happy to sort of wave that around. I went down towards the glass during warmups and pulled out my flag and Jamal Mayers flipped a puck over at me, which I still got.

That was just kind of surreal. Still have to pinch myself thinking that I got a warmup puck from a Stanley Cup Final game. Then I went out and bought a Mayers T-shirt. I'm the only person in Australia who's got a Jamal Mayers T-shirt. It was just surreal, the whole thing. Watching us win, picking up a puck.

The whole Game 6, 17 seconds, that was just incredible. I couldn't believe it. The first goal, the equalizing goal, I think I knocked a table of drinks over, I was jumping up and down with all my friends. Then before you know it, Dave Bolland scores the game winner. It was really quite something else.

Then obviously everybody poured out into the streets and just the joy and jubilation was probably something I never experienced. Everyone was just so happy and high-fiving each other, and hugging each other. And going to the bars afterwards every song was "Chelsea Dagger," it was such a good night.

There were a couple of articles [about Paul] that got noticed, I was able to go on I think "Good Morning Chicago" on Fox Chicago. So that was the morning after the Game 6 win.

I didn't have any sleep and I was rocking my Patrick Kane jersey, did an interview, and I had obviously grown a playoff beard, which I am in the midst of doing again at the moment. They were kind enough to shave my beard off live on TV and that was pretty cool. People around town sort of recognized me, "Hey you're that Australian Blackhawks fan."

What was the best part of the trip?

I think definitely getting to see the Game 5. Just the people that I met. You sort of tell people you're from Australia and they're all amazed. "Why would you come across just for this?" I think the whole experience of Game 5, meeting friends at a bar on Madison Street, then going out in Wrigleyville afterwards, being able to say I saw the Blackhawks in a game in a series that they went on to win the Cup. Getting a puck was pretty cool as well, but probably just the whole thing would have been it, the Game 5 experience.

Where did you stay while you were in Chicago for the Stanley Cup Final last year?

I spent the whole time sleeping on couches. Which is what I'll probably be doing again. I went to a Cubs game maybe three years ago, when I was there on holiday and I met them [some friends] in the bleachers at Wrigley Field.

I became really good friends with them. Met them at a Cubs game pretty randomly, I was sitting by myself and they were in a group of five or six and we ended up going out for drinks and dinner afterwards and had a great time.

Scott King is a RedEye special contributor.

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Ice HockeyChicago BlackhawksSoccerTrips and VacationsPatrick KaneStanley Cup Playoffs
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