CHICAGO — John Deneen said he "will always be a Blackhawks fan to the day I die, and let's hope that's not soon."
Deneen isn't joking. The Chicago native is an Army sergeant based in Afghanistan, where the longtime Blackhawks backer spent his overnights watching Chicago's NHL team make its incredible playoff run and claim a second Stanley Cup title in four years.
Before Game 7 of an epic series against the Detroit Red Wings, Deneen painted a Blackhawks tomahawk logo and the words "War Hawks" onto one of the "T-Walls" — the military's name for blast barriers. He added the word "Champions 2013" to the cement wall after Chicago beat Boston in six games to win the Stanley Cup.
"I only missed a couple games due to being on a mission or when our signal was knocked out due to the Taliban shooting rockets at us," Deneen, 32, said Monday in an email.
"I'm not sure where I heard the term 'War Hawks,' but it made perfect sense to me, and more of a double meaning when I thought about it," Deneen said. "Because, as a soldier, no matter how far you're down, you never give up, and the Blackhawks did just that in every series of this year's playoffs.
"They never gave up, they fought hard for everything, and they thoroughly impressed this veteran of battle."
He posted both photos to his Facebook page, and they were circulated via several Hawks fan pages. Deneen also used his Facebook page to stay in touch with several family members, including some who live in Chicago.
"Sometimes he would post on Facebook that incoming fire prevented him from watching the games," said his cousin Mary Clare Pfeiffer, of Beverly. "He also wrote, 'Please God, keep the enemy away for tonight, so I could watch the Blackhawks in peace.'"
Deneen was born in Chicago and grew up in Chicago Ridge. He would have attended Marist High School, but his family moved to Oklahoma before he started freshman year.
But Deneen, the youngest of nine siblings, said he never stopped loving the Hawks. His heroes were Hawks stars of the 1990s, including Jeremy Roenick, Ed Belfour and Chris Chelios. His favorite player was former Chicago brawler Bob Probert.
"When I played hockey with my brothers, I'd try to get under the skin of my brothers," Deneen said.
Ironically, Deneen has never seen the Hawks play at home. He hopes to be back in the States to buy tickets when Chicago hosts Pittsburgh March 1 at Soldier Field.
If not, he's still grateful his favorite hockey club has won a pair of championships in his lifetime.
"In my eyes, the Blackhawks are the best team in the world, and they've proven me right," he said.