The Blackhawks gave a local marine a heart-warming birthday gift and his family an even better Christmas gift Tuesday after practice at Johnny's Ice House West.
Lance Cpl. George Handley, a West Aurora graduate, was flown in from Japan by the Hawks for a surprise reunion with his family in the team's locker room.
The USO of Illinois and Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane played a huge role in arranging the surprise.
"Being overseas, I don't get many opportunities to come home because of the cost," said Handley, who turned 20 Sunday and wasn't planning to come home until 2012. "The Blackhawks gave me a plane ticket. All I had to do was take leave."
Toews and Kane gave Handley's family a tour of the Johnny's West facilities. Later in the locker room, Toews thanked the family and said the Hawks had a surprise for them. A few moments later, Handley walked into the locker room, stunning his family.
"I'm excited to see my little brother [David] for Christmas and have him come down visit in Chicago," Toews said. "I can't imagine how it must feel for a guy like George to come home unexpectedly and have his brothers and sisters almost in tears when he walks into the room. ... It was pretty amazing to see how excited they were."
Handley was selected after taking part in an essay contest.
"It's the best birthday present I think I ever had -- and Christmas present," Handley said.