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St. Charles residents host Blackhawks games in backyard

ST. CHARLES – Countless couples walk past Tom Campana's house at 322 Illinois St. en route to nights out or festivals in downtown St. Charles.

Lately, there's been a similar characteristic in each one: The man inevitably stops near the backyard while the woman strains to push forward.

Just a second, honey. The Blackhawks are on.

Using a high-definition projector he bought from his employer, Campana has screened games throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs on an 8x12-foot vinyl banner affixed to the back porch. Scot Hampel, who lives in the garden apartment downstairs, proudly serves as co-host in what quickly has become the city's fastest-growing garden party.

"There's nothing better than watching it on a screen like this," Campana said. "It's like being at a drive-in, you know. Being that big, it's pretty neat."

Tenants of the property for a combined 23 months, Campana and Hampel – both working single fathers – discovered heightened entertaining potential in their pad last fall.

They set up the prehistoric version of their display, a bed sheet stapled to the pillars on the back porch, for college football during Scarecrow Fest in late October. Out came neighbors, passersby and their families.

Through it all, Campana and Hampel have operated under the "more the merrier" credo, never once pondering admission charges and usually offering barbecue, drinks or orderves.

As the Blackhawks faced the Boston Bruins in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday, the spread included fruit salad, crackers and a salami and cheese tray. A 12-inch cookie cake – appreciably smaller than the screen and iced with "LET'S GO HAWKS" – lay in wait for later, perhaps a dessert to enjoy next to the patio fire pit.

"It's not like we party every night, you know. We've both got responsible jobs," said Hampel, a superintendent with Schramm Construction Corporation in St. Charles. "But on the weekends and stuff, it's like let loose. We've got a gorgeous yard here close to town."

The yard, near public parking and the intersection of 4th Street, features ample seating space on the patio or lawn, plus enough room to set up a bags game, as was the case Wednesday. Weekend crowds are always bigger, and Campana and Hampel expect more of the same for Saturday's Game 5, when they likely will rent a porta-potty for guests.

The sound system operates through speakers at a loud but nonintrusive level. NBC commentator Doc Emrick drowns out any late-evening lawn mowers, but is not so boisterous to draw any complaints from neighbors, Hampel said.

Mother Nature is an obstacle in the first period when the sun sets after 7 p.m. starts, but Hampel and Campana – an employee of Olympic Signs in Lombard – are brainstorming some sort of shield.

The two have designs on hosting watch parties for Bears games and select college football games in the fall, but for now, it's hockey season.

"Once the sun comes down, we get the fire going. The torches. It's fun. It's awesome," Hampel said. "And we get a lot of neighbors coming in and stuff. It's cool at night, just the crystal clear of the TV and the morale of the whole [thing]."

On Wednesday, Hampel brought his 55-inch high-definition television out to the patio for the first period. The display size didn't seem to faze the group when the Hawks' Michal Handzus broke through for a short-handed, first-period goal.

The celebration was muted when the Bruins scored moments later. Win or lose, the clatter dissipates within a few moments of the final buzzer.

"We don't want to have 'Project X' going on or anything," Campana said.

No, nothing so severe. Just a convenient neighborhood party for anyone within walking distance or earshot.

Game on.

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