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Penguins players, coaches tell tales of day with the Cup

Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009

Dan Bylsma couldn't resist the temptation.

While playing for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the Stanley Cup Final in 2003, Bylsma extensively planned how he would spend his day with the trophy.

"It's a tough thought not to do as you get close to the finals," Bylsma said. "The Cup should be about some intimate moments, what you want to do with it."

The dream was delayed when the Ducks lost to the New Jersey Devils in seven games in the Final. Six years later, in his first season as an NHL head coach, Bylsma led the Penguins to an upset of the defending champion Detroit Red Wings and finally was able to hoist the Holy Grail of hockey.

"One of the players said it after we won: 'When you hold the Cup, your hockey life flashes before your eyes,'" he said. "I remember coaches and players and rinks and hard times and setbacks and battles and sacrifices -- that all kind of plays out in your mind as you hold that Cup over your head.

"Right away, you think about sharing it with the people and the community that you grew up in because there are so many people that are part of it."

Bylsma described taking the Cup back to his hometown of Grand Haven, Mich. - a resort city in the heart of Red Wings country - Aug. 11 and 12 as a "day changer" with plenty of unforgettable moments, from fishing with it on Lake Michigan to taking it to his cabin.

"The one that is real vivid -- and I don't particularly know why -- but we put about 15 scoops of ice cream in the bowl and there were nieces and nephews and sons and daughters around that bowl, scooping it out of the Cup," Bylsma said. "There were maybe 40 people. It was the kids' moment to share in the Cup. You've just got a big smile on your face. That was one of the defining moments of that day that I'll remember."

The Hockey Hall of Fame allows members of the Stanley Cup champions to spend a day with the Cup. The Penguins shared stories about their time with the most cherished trophy in professional sports:

'Operation Homecoming'

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby says seeing the reaction on people's faces when they see the Stanley Cup never gets old. Imagine their astonishment with Crosby's arrival in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

In what was dubbed Operation Homecoming by the Canadian military, Crosby celebrated his 22nd birthday Aug. 7 by land, air and sea -- though not in that order -- with 80,000 of his closest friends, including Game 7 hero Max Talbot.

The Canadian Armed Forces flew Crosby and the Cup on a Sea King helicopter to the Halifax Dockyard. It landed on the flight deck of the HMCS Preserver, which is docked as part of the Canadian Navy's Atlantic Fleet, and the entourage was later transported by light-armored vehicles.

"When we talked to the military about doing something, it was important to them that we included the Army, the Navy and the Air Force," Crosby said. "They didn't want us just driving up to the ship and being on board. They wanted to do it, I guess, in style.

"They offered the helicopter ride, and I'd never been on a helicopter, so I said sure. It was a pretty neat experience, to go through all that and to share it with the Stanley Cup right next to you. It's better than you could have dreamed, really."

Crosby admits he was "a little bit" nervous about his first helicopter flight.

"When you're throwing all the gear on, and they're giving you a little briefing about safety and, I guess, what ifs," Crosby said, "that's when I started to think about it."

He lived to tell about the triumphant return to his hometown of Cole Harbour, where he was grand marshal of a parade on Sidney Crosby Day.

"It was exactly how I wanted it when it was planned," Crosby said. "Everything just worked out perfect."

Charitable causes

While sharing the Cup with as many people as possible is the goal, many of the Penguins used their day with the trophy to raise money for the charitable cause of their choice.

Winger Craig Adams took the Cup to the Children's Hospital in Calgary, Alberta, going from room to room to cheer up the patients on Aug. 21.

"There are a lot of special moments there, some tough moments, too," Adams said. "Now that I have kids, it's sometimes tough to go in a place like that. It certainly makes you appreciate what you have. To be able to brighten up someone's day - even for five minutes - for someone who doesn't have a lot to smile about, is nice.

"You walk into the room with the Cup, and the kid couldn't care less who you are, but you've got the Cup there, and they take a few pictures with it and with their family. That's important, that you let other people enjoy it."

Winger Matt Cooke had an autograph signing in his hometown of Belleville, Ontario, charging $5 to benefit the Cooke Family Foundation of Hope, which he and his wife, Michelle, created after their niece was born without a heartbeat. Cooke estimates that 1,200 people attended the three-hour session.

"It was pretty busy," Cooke said, "but well worth it."

Defenseman Brooks Orpik took the Cup back to Boston College, where he won the 2001 NCAA championship. He spent three hours there on July 19, allowing 400 fans to get his autograph and take pictures with the Cup for a minimum donation of $5 to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of America.

"I think the trophy - even President Obama said it the other day - compared to other sports, there's just something about the Cup that draws people to it," Orpik said. "You won it, but seeing their reaction is the best thing. The biggest thing is to share it, even with people you don't know. It's giving that gift to somebody else."

Second time around

This was the second Stanley Cup championship for a handful of Penguins, and wingers Adams, Chris Kunitz and Ruslan Fedotenko took advantage of another turn with the trophy.

Adams' grandmother, Irene Rowson, lived in England when he won the Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and missed his celebration. She has since moved to Alberta, and he took it for her to see for the first time.

"She's not the world's biggest hockey fan, but it was nice to spend time with her," Adams said. "I had a chance to share it with some people who hadn't seen it the last time."

Kunitz won the Cup with the Ducks in '07 but has since married and had a son, Zachary, who is five months old. It was important for him to capture his new family with the Cup, and wanted to do it with a photograph in a wheat field in his hometown of Regina, Saskatchewan, on Aug. 9.

"For me it was about sharing it with family," Kunitz said. "When I was growing up, there was no NHL team (in Saskatchewan). I watched everything on TV and didn't get a chance to see it unless I traveled to the Hall of Fame."

When Fedotenko won the Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in '04, he became the first to take the trophy to his native Kiev in Ukraine. This time, he had another first for the Cup when he took it for a spin in a two-seater go-kart at a track near his summer home in Door County, Wis., on Aug. 17.

"Especially the second time winning the Cup, your day with the Cup is more for family and friends who supported you throughout the journey," Fedotenko said. "It just happened that where I live, there's a famous go-kart place there. For a family with kids, I thought it would be a neat thing to do.

"I wasn't trying to do something special that had never been done."

One last save

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury's day with the Cup was delayed when he took it for a tour on his boat on Aug. 6, only to lose power and get stuck in the St. Lawrence River near his hometown of Sorel, Quebec.

"I thought my battery was dead. We were just drifting with the current," Fleury said. "It wouldn't start, so we were just drifting away. I had so much stuff planned. I was like, 'Oh, shoot.'"

One of his friends stripped down to his "tight underwear" and tried to rescue Fleury on a Sea-Doo, but that died, too. Now, both were stranded.

"Finally, he gets it started and comes to see us. He saw the rope from my boat was caught in the propeller," Fleury said. "I couldn't see it. Once I saw it, I cut it off. I knew eventually I was getting out of it."

Fleury laughs at his mishap, knowing that it's one of the stories he can share.

"With all respect to the Cup," Fleury said, "some stories are better off left in our heads."




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