See? Really...why does this have such an effect on hockey fans?
It's funny, really. I've watched pro sports championships play out for as long as I can remember. And, discounting the year Green Bay won the Super Bowl, there hasn't been a single year where the mere sight of the Vince Lombardi Trophy has made me smile. I don't grin ear to ear when I see the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
(Hell, most of you are probably going to have to Google "Larry O'Brien Trophy" just to find out what league it is handed out in.)
I don't get the chills when I see Bud Selig hand the ugly World Series trophy to someone. NCAA Championship trophies are nice, but it's not the same.
There's just something about Stanley.
Maybe it's the fact that one glance at the Stanley Cup reveals a snapshot of the history of hockey. See, everyone who has ever won it has their name on it. And there is legend to that. Every name has a story attached to it. A story of sacrifice. A story of grit. A story of determination. A story of greatness.
Every name. Even the guys who sit upstairs in their nice suits matched with their ugly playoff beards. Even the guy who skates on the fourth line and scores about as often as A.C. Green. The sixth defenseman. The third goalie. And they all have a story. They'll never forget the night they won the Cup.
Maybe it's the fact that the Stanley Cup is the only trophy in pro sports that is handed first to the captain of the winning team. Before the owner gets to touch it, everyone on the team gets their chance to hold it high. The owner isn't front and center for the trophy presentation like he is in every other sport. The players are. That's the way it should be, and hockey is the only sport that gets it right.
Everyone who follows hockey might have their different reasons why, but there's no doubt that there is something about Stanley. Something that makes it okay for a distasteful, diving thug like Rod Brind'Amour to win his first Cup. Something that makes it okay for grown men to grow ugly beards for two months. Something that makes it okay for those grown men to blubber like broken-hearted toddlers when they get to touch the Cup.
There's something about Stanley. Congratulations to the Carolina Hurricanes and their fans. What an awesome experience that must have been.
Check out the LiveBlog. I did do my first-ever LiveBlog, with regular updates on game action and other things. Enjoy. I only have a couple more things to add:
1. I have no problem with Cam Ward winning the Conn Smythe, though I probably would have voted for Brind'Amour. I have no bias against goalies, but it's worth pointing out that Ward faltered badly in the Buffalo series, to the point that Martin Gerber got a start in Game 4, and his shutout win over the Sabres probably saved the Hurricanes' season.
2. After doing a great job for the most part in these playoffs, I felt that Brad Watson and Bill McCreary let too much go last night. It didn't ruin the game at all, but there were three or four really nasty hits (and it was probably split evenly between the two teams) that needed to be called and weren't. In Edmonton's case, it was probably a good thing, since their penalty kill was hanging by a thread when they weren't allowing a quick goal to Frantisek Kaberle, and their power play was about as putrid as anything imaginable at that level.
Congrats to both teams. It was a great series and a great way to re-introduce the NHL to a ton of sports fans. Hopefully, those available sports fans sampled last night's game, because I find it hard to imagine that they wouldn't have liked what they saw. And it's a credit to both teams. They laid it all out on the ice and gave us seven games that were very entertaining. The only periods that were bad were the third periods of Games 2 and 6, because those were lopsided shutout wins where the losing team fell out of it early in the third and never got back in it.
Even though overtimes and Game 7s were somewhat rare this year, the NHL got off to a great start. Now it's time to focus on building up the fanbase a little bit. There's no question that hockey has a loyal following, and they have great fans in pretty much all of their cities. But in order for the sport to gain the heights we'd all like to see it gain, the league has to do a better job of marketing itself in cities that don't have teams.
(After all, do you think that the NFL is only viewed by fans in areas where there are teams?)