Sports and Entertainment
Hockey Greats: What It Means to Win the Cup
For hockey great Dave Andreychuk, that time period symbolizes his journey to greatness, the lessons learned about leadership and the grit it took to succeed. It also defines the time it took for him to realize a childhood dream.
When Andreychuk — who captained the Tampa Bay Lightning to the 2004 Stanley Cup title after spending 22 years without one — recalls his time as a professional, the native of Canada sees that time frame as a badge of honor for what it means to complete a goal. His speech to his Lightning teammates before the start of the 2004 National Hockey League playoffs encapsulates the mission:
"Seize the moment. Cherish it. Make every second on the ice count."
Under the direction of Andreychuk, 40 years old at the time, the Lightning – composed primarily of players who had barely been alive when the hockey veteran made his first NHL appearance with the Buffalo Sabres – seized their opportunity and won the Stanley Cup. They capped the playoffs with a thrilling 2-1 win over the Calgary Flames in Game 7 of the finals.
For Andreychuk, it took self-sacrifice, perseverance and 22 years of a 23-year career with six different teams to appear in the Stanley Cup finals, let alone win the coveted trophy.
"I had an opportunity to leave the year before for an established organization and for a better salary, but I knew my job wasn't done (in Tampa)," said Andreychuk, who is now the vice president of corporate and community affairs for the Lightning franchise. "When I talked to those players, some who were 20 years old at the time, I knew who they were and where they were going. You have that opportunity only so often. When I spoke with them, it came from the heart because it was reality. It was what I had experienced."
Two Months of Playoff Competition
The quest for the Cup typically lasts two months. For the ultimate winner, 16 precious victories lead to a trophy steeped in history, a prize that carries a figurative and literal weight unlike any other in professional sports. Purchased by Lord Stanley of Preston – the Governor General of Canada who had become particularly intrigued by the game of hockey – in 1893 for 10 guineas, or approximately $1,300 today, the Cup is priceless in the minds of professional hockey players, coaches, management and club staff.
"I knew never to touch it unless, and until, I had won the Cup," said Andreychuk, who tied NHL Hall of Famer Ray Bourque for the longest career before winning the Stanley Cup with the Lightning in the 2003-04 season. "When I visited the Hall of Fame in Toronto as an 8 year old, that was when things were a bit more relaxed and you were able to touch it if you wanted. My dad told me at the time how revered it was and how special an accomplishment it was. When [NHL commissioner Gary Bettman] handed me it after we won, I was blown away at how heavy it was. It almost toppled me over before it all hit me, the actuality of holding it."
In honor of his achievement, a nine-foot bronze statue of Andreychuk – now 52 – stands prominently at the entranceway of Ford Thunder Alley, the main plaza of Amalie Arena in Tampa where fans mingle and enjoy live music and interactive games prior to home events. The 600-pound structure depicts the former Lightning captain and left winger hoisting the Cup with two hands over his head after he helped the team win its first and only championship. Furthermore, it encompasses the meaning of the Cup for the city of Tampa and the people involved.
Preparing for the Post-Season
While the chase weaves its way from an 82-game regular season schedule into a series of contests that count in a different way, the preparation essentially remains the same.
"If anything, you have to prepare and make sure you're getting the proper rest and taking care of your body during the regular season as a build up to the playoffs," said Adam Graves, best known for his 10-year tenure with the New York Rangers as part of a 17-year career. "Especially in today's game, it's a 12-month-a-year game where you put so much time and effort into the preparation part of it, whether it's nutritionally, whether it's days off, training, strength, plyometrics, stretching. Once playoffs start, though, 100 percent of everyone's focus is on the next shift and winning that specific game. Your mindset changes because every game becomes the most important game when it comes to the playoffs."
Unlike Andreychuk, Graves didn't have to wait too long, capturing the Cup early in his career and more than once. After making his debut with the Red Wings in 1988 as a 19 year old, Graves was traded to the Edmonton Oilers during the 1989-90 season – when the Oilers would defeat the Boston Bruins to win their fifth Cup in seven years.
The Toronto native won another Stanley Cup with the Rangers in 1994 to culminate his best campaign as a professional, setting a franchise record at the time with 52 goals during the regular season. In doing so, Graves, along with Brian Leetch, Mike Richter and former Oilers teammate Mark Messier, helped snap a 54-year Stanley Cup drought for the Rangers.
"This Can't Be True"
"The opportunity to win a Stanley Cup and have your name on easily the most symbolic trophy in sports is a privilege," said Graves, who currently serves as the New York Rangers special assistant with Prospect Development and Community Relations. "When I look back at 1990, when I was playing with the Oilers, I was almost too young to experience it. I couldn't believe when we were in Boston and up 4-1 with seconds left in the game; I was having a hard time digesting the fact that I was going to win the Stanley Cup. And I'll never forget standing on the bench, beside [Oilers coach] John Muckler – on the bench itself – looking for my mom and dad in the crowd and thinking, 'This can't be true, this can't be true.'"
The Cup with the Rangers, though, meant something different, as Edmonton had won so many titles in a short span of time. The Blueshirts were pieced together with a blend of free agents, prospects and deadline trades by Rangers General Manager Neil Smith. The Rangers rolled into the playoffs with a league-best record and an unstoppable belief.
"Coming to New York and being part of probably one of the closest teams in the history of the National Hockey League – from our leadership with Mark Messier and Kevin Lowe and Brian Leetch and Craig MacTavish and all those great personalities, to our entire team – was an amazing experience," Graves said. "That was as close-knit a team as you're going to find. The interesting part about '94 was the energy and the excitement and the satisfaction and the celebration was equally received and celebrated, not only just by the players and by the organization, but by the Garden, by the city, by the Ranger community."
Life After Hockey
Andreychuk and Graves have both been able to carry their experience with greatness and as leaders into their second careers.
"It starts way back when you were a kid," Andreychuk said when discussing leadership. "My father played a huge role in setting an example. But then your leadership style evolves throughout the course of time with the interaction you have with different coaches, older players, other people you meet in your profession. You learn from these people and you take away certain elements from each one, but then you ultimately find your own leadership mentality and approach. It has helped me in my work with the community and having a continued connection with the fans and various organizations. And it is why I try to impart to the younger players the value of respecting the game and understanding their role as they mature because one day they will be looked upon as leaders."
Visit the team websites to learn more about the Rangers and Lightning, and see tickets and experiences available for Chase customers from the Madison Square Garden Company.
Photo: ©Madison Square Garden | Chris Girandola is a sportswriter in St. Petersburg, Florida, who has written for ESPN, the Naples News the Tampa Tribune and other media outlets. Bryan Armen Graham contributed reporting from New York.