Willie Mitchell played his first NHL game more than a decade ago, but it wasn't until Monday night that he was able to hoist hockey's Holy Grail above his head.
The 35-year-old was handed the Stanley Cup by Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown after the franchise won its first championship with a 6-1 win against the New Jersey Devils at Staples Center. Just seconds earlier, Brown had claimed the spoils of victory from Commissioner Gary Bettman, much to the delight of a packed Staples Center.
It was indeed a special night for Mitchell, who has battled various injuries throughout his career. But he was able to appear in 76 regular-season games for Los Angeles before helping the club during its historic march through the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
An emotional Mitchell thought back to his youth growing up in Port McNeill, B.C.
"Everyone played road hockey and we'd be on the ice sheet," Mitchell said. "You play and you had one of those green garbage cans and everyone would go around and pose with it. We just did it for real, baby. It's always awesome. It was so cool. Just to enjoy it more with my family and friends and obviously my teammates. It's been a good journey. We faced a lot of adversity this year. We got one of our coaches fired and we found a way to dig ourselves out of a hole after that and get to this point. It's pretty unique."
"It was awesome," Mitchell said as he skated away from a group of reporters to find the Cup. "It was so awesome I want to grab it again."
He handed the trophy to Simon Gagne, who, like Mitchell, has battled a history of concussions. Gagne, who signed with the Kings as a free agent last summer, was limited to just 34 games during the regular season and didn't dress again until the Stanley Cup Final.
"It means so much that the guys thought about me," Gagne said. "They went, I guess, by age, or how many years we played in the League. That means I'm an old guy. It means so much that the guys thought about that. Now it's just an unbelievable feeling to get the Cup. One of the best feelings in the world, for sure."
Colin Fraser said it was special that the two veterans got handed the Cup.
"Both older guys," Fraser said. "Gags has been in the Finals before. Mitchell, he's 34-years-old, he's one of our top d-man if not our best d-man. He's 34 but he plays like he's 24. I'm not just saying that to pump his tires. I truly believe that. It's an honor to play with both those guys, really."
Anze Kopitar, one of many bright young stars in Los Angeles, was next to receive the Cup. Kopitar scored the overtime winner in Game 1 of the Final and shared the playoff scoring lead with Brown. Each player had eight goals and 12 assists for 20 points in the Kings' 20 games.
Kopitar passed on the trophy to stay-at-home defenseman Matt Greene, who fell short of winning the Cup in 2006 as a member of the Edmonton Oilers. Greene has appeared in at least 71 regular-season games in each of his four seasons in Los Angeles.
Justin Williams then hoisted the Stanley Cup for the second time in his career. Williams, who contributed offensively throughout the playoffs, helped defeat Greene and Stoll as a member of the '06 Cup winning team in Carolina.
Two men who played huge roles in the Philadelphia Flyers' run to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final then took center stage. Mike Richards, the Flyers' captain two years ago who was dealt to Los Angeles this past June, accepted the Cup from Williams. After taking a quick stroll on the Staples Center ice, Richards handed it to his good friend Jeff Carter, who was traded from Philadelphia to Columbus the very same day Richards was dealt. But the pair was reunited when the Kings acquired Carter from the Blue Jackets in February.
"It's not every day you get to hand the Cup off to one of your best friends. We've been through a lot together, especially this last year, and to do this with him and to give the Cup to him after we won, it was pretty special," Richards told NHL.com. "It's something we dreamed about for a while. We've known each other for 10 years and to get the chance to do it with him, it is awesome."
Dustin Penner also became a two-time Stanley Cup winner Monday night. Penner, who won the Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, picked up his play in the playoffs after a rocky regular season and will also become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Goaltender Jonathan Quick, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the playoffs, was next in the procession line. Quick went 16-4 this postseason with a 1.41 goals-against average and .946 save percentage. He passed the Cup on to Drew Doughty, who has emerged as one of the League's top young defensemen. Just 22 years of age, Doughty tallied 16 points (4 goals, 12 assists) in 20 games.
Rob Scuderi, who won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, became a two-time champion Monday night and took the Cup from Doughty. Scuderi was sporting several fresh cuts to his face after being hit face-first into the boards by Steve Bernier in the first period Monday night. The Kings scored three times during the ensuing major penalty and cruised to their historic victory.
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