|Swedish defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom leads all NHL defensemen in the league with 66 points. Lidstrom Highlights|
"The first year in 1997, I don't think they realized how big it is for the players over here," Lidstrom said. "I think once they saw the Stanley Cup and heard our stories by watching television and highlight tapes of the Stanley Cup and its history they began to understand. When I brought it back in '02 people had a better understanding of what it takes to win it, how much we appreciate winning it and why we're fighting so hard in May and June to win it."
Thanks to tradition and technology, the Stanley Cup has gained traction outside of North America over the past decade. When players bring it home to Russia or Sweden or Finland or the Czech Republic these days, the fans understand what they're seeing, smelling, touching, embracing and celebrating.
Like the game itself, the Stanley Cup has gone global in the Internet age.
"It was so far away when I was young," Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, from Sweden, said. "When I was about 13 or 14 or 15, you could only watch a couple of games, but it was the middle of the night and we had school the next day. We would instead focus on Sweden in the World Championships, but of course you dreamt about (the Stanley Cup) and read about it. Everybody knew about it, and of course you knew it was very big to win. Media controls a lot, though, and if you can't really see it, you can't really understand it. Now you can watch more games and that's really good for the sport.
"The NHL is growing in Europe, so the appeal of the Stanley Cup is growing, too."
The Stanley Cup first became an international figure in 1996 when Peter Forsberg brought it home to Sweden. A year later, three Russian members of the champion Red Wings -- Igor Larionov, Slava Fetisov and Slava Kozlov -- brought it to Moscow.
A tradition began.
Now, most every non-North American member of the Stanley Cup championship team brings the trophy home with him for at least a day. In most cases, the fans pack into rallies just to see their conquering hero with his chalice.
Last year, more than 10,000 people waited for Teemu Selanne in Rautatientori Square, the largest gathering spot in Helsinki, the Finnish capital. They let out a thunderous roar when Selanne arrived promptly at 5:30 p.m.
In 2000, when members of the Devils championship team, Petr Sykora and Patrik Elias, brought the Cup to their hometowns in the Czech Republic, Cup keeper Mike Bolt of the Hockey Hall of Fame said the reaction was stunningly awesome.
"It's hard to put into words because it's the Cup and everyone wants to see it," Bolt said. "In 2000, when we got off the plane the Cup was the first thing unloaded and we were escorted right into this press conference. We didn't even go through customs. It was like we were at a press conference at the Stanley Cup Final. It was huge."
Bolt said they went to seven different towns with Sykora and in each place there were at least 1,000 people waiting to see the Cup.
"It was like we were traveling with an international superstar," Bolt said. "I guess that's what the Stanley Cup is."
In 2003, more than 8,000 people joined Elias and the Cup at a local arena in Znojmo. Elias intended to do an extensive autograph session, but the crowd surged to the point where it broke the table where he was going to sit. He wisely chose not to sign.
The following year, Ruslan Fedotenko, then a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, brought the Cup down Khreshchatik, the main street of Kiev, Ukraine. The celebrations there included singing, dancing and bands performing for more than 8,000 people in attendance. It was also broadcast live across Ukraine.
That summer the Cup also visited Belarus for the first time in its history, plus Sweden, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Russia and Slovakia. In each place a celebration was waiting for it.
"It is the most recognizable trophy in the world," Bolt said. "It could be anywhere from 7,000 to 15,000 people coming out. Dominik Hasek had 25,000 in 2002."
On March 19, Bolt and the Stanley Cup landed in Afghanistan, where it was greeted by soldiers from all walks of life and all types of nationalities at a naval air base in Kandahar. Nearly everyone there, including many of the 2,200 Canadian troops deployed in the Afghan war zone, got their pictures taken with it.
Many European NHLers believe the Cup has gained its international fame because of the advances in technology. While it used to be that the World Championships were the biggest thing going in Europe, now that anyone anywhere can watch games via NHL Center Ice Online the Stanley Cup is growing into a phenomenon.
"Talking to my buddies back home, when I call them the next morning after a game they have already watched the highlights or even the game live," Lidstrom said. "They are so much closer to it now. They get the scoresheet with the time and shifts and all the details that we get right after a game. They just get them when they wake up in the morning. They are so much closer to NHL hockey now than when I was growing up."
"A lot of people have their favorite teams or a favorite player they follow," said Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr. "It's been big. The NHL is big."
Now the Stanley Cup is, too.
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.