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A perfect dozen championship memories

Monday, 06.22.2009 / 1:08 PM / Columns

By Larry Wigge - NHL.com Columnist

It was a scant eight or so hours after Jacques Lemaire beat Glenn Hall 1:41 into overtime on May 5, 1968 of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final that I walked into a coffee shop at the hotel where the Montreal Canadiens were staying in St. Louis with Blues VP Lynn Patrick.

It was like a trip through the Hall of Fame. I was sitting with Lynn, legendary Montreal coach Toe Blake, Al Arbour and seven-time Norris Trophy winner Doug Harvey. Also on hand were Jean Beliveau, Yvan Cournoyer, Serge Savard, Jacques Laperriere, Lemaire, Henri Richard, J.C. Tremblay and Gump Worsley from the Habs and Glenn Hall, Harvey, Dickie Moore, Arbour and rookie coach Scotty Bowman from the Blues.

In the first Stanley Cup Final I'd ever seen live, I saw an overtime winner. And the next morning I learned a unique lesson -- that there's something very magical about winning this 35-pound silver cup. Winning was about more than just one goal, one game or one shift. It was about sacrifice -- paying the price to win.

In a coffee shop filled with champions, the discussion got heated. The players were talking about the pride. They didn't need to show off a ring. They just knew the secret that it takes to bear your heart and soul to win for yourself, the guy next to you and the guy across the room -- together as a team.

Harvey, who won six Cups when he was with the Canadiens argued, "I've got six. Henri's going for seven, Jean's got eight. Dickie must have six and Glenn and Al and Lynn all know how it feels to give blood for the right to lift that Cup." Then, he turned to Scotty and asked, 'How many do you have?' "

Bowman was left speechless.

The story is hilarious now, because Bowman went on to win nine Cups as a coach and another three or so as a front office executive in Pittsburgh and Detroit. But that's how competitive it gets on the ice and behind the bench. He learned that magical lesson from some of the best.

The just-completed Pittsburgh-Detroit Final was the 36th I've had the privilege to be a part of. I know one thing: I've often thought that if I were ever asked to run a team, the first thing I'd do is load my players onto a plane and take them all to the Final to see how difficult and magical a run to glory it can be. It would be money well spent, because there is a lesson to be learned: That Cup is truly not half-full or half-empty -- it's filled to the brim in passion and teamwork.

Penguins GM Ray Shero had good bloodlines to draw from for this championship run. His father, Fred Shero, coached the Philadelphia Flyers to Stanley Cups in 1974 and '75 -- and Ray will never let his dad's beliefs die.

"Dad would always say, 'Win today and we'll always walk together.' And you know something, it was true in 1974 and it's just as true today," he said.

You clearly never forget the guys you've won with -- and it's particularly true of a role player like Max Talbot, whose character and passion drove him to score both goals in Game 7.

I remember champions for the character that flows from their veins. That's why the top series I've had the pleasure to be a part of start with Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky and Patrick Roy, three players who won multiple Cups and revolutionized their positions in the process:

Extra-ORR-dinary -- The first Cup Final that I covered from start to finish was 1970. Boston vs. St. Louis -- a four-game sweep by the Bruins. Who doesn't remember that climactic goal? Game 4 at Boston, overtime. Bobby Orr taking a pass from Derek Sanderson, swooping in on Glenn Hall at the old Boston Garden and putting the puck into the net while being stick-checked high into the air by St. Louis defenseman Noel Picard, giving the Bruins a 4-3 win and their first Cup in 31 years.

Orr also won a Cup in 1972. But I'll always remember asking him if he had ever flown that high before and he joked, "I've never been that high before without getting frequent flier miles."

The Great escape -- Wayne Gretzky and his young and exciting Oilers teammates truly learned to win from losing to the New York Islanders in 1983. One year later, the two teams faced off once again and the Oilers were more disciplined and yet dangerous offensively. Gretzky helped raise the roof in Edmonton for Cups in 1984, '85, 87 and '88 and got the Los Angeles Kings to the Final in 1993.

Those young Oilers supercharged offense was made up of Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey and Esa Tikkanen -- with Grant Fuhr in goal.

The best line from that dynasty came from Coffey, who, after losing a chance at winning a third straight Cup in 1986, said, "This is wrong. I felt like I had been robbed. Someone had walked into my house and stolen my most valuable possession."

It means Royal -- That's what Patrick Roy means in French.

Roy's butterfly style looked strange when, as a rookie, he helped Montreal beat the Calgary Flames in 1986 -- and, in the process, showed off a quirky personality of talking to his friends the goalposts. He went on to win three more Cups -- in Montreal in 1993 (a one-man show as the Canadiens won a record 11 times in overtime thanks to his goaltending) and in Colorado in 1996 and 2001.

The 1996 title underscored Roy's lightning-rod electricity. It came months after he forced a trade from the Canadiens to the Avalanche and then led his new team, playing its first season in a new city, to a four-game sweep of Florida in the Final.

Roy's last Cup came in 2001. It was memorable for several reasons -- most notably because he beat rival Martin Brodeur and New Jersey.

Former New York Rangers GM Neil Smith put it best when he said of Roy after he won the Cup in 1993: "All the Canadiens have is oarsmen -- with one key guy. But 15 or 20 oarsmen working together will always finish the race. Sometimes they even beat the guys who have their boats, especially if the big engines don't work right."

Quote of the Day

He seemed to thrive on his own and didn't really need any push from me. I certainly don't want to get in the way of the coaches. You see how that goes sometimes. I never really worried about it and just enjoyed the ride.

— David Ekblad on his son's [Aaron Ekblad] journey to the NHL, signing with the Florida Panthers