At long last, Stanley!
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"Right now, I'm just exhausted," said Rheaume. "It's a great feeling, though. I can't believe it happened. We're the best team in the League. We deserve it. To be a part of this team is just amazing."
Gionta was equally stunned. Sitting in a quiet corner of the room, sharing a moment with locker room neighbor John Madden, Gionta also struggled to put into words the unbridled joy he was feeling.
"It's a dream come true," said Gionta. "Obviously, to have it happen so early in a career is really special. Guys have been around and worked their whole life for this and never got this chance."
Gionta's understanding of history and the capricious nature of sports probably best explains the outpouring of emotion by Stevenson.
Stevenson joined the Devils, from the Columbus Blue Jackets, to start the 2000-01 season. At the time, the Devils were the NHL's reigning champs, having knocked off Dallas in the Finals. Stevenson knew that season represented his best chance to win the Cup. When New Jersey took a 3-2 lead against Colorado in the 2001 Finals, Stevenson believed his destiny was at hand.
Then, stunningly, the Avalanche pulled the plug on Stevenson's revelry, winning the last two games of the championship series to cop the Cup.
That pain from an opportunity at immortality squandered has been a constant companion for every Devil involved in the collapse. But captain Scott Stevens admitted it was harder on players like Stevenson and McKenzie, who were looking for their first Cup.
"I think it lingered more for the guys that had never won a Cup," said Stevens, one of five Devils to play on all three championship squads. "Not that it's easy to lose a game like that, but I guess I had won a Cup, but I felt for guys like Turner Stevenson, that wanted the Cup bad. It was tough for everybody, but even tougher for them. This really puts that in the past now, obviously."
As everyone partied around him, McKenzie talked about 2001 and the scars that remain.
"This is way better than Colorado," said McKenzie, surveying scenes of jubilation in every corner. "That was no fun. I didn't think I would get another chance. I had played 11 years in the League and that was as close as I had gotten.
"To be there standing in the room in Colorado, listening to their fans celebrate above us, that was hard. I can still feel it like it was yesterday. They talk about opposite ends of the spectrum, and that's what this is."
McKenzie says both he and Stevenson held onto the disappointment from 2001 to motivate them through this season's trying tournament. McKenzie watched much of this tournament as a healthy scratch. Stevenson, meanwhile, played the last three games on a severely injured groin, willing himself through pain to make a contribution.
According to McKenzie, he and Stevenson routinely discussed the disappointment in Denver while carpooling to games and practices during the 2003 postseason.
"It doesn't completely take (the hurt) away," McKenzie said of his championship. "I think that's something, a feeling, that's been with us and will remain."
But, then, McKenzie took a swig from the Cup as it made its way past him -- and all the disappointments of the past were quickly forgotten.
"Very sweet," McKenzie said, beaming. "Extremely sweet."
Again, just another powerful testament to the power of the Stanley Cup upon the uninitiated.