MONTREAL - For the past decade players and staff members from Stanley Cup winning teams have been offered the opportunity to spend a day with the oldest trophy in professional sport. In its nondescript, unlabelled travelling road case, the symbol of NHL supremacy has spent summers circling the globe, attracting fans in droves wherever it appeared.
With no 2004-05 champions to pass the Cup around in the off-season, its summer travel plans were almost nonexistent.
"My boss, Phil Pritchard, and I wondered if the NHL would go along with having the Stanley Cup visit some of the older champions, sometimes long forgotten," said Kevin Shea, Manager of Publishing and Editorial Services for the Hockey Hall of Fame. "We realized that some of these gentlemen had never seen their name on the Stanley Cup."
The NHL loved the idea and the hunt for the oldest surviving winners began.
"Some of the gentlemen were fairly easy to find and some were really tough." Shea recalled. "Between Googling and someone who knew somebody who knew somebody we were able to find an awful lot of them."
Over 50 NHL veterans, Stanley Cup champions all, received a visit from the fifty dollar silver bowl Lord Stanley donated to the hockey world. For those who won their Cups between 1941 and 1953, the visit was probably their last chance to see their names engraved upon it. The ring immortalizing their achievements will be removed and put on display in the Hall of Fame when the time comes to add the names of this season's champions.
Among the 20 or so Canadiens alumni who were honored by a visit this summer are a few men whose names will be shifted from the trophy to the wall.
Bob Fillion, who spent his entire seven-year career with the Canadiens from 1943-50, had no idea that he was in line for a visit from the trophy that bears his name in two places. His son, Robert Jr. arranged to have the Cup turn up as a surprise to celebrate his father's 85th birthday.
Robert contacted the Hall of Fame last winter looking for vintage film footage featuring his father, thinking it would make a nice gift.
"They were organizing a Stanley Cup tour for the summer and they picked my dad to receive the Cup," Fillion remembered. "I don't know why they picked him because there are a lot of other players that are more famous than him."
It was not an offer he was going to pass up, particularly when one of the open dates, July 18th, was his father's birthday.
"I invited him to breakfast to discuss some difficulties the golf course is having." Robert said. "It was funny because he didn't notice the Stanley Cup for ten minutes after he came into the room. It was right out in plain sight. When he saw the Cup he had trouble containing his emotions."
"The Cup wasn't as tall then as it is now. I won with the 1944 and 1946 teams." Fillion recalled. " I kept the replicas that the league sent us. All the guys' names are on them, Maurice Richard, Elmer Lach, Butch Bouchard."
It wasn't the first time Fillion had eaten with the Stanley Cup. There was a night in 1946, he recalled, when " We took it to a Chinese restaurant. It ended up on Ken Reardon and Murph Chamberlain's table. Then we all took it back to the Queens Hotel, owned by Senator Raymond, who also owned the Canadiens. Boy, was that a night."
Friends and family gathered around to celebrate his birthday and hear the memories stirred up by having his sterling silver visitor. Supper for 125 was served and anyone who wished could have their picture taken with the guests of honour.
Ray Getliffe spent six seasons in Montreal and won a Stanley Cup with the Canadiens in 1943-44.
On Aug. 5, two-time champion Ray Getliffe had his turn to host the Stanley Cup in London, Ontario, and he made full use of his day.
"We had a double-header," the ninety-one-year old said. "We have a great Oldtimers association here. I called them to see if we couldn't do something with them to raise money for my old high school. I graduated in 1931. The school's been rebuilt since then but they're building a new gym floor. It's going to cost about $200,000. I doubt the first school cost that to build originally."
The second part of Getliffe's day with the Cup was spent at The Hunt Club, his golf course. Transportation from the fundraiser at the Western Fair Grounds to the hunt Club was by a fire engine that began its working life in 1927.
"We had a great turnout and all my family was there. It was a fantastic day and I was very fortunate that I was able to stand it." Getliffe quipped.
Asked for his memories of the 1944 victory, Getliffe immediately recalled many of the men he shared the adventure with.
"We had a hell of a good hockey club. We had Blake, Elmer Lach and Joe Benoit. Richard did a great job. We had a line with Chamberlain, Watson and myself. Murph and I killed all of the penalties," recalled Getliffe. "We had Butch Bouchard too, of course. Bobby Fillion was on that team. Buddy O'Connor was on that team too with Heffernan and Morin. Fern Majeau, the old Fancy Dan. Leo Lamoureaux. When he'd had a couple beers he could do Maurice Chevalier better than Maurice Chevalier."
He also remembered the good times and camaraderie that was part and parcel of the train travel era. He's convinced that today's players are missing out on something.
"I don't think they have the fun we did. We knew each other well. There were only 84 players in the whole league. It was a lot different. We'd leave Chicago at midnight and we'd get back to Montreal around suppertime. I worked in a shoe store in the off-season and when things got quiet I'd raffle off a pair of shoes. Dick Irvin raised dogs in Regina and one time he raffled off a collie and I won it."
Mike Wyman is a contributor to canadiens.com