MONTREAL - While he may have hoisted the Stanley Cup some 25 years ago, Kirk Muller still feels like that historical moment happened only yesterday.
In just his second season in a Canadiens uniform, Muller quickly established himself as one of the leaders on the team by way of his performances on the ice as well as his positive influence in the dressing room. One of the spark plugs of the squad, the former forward and Kingston, ON native was one of the main reasons the Habs had such great success during the 1992-93 campaign.
With the playoffs approaching that season, however, losses were beginning to pile up and uncertainty surrounding the Canadiens' chances of reaching the NHL's promised land began to surface. Back-to-back defeats to the Quebec Nordiques to start the opening round of the postseason did little to remove the doubt that was beginning to take hold. It was at that moment that their long-time general manager, who had also experienced ups and downs over the course of his playing career, arrived on the scene to boost their spirits.
"Nobody was giving us a real chance to beat a team like the Nordiques," explained Muller, an associate coach with the Canadiens since 2016. "After losing the first two games in Quebec City, Serge Savard came to see us. He told us: 'Guys, you know what, if you continue playing this way, I guarantee that you'll go on to win this series.' He said it in such a confident manner.
"A few years later, I asked him if he really believed what he told us because he certainly convinced me," he continued. "I thought it was a huge message on Serge's part, saying that he simply believed in us regardless of the situation that we were in."
Savard's intuition was correct. From that moment on, his club didn't look back, going on to eliminate the Nordiques in six games. But, by extending their playoff run, Muller and the rest of his teammates also had to continue their self-imposed 'lockdown' of sorts.
In addition to staying at a hotel for road games, players were required to sleep at a hotel the night before contesting each tilt on home ice. While nights could generally be long in Buffalo during the second round and Long Island in round three, the Habs found a way to pass the time that allowed them to bond and continue to build team spirit.
"We often didn't have anything to do at the hotel. So, we started water fights in the hallways," shared Muller, who finished second for the Canadiens during the playoffs that year with 17 points. "It started out pretty simple. I was having it out with Rob Ramage, Mike Keane and Lyle Odelein with a glass of water. But, a few guys joined us pretty quickly. We had to amuse ourselves because the playoffs were long! We did it throughout the playoffs."
As the Habs racked up victories, the players weren't looking to make any changes to their already well-established routine, and they took their 'pastime' with them into the Stanley Cup Finals. Still, not everyone was fully aware of their off-ice rituals.
"During the Finals, Jacques [Demers] decided to stay on our floor," continued Muller. "He surprised us right in the middle of a heated water fight and he was mad with us the next morning. He said to us: 'Guys, we're in the Finals. We haven't won anything yet and you're behaving like children.' When I told him that we'd been playing the game in each round, he told us to keep on playing!"
Video: 1993 Cup Final, Gm5: Muller's Cup-winner vs. Kings
The players rewarded their head coach a few days later by capping their domination of the Kings on Forum ice. Collecting the first Stanley Cup of his career since entering the NHL ranks nine years earlier, Muller wanted to savor the unforgettable moment as best he could. While the majority of his teammates headed home a few hours after the Cup-clinching victory, "Captain Kirk" extended his celebrations until early the next morning, not knowing if he'd ever have the chance to relive a moment like that again.
"I remember going to sit with Mike Keane in the Forum stands a few hours after the end of the game," recalled Muller, who scored the game-winning goal in Game 5, the decisive tilt against the Kings. "We each sat there with a beer in one hand and a cigar in the other, and we looked out at the empty rink saying to ourselves : 'Oh my g-d, we just won the Stanley Cup!'"
Two-and-a-half decades after the triumph, Muller still hears talk of the Canadiens' memorable postseason run back in 1993. Fans of all ages often thanked him over the years for his significant contributions that season, most notably when he returned to Montreal in 2006 as an assistant coach before moving on to be the head coach in Carolina from 2011 to 2014. Even though he left to take on a new challenge elsewhere, moments like that convinced him that no city in the hockey world compares to Montreal.
"Montreal is a special place. The people there are so passionate. Hockey is a religion in both the city and the province. People knew that we weren't a dynasty-like team from the 70s," admitted Muller. "We had to work very hard to win the Cup because we had a little less talent than several other teams. I think that for that reason, our team was so appreciated. It was the strength of character of the guys that really led us to winning the Cup."
This article, which originally appeared on canadiens.com in June 2013, was updated in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the team's 1993 Stanley Cup Championship.