PITTSBURGH – As Brent Sopel has been discovering since last summer, winning definitely has its perks.
Sopel turned his childhood dreams into reality on June 9 when he finally got to hoist the Stanley Cup as a member of the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks. Nine months later, he was sporting his Stanley Cup ring and shaking hands with the President.
“It was a fun day. It was an experience of a lifetime going to the White House, getting the tour and obviously getting to meet President Obama,” described the Calgary native, who was already en route to Pittsburgh to meet up with the Habs after his two-plus hour visit with the President. “He’s a great guy. We started off in the East Wing and took a tour through the Green Room and the Red Room and all that stuff. He came through at that point and we talked to him a little bit before we went outside for the photo op.”
Having enjoyed the occasional one-on-one game with NBA All-Stars on his backyard court and known for donning his White Sox cap around Washington, the President may just be the most powerful sports fan in the world. But how is his hockey pedigree?
“Obviously growing up in Chicago, he knows the game. I think he’s more of a die-hard baseball guy, but he made a comment about Pittsburgh being there last year and how he was happy to have his home team in town this time around,” shared Sopel with a laugh.
With more of a hockey background than his predecessors – including Bill Clinton, who famously mispronounced Steve Yzerman’s name when the Wings visited the White House in 1998 –President Obama had no trouble pronouncing the Hawks’ captain’s name on Friday afternoon.
“He said it right! We talked about that before hand and when he said it, I was actually standing next to Jonathan and he was like ‘Hey, you got it right!’” laughed Sopel. “We made some wise cracks about it to Taser in the morning, but the President got it right, so bonus for him.”
He may not be American himself, but Sopel was still in awe of his time spent rubbing elbows with the First Fan.
“Growing up you think about raising the Cup and how it would feel to win it, but you never think about getting to have this experience,” he marveled. “The coolest part of it was probably just when the whole team was standing there on risers behind the President as he was giving his speech with the Stanley Cup sitting right there.
“I was front and center with the Stanley Cup to my left and President Obama to my right; it was pretty surreal.”
Now that he can check “Photoshoot with the President” off his Bucket List, there’s another world leader Sopel can’t wait to meet as soon as possible.
“The thing is, if we win it this year, we don’t go back to the White House, but we’ll take it down to Ottawa instead,” he explained, hoping to become the first Canadian team since the 1993 Habs to capture the Stanley Cup. “I’ve never met Stephen Harper, either. Canadian or American, getting to go to either place would be the experience of a lifetime."Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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