As a player, winning a Stanley Cup brings everything to fruition. You think back to when you're three years old putting on skates for the first time, or you're out in the driveway playing street hockey with your friends. When you're a hockey player, winning a Stanley Cup is always in the back of your mind, especially when you start playing competitively.
For me, it was college hockey at Clarkson University in my home state of New York, then playing in the Olympics in 1994 and ultimately playing professionally. I went 14 years in the NHL without even getting to a Stanley Cup Final, and then to finally have it happen in 2007, it kind of summed everything up and wrapped my playing career in a bow.
I remember the first time I met my future in-laws when I was a sophomore in college, and my now mother-in-law said to me, "What do you want to do for a living?" and I said, "I want to be a hockey player." She probably thought, What are you talking about? But that's what you dream about.
When I was a kid listening to the Buffalo Sabres games on my radio when I was supposed to be sleeping, listening to Gilbert Perreault go up the ice and Rick Jeanneret calling the games. When you finally do get there and become an NHL hockey player, you end up saying to yourself, Now I want more. I want to win the Stanley Cup. It's the hardest trophy to win, and it's supposed to be hard, because that's what makes it even more worthwhile.
I had a moment with my dad in the locker room after celebrating with the guys on the ice, and he said to me, "You did it." I looked him and said, "I didn't do it, we did it." I wouldn't even be a player if he didn't coach me at 7 years old. I wouldn't have been there without all of those practices and games my mom and dad took me to, and all the sacrifices my brothers had to make, all of the sacrifices that each individual of that Ducks team and their families had to make for it to happen. It really makes it all the more special.
I came to the Ducks in 2005, and it's funny because three years prior when I was playing for Edmonton, during the Olympic break we came down here as a family to go to Disneyland and all the other theme parks. I remember being on the highway, taking about three hours to get to Anaheim from San Diego, and I looked at my wife and said, "There is no way I could ever live here." We've been here almost 11 1/2 years now, and we've made it our home.
I came from Columbus to a Ducks team that wasn't playing very well at the time. It was November of 2005 and Getzy and Perry were rookies who actually had been sent to the minors for a few games. By Christmastime, we were just starting to jell and turn things around. We kind of hit our mark right around the New Year and went on a tear. We made it to the Western Conference Final against Edmonton and ran into a hot goalie, Dwayne Roloson, and lost in five games. But that team really felt like it had unfinished business in a sense that we felt we deserved better.
Then they made the trade for Chris Pronger, and that turned everything around for us. I think it started in training camp, where we looked around and thought, We were close last year, but this is a team that could win it all. I can't think of any team in the last 15 years or so that has had two No. 1 defensemen like we did in Pronger and Scott Niedermayer. They could play against anybody and in any situation, and it was apparent that would be a difference-maker right away.
What also helped is having a close group of guys. We'd go out for dinner on the road and there'd be 13 or 14 guys there. We felt like we were destined to do something great.
We started the next season off right where we left off the season before, on a tear, and we went 12-0-4 in our first 16 games and it continued on through the season. We played a pretty brash style of hockey and didn't back down from any situation. That was our identity as a team and we stuck to it and played to it every night. We knew it would be difficult, and there were of course ups and downs that season, but we kind of caught the wave again in the playoffs and were able to finish it off.
I had to deal with my own injuries, and I missed more games that season than I had in my entire career. The final straw was a game in LA near the end of the regular season where I was driving around a defenseman and I felt something pop. I had a sports hernia and could barely walk, so I had to fly to Philadelphia and meet with Dr. William Myers and have surgery. He told me, "Just so you know, your season is over. The recovery for this is 8 to 10 weeks." And I said, "Well, that's no good. I'm going to prove that you're wrong and I'm going to play in the playoffs."
I kept pushing and pushing every day and keeping him updated. I kind of felt like a guinea pig because he had never done this kind of surgery and tried to get someone back playing this quickly. I ended up missing the first two rounds, and I came back for the Detroit series. I wasn't gonna miss the ride.
The one positive from being injured and having some time was creating the t-shirts the guys wore throughout the playoffs. It all kind of started with Teemu, because he used to use the word "Passion" all the time. He always said you've got to play the game and live your life with passion. So I had shirts made with that word on it and I put it in everyone's stalls prior to Game 1 of the first round.
The guys wore them, and in the second round they said we needed to do something different. I thought, What if we just added a word? At that time of the year, when you're in the playoffs, it's about sacrificing your body, your family having to sacrifice for the time you're away and everyone in the organization having to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. So I added that word, and it started to build steam.
When we got to the third round, guys couldn't wait for the next one. I talked to some of them to see what they thought the next word should be, and someone said, "This game is all about heart. You've got to have the heart to get by this next series." Once that unfolded, I knew that the fourth word was gonna be, but I kept it to myself. There was so much excitement around the group when we won that Conference Final against Detroit and got ready for the Stanley Cup Final, and there was anticipation of what the next t-shirt was going to be. We added the one word I had in mind, so the shirt read, "Destiny is Heart, Sacrifice and Passion."
One of the more memorable moments was during Game 4 at Ottawa in the Final, after Daniel Alfredsson shot the puck at Scotty at the end of the second period. We came into the locker room and everybody was fired up, saying, "Okay, who's gonna get him? On that team, there were a number of guys who would do it. Scotty put a stop to that and said, "We have bigger things in mind."
Two days later we were Stanley Cup champions.
Every year that goes by, you appreciate more and more what that team was able to accomplish. That was especially true this year when we held the 10-Year Celebration and had all the guys come back and catch up, rehashing stories, chirping each other the same way they did back then. It was awesome to have everyone get back together, and it was like we had never left.
That team had so many veteran guys like me who had been in the league for years and never won a Cup. So we were a hungry group, and we knew that opportunity doesn't come around every day. That's the kind of thing we stress with this team, which has a lot of young players. We tell them, "You don't know when you'll get back here, so take advantage of it now."
For this Ducks team to get to the Conference Final this season, you have to look at it as a positive for the entire organization. It gets harder and harder every year, with your veteran guys getting older, and it makes it that much more difficult as each season goes by. Our group has injected youth into the lineup, and we need them to keep growing as players to get over the next hump. But there is no question the future is bright, and I hope to be talking about another Stanley Cup celebration sometime in the very near future.