It is the Summer of the Stanley Cup, and it is being undertaken with a labor of love.
Where the Stanley Cup will travel is a serpentine route that began as soon as it was carried onto the ice after Alec Martinez’s Game 5 clincher. Since appearing in private parties, public parades and family gatherings across Southern California over the past two and a half weeks – a “free-for-all,” in a lot of ways -- it spent the past week in Las Vegas (for the NHL Awards) and Philadelphia (for the NHL Draft) and is now back in the hands of Los Angeles players and staff as it tours the world.
Cup events officially began on the East Coast, as the Cup was already in Philly. Among those who have been with the Cup this week have been Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti; Vice President of Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel Michael Futa; Amateur Scout – Quebec/Maritimes Denis Fugere; Manchester Monarchs Director of Hockey Operations Hubie McDonough; and forward Tyler Toffoli.
Mike Altieri, the club’s Vice President of Communications and Broadcasting, and Jeff Moeller, the club’s Senior Director of Communications and Content, take a lead in working together to figure out the Cup stops in the Los Angeles region while mapping out a zig-zagging itinerary across North America and Europe.
There are a lot of decisions to be made. From appearances on local news sets to charity and sponsor events, one decision is whether the Cup will visit Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times, a campsite in the San Jacinto Mountains benefiting children with cancer and their families that the Kings donated $1 million dollars to following January’s outdoor game at Dodger Stadium.
There is obviously a strong desire to include the camp on the Cup’s travels, though it still remains to be seen whether there will be an opportunity given that the summer schedule is already quite full right at the time when the Cup changes hands from the team’s business operations to the players, coaches and staff. It is just but one example.
Players generally have one day and night with the Cup and the senior members of the team and multiple Cup winners may have slightly more leverage but so much has to be factored in – where is the Cup that morning, that day and that night, let alone the required travel over the 24 hours that follow. Proximity to other players and staff members becomes important.
Before it can be determined when someone gets it, the list begins with who gets it and where they get it.
So on this one summer morning, Moeller, along with Altieri and Assistant General Manager Rob Blake, are in an office trying to plot out the Cup’s late July trek through Ontario. By that time some 15 people are already booked, including five Europeans in five different countries – Sweden, Finland, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia. This is no easy task
The bridge from the Eastern United States to Ontario will take place during the third weekend of July, when Justin Williams will look to split his time between two different places. The utmost respect is paid to each individual and their wishes, requests and plans. He had an aggressive itinerary and what has to also be factored in is the Cup’s travel plans following Williams’ possession of it.
“There’s really only one window where we can do that, and we wanted to run the dates past you,” Altieri says with Williams on the phone.
“I’m sure I can make it work,” says Williams, understanding and a good sport all around.
This is an important domino to fall, because it allows a team comprised so heavily of Ontarians to keep the Stanley Cup in the providence for a nearly two-week stretch.
Right before the team was about to schedule Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty’s days with the Cup in London, Ontario, Blake’s cell phone rings. He’s still thinking about the Cup’s travel trajectory when Altieri reminds him that he should probably take the call. On the other end, it’s the Hockey Hall of Fame informing him that he’ll be a member of the 2014 class. A smile on his face, Blake takes the call and excuses himself for several minutes – though he ultimately returns to help with the planning.
There were some concerns over the length of time the Cup was in the players’ hands during the 2012 Cup tour. Details aren’t provided, but it’s clear that there is an effort during this cycle to adhere to the players’ wishes as closely as possible. That’s not to say that such efforts weren’t undertaken two years ago, but because the Kings are no longer strangers to such planning this summer, and they have a greater understanding of how to balance all requests with the players’ and coaches’ preferred schedule, which takes precedent.
“Winning for the first time in 2012 helped everyone with the Kings envision what was to come this time around, including the scheduling of the Cup which is like a full-time job itself due to all the requests and what we have to do,” Moeller said. “Hockey is also the only sport that does this. Our colleagues with baseball and basketball don’t deal with this and we did our best to talk to other NHL teams such as Boston, Chicago and Pittsburgh.
“In 2014 we were not starting from scratch and that experience is invaluable.”
The team is trying to align all of its ducks in a row so that when Williams brings the Cup to Ontario it remains there for the following week and a half. That means accommodating the club’s heavy Ontario-based contingent, which already had several names knocked off when it traveled up to Toronto days following the Draft.
The requests from Tanner Pearson, Kyle Clifford, Jake Muzzin, Nelson Emerson and Blake are being heeded. As the conversations continue, dates start getting locked in with them and Doughty and Carter, among others.
Lots of phone calls are made. Messages are left. Text messages are sent and received. It is a giant puzzle.
The group calls Carter to confirm an open date, letting the star forward know some options. After considering the logistics, Carter returns Altieri’s call shortly to confirm that the date is fine.
“Appreciate your flexibility there,” Altieri says.
“All good,” Carter responds.
It’s then settled – Doughty will have the Stanley Cup followed by Carter that next day. It works seamlessly, as Muzzin, who had a conflict during an eight-day period, will have the Stanley Cup a half hour east of London in Woodstock, Ontario, later in the week.
“One of our biggest challenges is we don’t know these regions very well, how to get from one place to another,” Moeller said. “These places can be remote and difficult to get to. Thank goodness for Mapquest.”
Thank goodness as well for Blake, who provides a valuable geographical resource as the Ontario segment is planned, and for the Hockey Hall of Fame who the Kings are in constant communication with. Kings equipment manager Darren Granger (Manitoba) and Bill Ranford (British Columbia) have also helped answer some travel questions.
During the planning, the Kings hit a road bump when one player in Ontario could not take the Cup at this suggest time. The team had to look at making one separate trip back to the region in August, which eats up a lot of valuable time and flexibility when looking at other dates on the calendar.
In addition to the Kings visits, the Cup is already committed by the NHL to Sylvan Lake, Alberta, the winner of the annual Kraft Hockeyville community fundraiser. The recipient of $100,000 in upgrades to the Medican Multi-Plex after an older rink colloquially known as the “Grand Lady” collapsed in January, Colin Fraser’s summer home will welcome the Stanley Cup, CBC and a preseason game between Calgary and Arizona in late September. It will be the Cup’s second visit to Sylvan Lake, after already having visited in the summer on Colin Fraser’s day.
With several local events filling in the gap late in the summer and early in the fall, there also has to be time for the Cup to be engraved in Montreal. Blake, Altieri and Moeller look at all possibilities along with the NHL and the Hockey Hall of Fame.
While the players won’t have access to the Cup during training camp, it will be back in the team’s hands in Southern California around that time. That schedule already has a great deal of requests, including several public events that will be announced at the appropriate time; also factors are the Southern-California-based Kings employees who will get time with the Cup.
Every event until that point will have involved Kings personnel outside of the state and country.
The Kings’ business operations are happy with the mapped out summer schedule thus far. The morning session was productive. It was more malleable and open to communication with players and staff when compared to two summers ago. It requires a lot of work at a time when many staff members may not have had a day off for months, and it is a task undertaken with gracious appreciation.
Again, it is a labor of love.