Denver Wilson's day with the Stanley Cup in Phoenix on Wednesday wasn't exactly typical. Then again, the Los Angeles Kings' assistant equipment manager took a path to the NHL that wasn't exactly typical either.
While the Cup has spent much of the summer in traditional hockey hotbeds, including Minnesota, Massachusetts and most of Canada, Wilson brought the most iconic trophy in sports to Arizona to honor the hockey community that helped carve his way to the NHL.
It starts with his father, Stan Wilson, who has been the Phoenix Coyotes' equipment manager since 1990, when the club was in Winnipeg. In his career with the franchise, the elder Wilson has worked more than 1,500 NHL games, including a tense five-game Western Conference final last May against his son's Kings.
Denver Wilson enjoyed the first part of his day with the Cup riding horses in the area, then planned to celebrate the greater Arizona hockey community with a public event at the Ice Den in Scottsdale. The home of the Coyotes' practice rink as well as numerous local youth hockey programs, the Ice Den is a familiar place for the young equipment man.
"I've known Denver since he was a little kid. Denver worked in our pro shop for quite a few years while he was growing up. He was helping out in the Coyotes dressing room as well," said Michael O'Hearn, the former Winnipeg Jets assistant general manager and current president of Coyotes Ice LLC, the company that owns the Ice Den. "He went to the Kings last year and as it started to look like they could actually do it, he kept saying, 'If we do this, on my day with the Cup I'm coming to the Ice Den.' It was pretty touching that he would consider bringing it to us."
The first member of a championship team to bring the Stanley Cup to Arizona, Denver won't just be honoring his father. All proceeds from the event will go to the Jukka Nieminen Children's Fund, a charity set up to support the two daughters of Jukka Nieminen, the late Coyotes massage therapist who died in 2010 the night before he was to be married.
"Denver was very close to Jukka. All the trainers are a close-knit bunch and Denver was really brought up in the dressing room. Jukka guided him with a lot of things," O'Hearn said. "It says a lot about Denver, the class act that he is. That he would remember about us and have us as part of his day."