All those rides on the bus through the night, from Atlantic City to Cincinnati in blizzard conditions, from Trenton to Peoria that featured an unscheduled six-hour stop due to a busted spark plug, from Norfolk to Hershey … they all were worthwhile Wednesday night.
Mike Haviland, a virtual unknown in the coaching world less than a decade ago, continued to make a name for himself when he raised the Stanley Cup high above his head at the Wachovia Center as the Chicago Blackhawks
beat the Philadelphia Flyers
, 4-3 in overtime, to win this pulsating Stanley Cup Final series in six games.
A native of Middletown, N.J., the 42-year-old Haviland added a third championship to his resume with Wednesday's win. Haviland won ECHL titles with the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies in 2003 and the Trenton Titans in 2005 before the Blackhawks hired him to coach their American Hockey League affiliate. In 2007, he was crowned AHL Coach of the Year for his work with the Norfolk Admirals.
Chicago realized what it had in Haviland and asked him to join its staff as an assistant coach. Eight years after his first head coaching job in Atlantic City, Haviland helped win the greatest trophy there is.
"All the hard work and all the long bus rides to get to where I'm at … it's just kind of surreal right now." -- Blackhawks assistant coach Mike Haviland on his journey from the ECHL to winning the Stanley Cup
"I think it's a long one, but I think it's kind of short, too," Haviland told NHL.com on the Wachovia Center ice when asked to describe this remarkable ride. "I'm speechless. It's amazing.
"All the hard work and all the long bus rides to get to where I'm at … it's just kind of surreal right now."
Truth be told, it's almost expected at this point. Three organizations have hired Haviland to help them win championships. He's delivered each time.
Just as importantly, he mainly was responsible for the development of the Blackhawks' younger players dating back to their time in the AHL, from Dustin Byfuglien
to Dave Bolland
to Troy Brouwer
to Adam Burish
"'Havie' has done a great job all year," said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville
, who barely knew Haviland when the former replaced Denis Savard
in October 2008. "He's done a great job with our special teams, specifically the penalty kill. He was around these guys when they first turned pro. He knows the ins and outs of a lot of these guys."
Those relationships were strengthened in Chicago, where Haviland ran the defense and helped build the fourth-ranked penalty kill in the League. Not bad for someone who not too long ago was coaching at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall.
"He gets along great with the guys," Burish said. "He comes with a good attitude every day. I played about 50 or 60 games with him my first year (in the AHL). You think about the bus rides that you're on, and now you're hoisting the Cup. This is as cool as it gets."
Haviland never played in the NHL. Drafted by the New Jersey Devils
in 1990, a shoulder injury forced Haviland to hang up the blades just a year later. But his lack of pro experience as a player did nothing to hinder his ability to work with phenomenal talents such as Brent Seabrook
and Duncan Keith
, two of the top defensemen in the League.
"He was awesome for us as a defensive coach," Seabrook said of Haviland. "He had to deal with a lot of crap, mostly mine and Duncan's. He was great. He was a rock back there for us."
To be fair, Haviland had some help from fellow assistant John Torchetti
, a former head coach in Tampa Bay, Florida and Los Angeles. Now that the Blackhawks' season has ended, Haviland and Torchetti may be the two most coveted coaches of the summer.
"Unbelievable," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews
said. "Our special teams … obviously they both controlled the power play and penalty kill and other things besides that. They're great guys in the locker room and great leaders for us on the bench. We don't want to think about that right now, how this team might change. We're not going to worry about that too much, but they're both very deserving of opportunities like that. It's reality. We have a great team, and who knows what's going to happen?"
Torchetti, 46, was flattered by the speculation, but more concerned with what his team had just accomplished.
"That's a nice gesture by yourself, but I'm just worried about having a great time tonight," Torchetti, a Boston native, told NHL.com. "The future takes care of itself like it always does.
"I just think for the whole staff, the players, this is for real. You work hard at it right out of the gate, and we stuck to it as a team. It's still surreal … 46 years. But I get to share it with my family, so that makes it even better."
Haviland was unsure if Wednesday would be the last time this Chicago coaching staff would work together. But he sure hopes Torchetti becomes a head coach for a fourth time.
"If it is, I wish him all the best," Haviland said of Torchetti. "He's certainly deserving of a job. He's been the head guy before. We had a great staff. We had two great years together. At this point, I'm not really worried about that. I just want to enjoy this moment."
Quenneville believes both of his colleagues are ready. Certainly, their resumes speak for themselves.
"Sure," the coach said. "Absolutely. We like progress. We'll see what happens."
, who provided Haviland and Torchetti with a moment neither ever will forget at 4:06 of overtime, agreed with his head coach.
"For sure they are," Kane said. "I think they're both really good coaches. We're lucky to have them. Hopefully they can stay aboard and be part of something special here. But I have a very good relationship with both of them. Very easy-going, a lot of fun around the rink. I think that helps, too."
It will be an interesting couple of weeks for Haviland, who is intrigued by the vacant coaching job in his home state. What a dream come true that would be for Haviland, who lived in the Hell's Kitchen section of New York City as a young child before he and his family moved to New Jersey.
If it does happen, Haviland would be an inspiration for minor-league coaches across North America who share the same dream Haviland had when he accepted the job in Atlantic City eight years ago.
He has advice for those aspiring to be in the position he found himself in Wednesday night.
"Never give up," Haviland said. "Work hard. I think good things happen to people who work hard. You've got to continue to work and I think you'll eventually get to where you want to go. It doesn't matter about where you've played or what you've done. Good, hard work is what people take notice of in this business. I've been fortunate enough that it's happened to me."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL