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Game 7, 2004: Andreychuk, at last

by John Kreiser
Like former teammate Ray Bourque, Dave Andreychuk had to put in a lot of time before he finally got to sip champagne from Lord Stanley's Cup. It was well worth the wait.

"This is what we play for. This is the pinnacle," Andreychuk said after the Tampa Bay Lightning won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history by edging the Calgary Flames 2-1 in Game 7 on June 7, 2004. "You dream about this day for a long time. It took me a while to get there. It's hard to put into words — the years you get knocked out of the playoffs, the years you didn't make the playoffs, all the players you've played with."

In Andreychuk's case, that was a lot of years and a lot of players. Before finally winning the Cup, Andreychuk had played 1,759 games (1,597 in the regular season and another 161 in the playoffs) during 22 seasons, scored 634 goals and amassed 1,320 points. No one had ever played as long without winning a Cup.

So when Commissioner Gary Bettman uttered the magic words, "Dave Andreychuk, come on down," to receive the Stanley Cup, the Lightning captain was realizing a dream.

"It was a moment that has gone through my head lots of times," he said of the thrill of finally winning the Cup after more than two decades of frustration.

Andreychuk might have gotten his name on the Cup earlier -- he and Bourque were traded from Boston to Colorado together in 2000. But Andreychuk opted to sign with Buffalo that summer, missing out on the Avalanche's run to the Stanley Cup, which sent Bourque into retirement with a championship.

In the summer of 2001, Andreychuk signed with the Lightning, a franchise that had made the playoffs just once since entering the NHL in 1992. Andreychuk, a big goal scorer for most of his career, learned a new role with the Lightning — he became a checker, a penalty killer, and a leader. He was named Tampa Bay's captain before the 2002-03 season and had a major role in helping the Lightning's young talent like Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards and Vincent Lecavalier ripen into championship-caliber players.

"Our core young people started maturing," said coach John Tortorella, "and Dave and Tim (Taylor) came in and gave them the lay of the land as far as how the locker room is supposed to act and prepare."

Andreychuk had a private seat for the final seconds before the Lightning's victory. He was in the penalty box after being called for a tripping penalty with 22 seconds left in regulation time, so the final seconds were a little extra nerve-wracking. When the final horn went off, he raced across the ice to join his teammates in the celebration.

"I was disappointed that I couldn't be on the other side with my teammates, savoring the moment," he said of the game's final seconds. "I clock-watched a lot more than normal."

Needless to say, his teammates and their coach were thrilled for their captain.

"It almost brought tears to my eyes," veteran defenseman Darryl Sydor said. "That guy's been here so long, and he hadn't even been to the Finals."

Added Tortorella: "This guy wanted it so bad. He didn't need this to validate his career —  he's already a Hall of Famer. For him to get this — what a sight."

Andreychuk retired midway through the 2005-06 season. His next stop, at some point, figures to the Hall of Fame. When he makes the trip to Toronto for his induction, he'll be wearing one of the hardest-won championship rings any NHL player has ever earned.

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