Less than an hour before a Stanley Cup championship banner was raised at TD Garden and the puck dropped on the 2011-12 NHL season, Boston Bruins
owner Jeremy Jacobs was in a giddy mood.
"I can't get any better than this right now -- the year hasn't started, we haven't lost a game and we're the reigning Stanley Cup champions," said Jacobs, appearing as a guest to kick off the fifth season of "NHL Hour with Commissioner Gary Bettman."
Jacobs and Bruins team president Cam Neely
both pulled themselves away from the opening night festivities long enough to speak with Bettman about watching the franchise end its 39-year championship drought, their experiences with the Cup this summer and the challenges that lie ahead as Boston attempts to become the NHL's first repeat champs since Detroit won back-to-back titles in 1997 and '98.
Sid's status still uncertain
Alan Robinson - NHL.com Correspondent
is traveling with the team on its season-opening road trip but won't see his doctors until after the team returns home, and so is unlikely to be cleared for contact until then. READ MORE ›
Neely was a first-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks
, the team the Bruins rallied to beat in a seven-game Final this past spring. He played the majority of his career in Boston and came close to winning titles in 1988 and 1990, but finally got to taste the pinnacle of success as an executive.
"Believe me, it's great to win it either way," Neely said. "I don't have the experience of winning it as a player -- I wish I did. We got close and it never happened. I never watched, even when I played, other teams celebrate the game where they won the Cup and skated it around the ice. I never wanted to watch that until it happened for me.
and I said numerous times when we both got back involved with management with the team, said, 'listen, if we couldn't win it in our uniform, let's win it in a suit.' And it was a spectacular feeling. It's different, I would imagine, skating around the ice with the Cup than standing there in a suit, but to know that you were a part of a group that put a championship team together is a great feeling."
The Bruins and Canucks split the first six games, with the home team winning each time, before Boston captured the Cup with a 4-0 victory in Vancouver. It set off a wild celebration that carried through the plane ride home and didn't stop until the championship parade days later.
"Friends and family got in the locker room and we celebrated there, lots of good times there," Neely said. "Then we had a long flight back to Boston, so we cut the celebration probably a little shorter based on what was going on in and around Vancouver, and got on a plane, and literally, as soon as we touched down, myself and our PR guy had to race over to the mayor's office and start planning the parade. It was a whirlwind trip from the time that we left the locker room until we got to Boston, but it was a great flight home."
The Bruins players weren't the only ones who got their days with the Cup -- Neely got to bring the most revered trophy in all of sports to Martha's Vineyard while Jacobs took it to his hometown of Buffalo, where he took part in a fundraiser for the Roswell Park Cancer Institute and then to California, with a trip to Yosemite National Park among the stops.
Now that all the fun and revelry is over, the Bruins are faced with defending Lord Stanley from the 29 other teams that hope to be celebrating with parades of their own next June. Whether he believes in the concept of the "Stanley Cup hangover," Jacobs made clear he won't stand for it on his team.
"I don't do satisfaction well," he said. "I'm very concerned about this coming season. I don't want people to be feel that they've done it and they don't have to do it again, because we have to do it again and we have to maintain that level of fight. The stars were aligned last year, but we definitely have the same team, we have the same quality of players, we've got so much going for us. I think we have every reason to anticipate that they do well."
"I don't have the experience of winning it as a player -- I wish I did. We got close and it never happened. I never watched, even when I played, other teams celebrate the game where they won the Cup and skated it around the ice. I never wanted to watch that until it happened for me." -- Cam Neely
It won't be easy, though, and Neely acknowledged the factors that will be working against Boston, including the shorter offseason and the parity in the League that allows more teams than ever to be competitive.
"The team we're playing tonight, Philadelphia, it's going to be a vastly different lineup than we saw in the playoffs last year, so it'll be interesting to see what becomes of that team," Neely said. "Buffalo, a lot of major changes there. Washington's always a strong team, Pittsburgh, if Sidney Crosby
's healthy, they're going to be a team that's going to have a strong year. There's teams that have been on the outside looking in that feel like they've improved their team enough to get into the top eight, so it's going to be a tough conference."
Thursday night represented one more opportunity for Bruins fans to celebrate last season's accomplishments. As the party raged on around him, Jacobs talked about the special place the city of Boston holds in his heart.
"I don't believe there is a sports town in North America to compare to Boston," Jacobs said. "Why I say that is, this is a four major-league sport town and each one is a live-or-die sort of thing with them. And they love their teams, and they are sophisticated hockey fans, which is something special in this community. They do love their baseball and the Red Sox are very special, and the Celtics are very special and the Patriots, but today the Bruins are the most special team here. And they love them, they love them to death."