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Stanley Cup Final

DeBoer recalls meeting Ali as teenager

Sharks coach owns signed Quran given to him by late boxing legend

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / Director of Editorial

SAN JOSE -- The death of heavyweight boxing legend Muhammad Ali on Friday was felt at the Stanley Cup Final as the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks prepared for Game 3 at SAP Center on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). 

Ali, who was among the most beloved and famous athletes in the world, died in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 74.

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer met the heavyweight champion as a teenager and considers a signed Quran from Ali among his most prized possessions.

"I wouldn't normally share this with you, but I think considering the circumstances today (it's appropriate)," DeBoer said at his pregame press conference. "I got it 30 years ago. I was at my prom at the Royal Connaught Hotel in Hamilton [Ontario], a 17-year-old kid. I had my tux on, I was in the lobby and Muhammad Ali walked in with his entourage. He was there for some type of appearance and I asked one of the entourage if I could meet him with my friends and he said, 'Just give me a minute.'

"He came back to me and he said, 'Muhammad Ali is up in this room.' He goes, 'Meet him up in his room in five minutes.' And me and three or four of my buddies went up to his room, and he got out a Quran for each of us and he wasn't preaching or trying to convert us. He just personalized each one to us, asked us some questions about what we were doing and it was an unbelievable life experience for me.

Video: Peter DeBoer shares memory of meeting Muhammad Ali

"I think considering the circumstances and how this guy transcended not just boxing and sport, but how many people he's touched, I thought it was an appropriate story to tell."

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said he has often used some of the legendary quotes attributed to Ali in trying to motivate his players throughout his coaching career.

"Well, he might be one of the most impactful athletes in this past century," Sullivan said. "He's obviously a charismatic guy, did a lot for the sport of boxing. I think he'll be, at least from my experience, known not just for how great of an athlete he was, but for the impact that he had in a social aspect as well.

"I think his personality, in combination with how great of an athlete he was, certainly allowed him to have the impact that he's had on sports, not just boxing."

Many of the players involved in this series were too young to experience the majesty of Ali firsthand, but all have heard the stories and know of his legacy through the books and movies that have documented his life.

Ali's final fight, a loss to Trevor Berbick, took place on Dec. 11, 1981.

"I've obviously only been on this earth for 25 years, so I wasn't able to experience him when he was at his peak," Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon said. "You can see in his legacy and in the outpouring of emotion yesterday, how important he was and how much of an impact he had on boxing and on sports."

Pittsburgh forward Conor Sheary said he remembers the iconic picture of Ali looming over Sonny Liston after a first-round knockout during a heavyweight championship fight in Lewiston, Maine, on May 25, 1965.

"[It was] just his competitive nature, you always follow that as a kid," Sheary, 23, said. "He's a little bit older than our generation. You look at those things and learn how to compete like he did."

Pittsburgh forward Bryan Rust said it was Ali's legacy as a boxer and as a role model that stands out the most.

"It's sad to have this happen, but it's also a time to celebrate his life," Rust said.

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