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'Names on the Cup' tells NHL stars' stories of triumph, disappointment

Documentary shows thrill of winning hockey's biggest prize, agony of coming up short

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

These are the men who have triumphed, who have fought and sweated and won, and whose names are carved into the Stanley Cup. They also are the men who have lost and regretted and never gotten back those final moments that would have allowed their names to be hammered into immortality.

It is the best moment of their lives. It is the worst.

This is "Names on the Cup," a documentary that features more than 70 interviews with NHL stars past and present, sharing their joy and pain at winning and losing the Stanley Cup.

There is Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby. There is Guy Lafleur and Ted Lindsay and Mario Lemieux.

The documentary will debut in the United States on May 28 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN), and will be screened at Cineplex theaters across Canada on May 30 and in select locations May 31. It was created as part of the celebration of the NHL Centennial and the 125th anniversary of the Stanley Cup as a way to explore the Cup and, through that, the history of the League.

Video: Names on the Cup: Emotional Stanley Cup stories

"You could tell so much about a League just by taking a deeper dive into those stories," said Steve Mayer, NHL Chief Content Officer and one of the executive producers of the documentary. "It's like a microcosm of what everything is about our League, and how deep the desire is to win something that is so meaningful to so many, and how our whole League has been built on that principle.

"And that's what I take from the documentary, that these players want it so bad from the time they grow up, and it is so, so meaningful, and it's also something that they can rest their whole life on, forever. They're always going to be a Stanley Cup champion.

"But if they never won? Man, it burns them."

From the earliest days of the NHL, the Stanley Cup has meant something special, and that's what executive producers Corey Russell, Dan Cimoroni and Bob McCown, along with Mayer and coordinating producer Matt Nicholson, set out to capture: The work it takes to lift a trophy, the "most recognizable in all of sports," said Nicholson, that so many have lifted before.

"Winning the Stanley Cup is that perfect intersection of ecstasy and relief, when you cross the line from dreamer to champion," narrator Kiefer Sutherland says in the documentary.

And it's a documentary that's able to bridge the gap from those who know little more than the name "Stanley Cup" to those who have dreamed about it and cheered for it and have lived and died by its history all their lives.

"It turns adults into children, just to be next to the Cup," said Nicholson, also the NHL Vice President of Production.

The stories are what make the documentary special, among them Lafleur's tale of one year disappearing with the Cup after the Montreal Canadiens won it and bringing it to his family home, creating a frenzy.

"I got the Cup out and put it on the lawn there outside," Lafleur said. "Everybody started to come and kiss the Cup. Everybody couldn't believe it. Some of the old guys were crying, hugging the Cup and things like that."

Lafleur got a phone call demanding that the Cup be returned. He said no, that the Cup was spending two days with him and that the Canadiens would get it back after that. As he said, "I brought it back on Monday."

Video: Former NHL players relive the moment they won the Cup

Things that have changed about the ceremony surrounding the Stanley Cup, with its traditions firming up, its minder being added, its destinations becoming more far-flung as the years have gone by. But there are commonalities that have lasted from the Cup's earliest days.

"The passion of Frank Mahovlich and Red Kelly and how, even though the game was a little different and they didn't wear helmets and goalies didn't wear masks, the passion was still the same," Mayer said. "The goal was still the same. And they, that group of players, established this great tradition.

"It represented so much more than just winning a game. It represented team and goals and memories for these guys that people will never be able to take away from them."

All the moments are in the documentary, from Orr flying through the air in 1970 to the too many men on the ice penalty in 1979 that cost the Boston Bruins the championship, from a promise made and kept by Mark Messier in 1994 to Vladimir Konstantinov's lap around the rink in 1998.

They've all been captured, dissected and brought to life, with interviews and footage and the pain and joy that still lives with those involved.

Of that disappointment?

"It's like death," said Don Cherry, who coached the Bruins to the 1979 Final. "It's like death."

But that joy? There is nothing close.

"You've been through something hard and you've persevered and you've bonded and you've made the sacrifices and you came out a winner," said Hockey Hall of Fame member Dave Keon, who won the Cup four times with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1960s. "And it's something that you keep with you all your life."

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