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Stanley Cup 125th Anniversary

NHL greats gather for Stanley Cup party

Gala at Canada's Museum of History in Ottawa gets anniversary celebration started

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

OTTAWA -- The pavement in front of the downtown hotel was slick with snow late Wednesday afternoon as six Hockey Hall of Famers made their way to waiting vans. Not one was wearing winter footwear.

"Be careful of the ice," a driver called out helpfully.

Goaltending legend Bernie Parent, a Stanley Cup champion with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1974 and 1975, found that quite funny.

"Be careful of the ice?" Parent repeated with a laugh, shaking the driver's hand as he sure-footedly climbed aboard his van. "I made my living on the ice."

Video: The Stanley Cup arrives at the Stanley Cup 125 gala

The Stanley Cup, 125 years old and aging very gracefully, is back in Canada's national capital region, and this city has rolled a bright red carpet over its late winter slush to welcome hockey's holy grail back to its original home.

Four-plus days of events around Ottawa will bring the iconic trophy to the people, that is, when the people aren't making tracks to see this 3-foot-tall tower of priceless sterling silver.

The first stop was Wednesday evening at Canada's spectacular Museum of History, a short drive from downtown Ottawa across the Ottawa River in neighboring Gatineau, Quebec.

The Stanley Cup Tribute Gala was held in and around the breathtaking Grand Hall that houses the world's largest collection of totem poles. The colossal space was packed with hundreds of guests, many of them corporate sponsors and friends of the Ottawa Senators, and they would hang on every word they would hear after a cocktail and a casual stroll through a dazzling hockey exhibition that has just opened at the museum.

Six of the seven former NHL players who took part in Wednesday's tribute are Hall of Famers: Mike Bossy, Paul Coffey, Dave Keon, Guy Lafleur, Frank Mahovlich and Parent. The illustrious half-dozen were joined by Rick Smith, whose name is on the Stanley Cup as a member of the 1969-70 Boston Bruins.

Bryan Trottier, another Hall of Famer who will be here this week, was arriving on a later flight but didn't land in time for Wednesday's event.

On stage with the Stanley Cup, brought by Hockey Hall of Fame curator Phil Pritchard, were the winners of a combined 26 Stanley Cup championships, five Conn Smythe, three Calder, three Art Ross and two Hart trophies.

With the Cup to his left, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly welcomed the guests and spoke of the League's great history and Centennial Celebration initiatives, historic, grainy film playing on giant screens around the hall.

The stories these gentlemen swapped were glorious, as they always are whenever NHL legends get together to sometimes even tell the truth.

(The bowl of the Stanley Cup, Pritchard said during an entertaining question-and-answer session, will hold 14 beers. He wasn't guessing.)

In the van driving to the museum, Parent had a tale for Keon.

"I remember my first game against you," the former goalie began almost with a sense of doom about the Nov. 14, 1965 match in Boston, Parent then a rookie with the Bruins.

If Keon was expecting to hear that he'd lit up the goalie that night, he's still waiting.

"I shut you out!" Parent crowed, the van roaring in laughter.

Bossy, too, remembered facing Keon for the first time, in an NHL preseason game between Bossy's New York Islanders and Keon's Hartford Whalers.

"First faceoff, Bryan (Trottier) went to take the draw against Dave and he looked over at me, motioning at Dave's stick," Bossy said. "The blade was straight as an arrow and Bryan and I both got a kick out of that. It was kind of cool. It was like an out-of-body experience for me. I'd just finished playing junior and for so many years I'd watched Dave's Maple Leafs on TV. And now I'm on the ice playing against him."

At the museum, soon to head upstairs for the meet-and-greet with starstruck fans of all ages, Bossy had a Gordie Howe story, as did most everyone in the room.

"My mother sent Gordie birthday cards," Bossy said. "Every year, from I don't know when. My first game against Gordie, my mom was in New York and I told her, 'Come downstairs after the game and I'll introduce you to him.'

"Gordie's walking down the hallway and he said, 'Michael, how are you?' and I said, 'I'd like to introduce you to my mom, Dorothy.'

"Gordie just looked at her and said, 'Dorothy ... Bossy?' and she smiled. He said, 'You're the one who's been sending me birthday cards for all these years?' He remembered. Gordie remembered everything."

Their words would detour playfully into situations you can't repeat, so you say, "Imagine if social media had existed when you played," and you get laughter and rolled eyes and a "heaven forbid."

Two hours earlier, the stately Mahovlich had stood in the lobby of the historic old Fairmont Château Laurier, a hotel that's just a few years older than the NHL, and wistfully remembered this as his home for two days a week when he sat a short distance away as a Canadian senator from 1998 to 2013.

The Big M's name is engraved on the Stanley Cup six times, and he would happily remember aloud to the museum crowd being sent onto the ice by Maple Leafs coach Howie Meeker in the late 1950s as a 19-year-old, three-game call-up to contain Montreal Canadiens superstar Maurice "Rocket" Richard, a man roughly twice his age who was pacing his team to five consecutive Stanley Cup championships.

"I wrapped the Rocket up in my arms," Mahovlich said, "and he couldn't get away. He turned to face me and we were nose to nose when he said, with his eyes bulging out of his head, 'Let me go.' All I could say was, 'Yes, Mr. Richard.'"

Lafleur was headed back to Montreal immediately after the tribute, attending a corporate event on the Canadiens' behalf Thursday night. But he'll be back Friday for a news conference and a Stanley Cup tribute concert at Canadian Tire Centre.

His six counterparts, Trottier included, will take part in the Stanley Cup Homecoming event at Rideau Hall, the home of Canadian governor general David Johnston, on Thursday.

There, they will bask in the silvery glow of both the trophy we know, and the original, 125-year-old bowl presented to Canada in 1892 by Lord Stanley of Preston, Canada's sixth governor general.

It was near 9 p.m. Wednesday when the group boarded two vans back to their hotel, gathering for a bite of dinner to share more stories, to deepen the bonds of friendships that are growing stronger still since they began seeing more of each other during this, the NHL's Centennial Celebration season.

Back at the museum, the lineup stretched longer than the towering totem poles behind the stage. Guests were in no hurry to leave, lined up well into the night for a precious photo with the Stanley Cup.

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