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Parent, Flyers legend, finally gets his day with Stanley Cup

NHL.com tags along on two-time champion's victory tour around Philadelphia

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

PHILADELPHIA -- Perhaps it's hard to fully understand the magic of the Stanley Cup until Philadelphia Flyers legend Bernie Parent and his wife, Gini, wheel the trophy into St. Christopher's Hospital for Children and see the kids flocking to their side. The true meaning of courage is on display when the children in the hospital beam and laugh at the sight of the Cup.

Outside Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's Steaks, two South Philadelphia landmarks across the street from each other, a gloomy late-winter day turns bright when the glistening Stanley Cup emerges from a black van, slackening the jaws and lighting up the faces of those who have come for the legendary cheesesteaks but have now found something even more impressive on the menu.

Inside the Pennsylvania SPCA, a small dog sits in the bowl of the historic sterling silver trophy, and it's clear the little guy is proud to be there.

Video: Parent spends the day with the Stanley Cup in Philly

At Laura Sims Skate House in Cobbs Creek Park, kids enrolled in the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation swarm the Cup and the two-time champion who has brought it to this community rink, dazzled by the trophy and the two boulder-sized rings Bernie wears to celebrate his victories.

For six hours, the crowds at every stop have been enormous. But now Bernie, the goalie for the Flyers championship seasons of 1973-74 and 1974-75, is virtually alone a few rink lengths from Wells Fargo Center, standing beside a statue of himself and former Philadelphia captain Bob Clarke, the bronze Cup in their hands. Only a father and son are on the sidewalk, and they can't quite believe they're seeing the Stanley Cup at Bernie's feet.

Finally, for nearly five hours from late afternoon into mid-evening, in the home of Gini's mother, Teresa Gramaglia, family and countless friends are touching and hugging hockey's holy grail, posing for photos while others stand back, speechless.

Since 1995, members of Stanley Cup championship teams have each had a day to celebrate with the trophy. The League hopes to bring it to some of those who haven't had that special moment, and on Feb. 24, the day after the 2019 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series in Philadelphia, the Cup arrived on the Warrington, Pennsylvania, doorstep of Bernie and Gini Parent, carried into the house at 7 a.m. by white-gloved Mike Bolt of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Bernie was the backbone of the only two championship teams in Flyers history. Each season he won the Vezina Trophy as the goalie whose team had allowed the fewest goals, sharing it the first season with Tony Esposito of the Chicago Blackhawks; each season, Bernie won the Conn Smythe Trophy, voted to the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With Clarke, he remains one of the defining and most popular figures of those Flyers teams.

The plan was for an NHL crew to follow Bernie wherever he would choose to take the Cup, recording the events of the day for a video that was broadcast last week on NHL Network and this week in Canada on Sportsnet.

The project was headed by Steve Mayer, NHL executive vice president and chief content officer, and engineered by Kevin Westgarth, the League's vice president of business development and international affairs who won the Stanley Cup as a member of the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings.

An on-site crew of about a half-dozen was directed by NHL senior producer Tim O'Brien, who in a 10-minute, 25-second video masterfully wove archival film into a travelogue charting Bernie's full, fun and often emotional day with the Cup.

I've grown close to Bernie and Gini in recent years, spending time with them at various events in Toronto, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. When I mentioned to them that I'd be in Philadelphia for their day with the Cup, Gini insisted that I stay with them, not in a hotel.

Bernie making it through the weekend was a minor miracle. But the Hall of Famer, who will turn 74 years old Wednesday, can play hurt; a smile was always on his face despite a back so bad that sitting and walking caused him excruciating pain.

It was 10 p.m. Sunday when Bernie stretched out on the sofa of the townhouse, a heating pad fully turned up beneath his back. For more than 12 hours, he and Gini had taken the Stanley Cup around town to share it with hundreds of boys, girls, men, women, cats, dogs and finally family and friends who streamed at dinnertime and beyond into the home of Gini's mother for a staggering Italian feast and a photo opportunity like no other.

The joy Bernie felt was tempered by the daggers in his back. He was in eye-glazing pain from his 6 a.m. alarm until he sought relief with the heating pad.

A few weeks later, it was decided that Bernie would be scheduled for lumbar decompression surgery in mid-April. The insertion of two steel rods and a half-dozen screws is expected to relieve the pain he has been suffering since late September, when the car he and Gini were riding in was struck by a truck not far from their home, leaving the couple badly bruised and bloodied.

Ailing long before the Stanley Cup arrived, Bernie was thrilled about his day and channeled all his strength for it. If his endless smile was through teeth gritted in pain, few knew it.

He and Gini carefully considered where to take the Cup and mapped out an ambitious cross-section of places dear to their hearts: St. Christopher's, the SPCA, the community rink and Bernie's statue. Time permitting, there'd be a stop at Pat's and Geno's -- as much for the crowd reaction as for lunch.

They meet me at the airport late Friday afternoon with Gini at the wheel. And as we pull away, their choice of dinner destination needing directions punched into the GPS, Gini eases toward the curb in a no-stopping zone. A police officer walks over to brusquely wave us on.

"Frenchy," Gini says. "Show him your rings."

Bernie then lowers his window, extends his fists and yells happily, "Hey buddy, whaddya think?"

Within seconds, Bernie and a now very friendly cop are analyzing the current Flyers' strengths and weaknesses. They debate the Flyers' needs for three or four minutes, enough time for Gini to have the restaurant programmed into the GPS, and off we go.

"Not the first time you've done this," I suggest.

"Bonnie and Clyde," Gini replies with a laugh.

Bernie works his charm with staff and fellow diners throughout the meal, slipping a Stanley Cup ring off his finger so a tongue-tied hostess can play a little show-and-tell with fellow servers.

To Bernie, a highly sought motivational speaker throughout the Delaware Valley who never sees the glass as half empty, putting a smile on someone's face is his greatest joy. It's rarely "How are you?" but rather, "You're looking great." There's a big difference to him between this question and this positive statement.

From there we are off to the University of Pennsylvania's Class of 1923 Arena for a game between alumni from the Flyers and the Snider Foundation. Bernie renews friendships with former teammates Dave "The Hammer" Schultz, Reggie Leach, Bob "Hound" Kelly, Bill Clement and others, with fans pressing in for autographs and photos.

Saturday brings an early start at Daddypops, a wonderful retro diner in Hatboro. Of course, owner Ken Smith won't take a dime for our breakfast, and the check is brought to the table only for Bernie's autograph as the regulars stop for photos and to share their recollections.

Morning becomes afternoon at Gini's mother's home, where the two women make gnocchi from scratch that will be a fraction of the next night's feast. On the front porch, enjoying a cigar, Bernie is near tears speaking by phone for the first time with Michel Plante, son of Jacques Plante, the legendary goalie who was a hero from Bernie's youth in Montreal and the greatest influence in his career when they were teammates with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

A visitor arrives to fit Bernie with a back brace to help get him through the weekend, beginning with a drop-in to the Stadium Series that night at Lincoln Financial Field and what surely would be a difficult marathon on Sunday.

"You don't have it in pink?" Bernie jokes as the brace is cinched around him. Under his Flyers jersey, it helps him visit a few corporate suites that night before our driver gets us out early to beat the traffic.

The NHL crew arrives Sunday at 7 a.m. Andrea Bocelli's tenor fills the house when Bolt carries in the Cup, and Bernie kisses his old sterling friend more than once.

Bernie and Gini are in the van by 9 a.m. to St. Christopher's, where they are popular at Christmastime walking the hallways dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus. On this day, out of uniform, they are adored by kids and staff, many of them wearing Flyers shirts.

There are stories told and memories made at every stop on this whirlwind day.

A favorite moment: After the visit to Pat's, where Bernie prepared a few sandwiches for customers, Westgarth carries the Cup from the kitchen across the street to the rival Geno's. Two buses, with a police escort, roll slowly down East Passyunk Avenue past Geno's, traffic bringing the convoy to a stop.

Within 90 seconds, a huge crowd has formed, and the buses have emptied; they were filled with trainees from the FBI National Academy who are muscling in with the police for photos. A brave few souls even wear Pittsburgh Penguins hats.

Bernie digs into his storybook throughout the day. He speaks often about teamwork, his Flyers family, about surrounding yourself with good people in life and feeding off their energy.

"And I'll tell you about Bobby Hull," he says of the heavy-shooting Blackhawks legend.

"I'd hold my blocker here and my trapper here," he says, laughing, his hands in front of his groin and his face, "and I'd pray to God that Bobby would score."

It is after dark at Mama Teresa's by the time Bernie cuts into a giant "Welcome Lord Stanley" cake, a small Cup with a Flyers logo nudged into the icing.

By 10 p.m., exhausted an hour after one last photo taken with family before Bolt put the Stanley Cup back in its case and heads down the driveway, he is back home flat out on a heating pad, dozing beside a table where the trophy had gleamed 15 hours earlier. Gini has driven back to her mother's to help her sisters with a monumental cleanup job.

Bernie is up and moving very gingerly at 8 a.m., with Gini about to drive me to the airport.

"Tremendous, tremendous," he keeps repeating, the past 24 hours a blur, the next 24 a day of recovery. "Unbelievable."

That it was for this couple, and for the hundreds whose brush with Bernie and the Stanley Cup was one they will never forget.

Photos: Andre Ringuette, National Hockey League; Dave Stubbs, NHL.com; Lewis Portnoy, Hockey Hall of Fame.

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