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Short Shifts

Stanley Cup's most memorable White House moments

Annual visits have produced great memories for championship teams

by Cristina Ledra @cledra / NHL.com Staff Writer

The first sports team recorded to have visited the White House was in 1865, but the Washington Senators are believed to be the first championship team to receive the honor when they visited President Calvin Coolidge in 1925 after winning the 1924 World Series.

The Pittsburgh Penguins will continue that tradition when they take the Stanley Cup to visit with President Barack Obama on Thursday.

The Penguins were the first NHL team to go to the White House, in 1991, when President George H. W. Bush welcomed them to the Rose Garden. It's become customary for the Stanley Cup champions to visit with the sitting president, and to give the commander in chief the gift of a personalized jersey, and any other item they see fit.

Here are the most memorable moments from the Stanley Cup's visits to the White House.

 

Pittsburgh Penguins, President George H. W. Bush, 1991

It's understandable if the President is too caught up in important world matters to know everyone's face, so the Penguins weren't offended when Bush didn't recognize their biggest star.

When the first Pittsburgh player approached him with a personalized Penguins No. 2 jersey, for Bush's college baseball number, there was a mildly awkward exchange.

"And you are?" Bush asked him.

"Mario Lemieux."

"I kind of had that feeling," Bush said with a smile.

The eight-minute visit had a little bump at the beginning. Bush apologized for being late because he was talking to the chancellor of West Germany. But it ended with a special moment for Penguins goaltender Tom Barrasso.

After the team visit, Bush took Barrasso's 3-year-old daughter Ashley, who had cancer, by the hand and took her and her parents into the White House to meet the First Dog, Millie, get her picture taken with President Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush, and play on the swing the First Family had built for their grandchildren.

"Regardless of what happens with my daughter's health, these are memories my family will cherish forever," Barrasso said. Ashley went on to survive neuroblastoma.

 

New York Rangers, President Bill Clinton, 1995

The Rangers' trip to the White House happened because Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a big Rangers fan, had sent a letter to President Clinton asking him to invite the team to the Rose Garden.

The meeting hit some snags in scheduling, in part because the season started in January after a lockout, and then was delayed by an hour because of fog at LaGuardia Airport in New York. That gave Clinton the perfect opportunity to make a joke about the Rangers' lengthy championship drought.

"We've been trying to arrange this visit for some time, but what's a few months compared to 54 years?" Clinton said.

During his speech, Clinton said he got hooked on the Stanley Cup Playoffs because of the goalies and their amazing saves, and even tried to rearrange his schedule to watch.

"All of us here in Washington can appreciate what goalies do because we have so many shots taken at us every day," Clinton said. "I was hoping that in addition to a jersey, one of you could loan me a face mask for the next year or so."

Clinton got one better. The Stanley Cup spent the night at the White House.

 

Dallas Stars, President George W. Bush, 2000

Obama wasn't the first president to welcome his hometown NHL team to the White House. President George W. Bush honored the Dallas Stars after they won the Stanley Cup in 1999 and clearly was paying close attention to their championship run.

He started by saying that hockey was a lot like Washington, D.C., in that there were a lot of lead changes and you never know who is going to win until the final moment.

"And that is, of course, literally what happened last June in Game 6, when the Stars clinched their first Cup. Three overtimes, 111 minutes, all of us, even people like me who don't skate very well, on the edge of our seats. We watched Ed Belfour block shot after shot, MVP Joe Nieuwendyk leading the charge on offense. And I still remember when Brett Hull shoveled the last puck past Dominik Hasek, a man I once met in Buffalo, to capture the win. I would be afraid to put anything past that guy. That was a very impressive game to those who are initiated and those who are becoming initiated into the thrills of professional hockey."

 

Carolina Hurricanes, President George W. Bush, 2007

When the Hurricanes visited the White House in 2007, Bush commended their fight from underdogs to Stanley Cup champions.

He also recognized the most famous hairdo of the postseason: Hurricanes defenseman Mike Commodore's fiery red afro.

"I'm not sure what is prettier, the Stanley Cup or Mike Commodore's hair," Bush said. "[I'm] a little disappointed you got a haircut. But welcome."

Bush said he was surprised Commodore didn't wear his famous white robe either. However, the robe did make an appearance last February at the Hurricanes' 10th anniversary celebration of their Stanley Cup victory.

Tweet from @keeperofthecup: Heading onto the ice 10th anniversary players @NHLCanes #stanleycup Check out Commodores robe @HockeyHallFame @NHL pic.twitter.com/Q6WxF1HUMd

 

Boston Bruins, President Barack Obama, 2012

To the Bruins' surprise, Brad Marchand's nickname preceded him when they visited the White House.

During President Obama's speech praising the Bruins and their accomplishments during the season, he made special mention of Marchand as "The Little Ball of Hate."

You can see the shock on their faces when Obama uses that nickname when he's talking about Marchand at the 1:52 mark.

Watch: Youtube Video

Marchand told Sports Illustrated he couldn't believe the President had given him a shoutout.

"It really caught me off guard," he said. "I almost blacked out there, [but] it was all in good fun."

 

Chicago Blackhawks, President Barack Obama, 2015

Obama, a Chicago native, took extra delight in welcoming the Blackhawks for each of their Stanley Cup titles during his presidency. By the third, he was touting the good luck he brought to them and angling for some quality time with the Cup. He ended up with what he called the greatest gift he'd ever received at the White House: a lifetime parking pass for the United Center.

You can see Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz present Obama with the surprise at the 9:15 mark, and Obama is so taken aback by the gift, which is good for any event at the arena, that he jokes he'll sell it on eBay.

Watch: Youtube Video

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