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Summer with Stanley

Bryan Rust keeps Cup 'in my hands the whole day'

Penguins forward takes trophy golfing, plays Xbox for it in Michigan

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. -- It was his. It was actually his. The Stanley Cup belonged to Bryan Rust for the day Saturday because of his contribution to the Pittsburgh Penguins' championship.

So when he played a round of golf at Plum Hollow Country Club with family and friends, he did not leave it behind at the clubhouse. He did not strap it to his golf cart. He set it on the seat next to him and put his arm around it as they drove around the course, just the two of them, ahead of everyone else. He placed it on the tee box, on the green as a ball marker for a couple of holes, next to the pin on a par-3 to play "closest to the Cup."

At a private party on a patio afterward, he held it high over his head, like he did on the ice in San Jose in June, as people snapped pictures. He planned to take it back to the townhouse he shares with his older brother, Matt, in nearby Royal Oak, where they would put it on a coffee table and compete for it by playing "NHL 16" on Xbox One. Then they were going to take it out for a night on the town.

"I'm trying to have my hands on it as much as I can," Rust said.

If he could touch it, it was real.

"I think today it's really setting in," Rust said. "It's in my hands the whole day, and I'm the only one who can carry it around, and I'm the only one who can hold it up. It's definitely something that, as a kid, this is what you work for. Every day, every time you go to the rink, you think about winning the Stanley Cup. You're in the driveway, playing out the overtime of Game 7. I'm kind of at a loss for words thinking about it."

Rust grew up in the Detroit suburbs -- first Troy, then Bloomfield Hills, then Novi -- in a family that loved golf and hockey. When he was younger, he would go to a friend's house after school and play floor hockey in his basement until dinner. He would play street hockey on a cul-de-sac with a group of neighborhood kids. As the youngest, he would end up in net.

He and his brother loved video games too, as both rose through the hockey ranks, playing for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program in nearby Ann Arbor, getting drafted by NHL teams, going off to college.

Matt was picked by the Florida Panthers in the fourth round of the 2007 NHL Draft and played for four years at the University of Michigan. He was the first member of the family to join the Penguins organization. He played 43 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League in 2011-12. Now 27, he works in real estate finance. One of his projects is Little Caesars Arena, the new home of the Detroit Red Wings scheduled to open next year.

Bryan, now 24, was chosen by the Penguins in the third round of the 2010 NHL Draft and played four years at Notre Dame. He played for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and became the first member of the family to make the NHL when he played 14 games for Pittsburgh in 2014-15.

But winning the Stanley Cup?

"At this time last year, it was still a dream," Bryan said. "It wasn't an attainable goal quite yet."

Bryan didn't make the NHL out of training camp last season. He went to the AHL for a couple of games, got called up and played five games, then got injured and was sent back down. But when he got called up again on Jan. 7, he stayed for good. The Penguins had promoted coach Mike Sullivan from the AHL, and Sullivan wanted to play to their strengths of speed and skill. He knew what Rust could do.

He was linemates with players he and his brother used to play on video games: Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz. After four goals and seven assists in 41 regular-season games, Rust had six goals and three assists in 23 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He scored twice in the second period in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Video: TBL@PIT, Gm7: Rust bangs rebound past Vasilevskiy

"I watched the last few minutes from the concourse with an usher, a wonderful woman who held my hand with me," said Betsy Rust, Bryan's mother. "I was so proud of how he had played that game, but I knew it would be only important if they won."

Rust's goals were the difference in a 2-1 win, and he scored the first goal of the Stanley Cup Final against the San Jose Sharks, giving him four in three games.

"My brother and I joke about it all the time," Matt said. "We played an endless amount of 'NHL' on Xbox, and just the fact that we're driving around today with the Stanley Cup in a golf cart, it's outrageous. It's extra special for me obviously, just because I was close to it and I didn't quite make it. So you know, I don't miss a game. Every time he's on the ice, I'm there with him."

The Rust family holds an annual golf competition called the "Rust Family Open." This year, they were scheduled to go to Whistling Straits in Sheboygan, Wis., home of the 2015 PGA Championship and the 2020 Ryder Cup. Problem was, they were scheduled to go in mid-June.

"It was OK to cancel that trip," Bryan said with a smile.

The Rusts ended up playing the Open a couple of weeks ago near the family place in Oscoda in northern Michigan, and when they played Saturday at Plum Hollow, where they have been members for years, they had a special guest, hosted a celebration, and took donations for ALS research in honor of Peter Viviano, Bryan's maternal grandfather, who died before Bryan was born.

"We can believe that it really happened," Steve Rust, Bryan's father, said of winning the Cup. "Would anybody have predicted it a year ago? Probably not. Certainly not at the beginning of the season. But somehow he figured it out, as he describes it to us. He figured it out, and everything had gone pretty well. Obviously the Stanley Cup is incredible."

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