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Summer with Stanley

Silver celebration for Jacques Martin

Penguins assistant coach has day with Stanley Cup, Jack Adams Award, Prince of Wales Trophy

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / Columnist

RIGAUD, Quebec -- It was a delicious plan hatched by Angela Martin and Phil Pritchard, and they sprung their surprise perfectly.

On Monday, Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach Jacques Martin would enjoy his daylong, two-province visit with the Stanley Cup.

The day would begin near 10 a.m. with four hours at Martin's renowned 35-year-old hockey school, which he has operated with Angela, his daughter, for the past 23 years at historic Bourget College, about seven miles from the Ontario border.

It would continue with another public function in the afternoon on a baseball diamond in blink-and-you'll-miss-it Saint-Pascal-Baylon, Ontario, Martin's tiny hometown about 30 miles east of Ottawa, then adjourn to the community center for a private celebration for friends and family.

So Martin knew he'd have professional hockey's Holy Grail for the day. What he didn't know was the Stanley Cup would be joined by the trophy for the Jack Adams Award, which he won as the top coach in the NHL in 1998-99 with the Ottawa Senators but saw for only a moment, and the Prince of Wales Trophy, won by the Penguins last season as Eastern Conference champion.

Martin was positively aglow amid this magnificent silverware, brought to his school by Hockey Hall of Fame curator Phil Pritchard, aka the Keeper of the Cup, and Walt Neubrand, Pritchard's fellow silver-polisher on this four-day swing through Quebec. Martin was the last of four Quebec-native Penguins to welcome the Cup, following visits to Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury and Pascal Dupuis from Friday through Sunday.

"I always think it's amazing to see what hockey brings to a community," Pritchard, who loves a small-town celebration, said. "Obviously, here with Jacques today, this is a great community. Everyone has a smile on their face. They're thrilled not only for Jacques, but for the community as well. All the kids -- the big kids as well -- are excited to see the history of the Cup. That's what makes it so special.

Martin has worked in the NHL for 30 years as a coach, assistant coach and general manager for seven teams. Not before this season had he gone to a Stanley Cup Final; winning in his first trip after three decades in the League is sweeter than he can say.

"I think it's going to be crazy, but we'll enjoy it," Martin said before Pritchard -- and his priceless cargo -- had arrived. "The beauty of this is that people from all walks of life will have the opportunity to see the Cup up close and have their picture taken with it, many of whom have never had the chance until now."

It was nearing 10 a.m. when tracksuit-clad Martin, his hockey school day having begun four hours earlier, met Pritchard and Neubrand in the parking lot behind the arena. It was there he saw them unload not one big case, but three, the cat now out of the bag.

Martin lifted the Stanley Cup, placed it back atop its wheeled case and, with Angela, began the slow roll down a corridor overlooking the ice. He took the trophy in his arms and pushed it over his head, a large group of youngsters on the rink now seeing it, banging their sticks in appreciation, with another cheering group lined up along the wall.

Scores of his school's campers, their siblings, parents, grandparents and friends, current and former school staff and many from Rigaud roared with delight when Martin walked into the gym, cradling the Cup in his arms, walking it to a table, where for the next four hours he posed for photos and signed autographs.

For all of the ultramodern arenas in which Martin's NHL work takes him, it's this delightfully quaint college rink that makes him feel most at home. It's in a building like this, rich with wood and history and puck-scarred boards and the perfume of a small-town ice barn, that you almost can feel the pulse of hockey.

Martin began his school 35 years ago in rural Alfred, Ontario, about an hour drive east of Ottawa, at an agricultural school. But a lack of space there would bring him to Rigaud, which welcomed him by repairing broken rink refrigeration and putting down a new floor. He pretty much has the run of the place for his three weeklong summer sessions, living in residence with his campers.

"Do you have the keys to the place too?" he was asked in jest, and Martin laughed, nodded, and pulled them from his pocket.

There are football and soccer fields here, tennis courts, a swimming pool, two gyms, a cafeteria and the residence, "so we can make this a complete camp experience," he said of the nearly 400 young players he'll host this summer.

These kids were lined up patiently, still wearing their jerseys, fresh off the ice, damp and wide-eyed and enthusiastic, a professional photographer ready to snap them with Martin and the Stanley Cup. Their famous host had a word and a handshake for each and every one, whose camp days run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with practices, off-ice activities and games.

Nearby hovered Angela, herding kids and directing traffic. She would tend to the school when her father headed west mid-afternoon to Saint-Pascal-Baylon, eager to join the celebration in the evening.

"It's something so special, knowing how hard my dad has worked, the sacrifices he made when I was growing up," Angela said, her eyes welling up as she considered her father's happiness.

Martin's other daughter, Nathalee, works for a legendary cheese-maker in Saint-Albert, 25 miles south of Saint-Pascal-Baylon; the company would provide about 15 pounds of its product for the evening's gathering.

"There's a very good possibility that some cheese curds will go into the Stanley Cup," Angela said. "We were going to hold the celebration for family and friends at my uncle Ronald's home (Martin's brother), but it got too big, so we've moved it down the street to the community center.

"My dad will be the first to tell you that winning the Stanley Cup isn't something that's done on your own. There are people along the way who help shape you as a coach and as a person and help shape your career. Tonight is a chance for my dad to share that with everybody who couldn't be in San Jose (where the Penguins won the Cup on June 12).

"My uncle and I were there, we were lucky to have our moment. But we're all looking forward to celebrating properly tonight with family and friends."

By now, the Stanley Cup had been borrowed from its perch for five minutes to set it between the Jack Adams Award and Prince of Wales Trophy. Martin was beaming when he moved among them to pose for photos.

"We tried to get the Memorial Cup too, but we just couldn't make that work," Pritchard said of the major-junior championship trophy Martin won behind the bench of the 1986 Guelph Platers.

On Martin's right ring finger was a chunky reminder of his work as an assistant on Canada's gold-winning team at the World Cup of Hockey 2004.

"Do you have a free finger?"

Martin considered the question with a grin, knowing his Penguins Stanley Cup ring is soon to come.

"I'll find one," he replied with a laugh.

And with that he returned to the table where the Cup had again been placed, the line of his students and friends and people he didn't even know by now stretching out the door and toward the rink, kids packing the gym while a group of his campers raced up and down the length of the ice on what was Martin's truly perfect summer day.

Tweet from @keeperofthecup: Welcome home! Jacques Martin brings thw #stanleycup back to St-Pascal. @penguins @NHL @HockeyHallFame

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