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Inside Scoop: Stories from Sullivan's Cup day

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

After taking the Stanley Cup for a public appearance at The Bog Ice Arena in Kingston, Mass., where his three children grew up playing hockey, Mike Sullivan hosted a party for family and friends at his home in nearby Duxbury last Thursday.

The family moved around when the kids - Kaitlin, 25, Matt, 23, and Kiley, 20 - were little and Mike was still playing in the NHL. But once he retired in 2002 following an 11-year career and transitioned behind the bench, they settled down in Duxbury and have lived there ever since.

It's less than an hour from Boston and about four hours from New York, two cities where Mike spent a large chunk of his coaching career, so it made sense for his wife Kate and the kids to remain in the quaint coastal town. They love living right by the water, where they often go boating, fishing, and even clamming, taking advantage of having such fresh seafood literally right at their fingertips.

"I love oysters, I love seafood, and I'm a tough critic, because I grew up in a coastal town in Boston," Mike told Penguins.com last season. "So I'm a very tough critic, especially with oysters, because we have three oyster companies. As a family in the summertime, we probably have oysters once a week at our house where my wife shucks them and makes them a bunch of different ways. She gets a shellfish license in the summertime, so she'll go clamming and all that stuff."

They've lived in a few different houses in the area, but have always moved within Duxbury. In their current residence, Mike and Kate have been doing a lot of work on the backyard, including installing an in-ground pool, building an outdoor pavilion and landscaping the entire area.

Overseeing the project from their home in Pittsburgh wasn't easy despite having Kaitlin's help, because of the stress, intensity and time crunch of a second straight championship run. And while it's still not quite finished, the bulk of the work was completed about two days before guests began arriving for the festivities.

It was finally time to relax, let loose and celebrate just how far Mike has come, a journey that his wife and kids have been on with him from the very beginning.

"I feel like it's hard because a lot of people who are even at this party don't see how long it's been and how much of a long time coming it is," Kiley said. "How many times we've moved, how many times he didn't know what the future was going to be like. He's even said, 'if I never won a Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh, I don't know where we would be right now.' For it to finally come together after all these years I feel like is something I could never have even pictured. So it's unbelievable."

"It's been an awesome experience not only for him, but for our family," Matt added. "We followed his whole career for our entire lives and we knew he was definitely deserving of getting his shot. Seeing it pay off has just been an unbelievable experience."

Throughout the day, we heard some great stories about the Penguins head coach. Here's some of the cool anecdotes.

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Back when Sullivan first got hired as head coach of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, he told me that honesty was the most important thing to him and that as a coach, it was about being real. He said that it's difficult to be somebody you're not, and that in his experience, players will see right through you if you try. For him, his coaching philosophy centers around being true to himself, putting his personality on and influencing the team he's leading. He's done that with the Penguins, taking full control of the team and holding everyone accountable.

Over the last two years, we've seen so many facets of his personality and have witnessed how fierce, intense, passionate, resilient, commanding and confident he is. He's also a big believer in controlled emotion, saying that hockey is an emotional game, and it's tough to be good in the absence of it. But every now and then, it can get the best of him.  

One example of that makes Matt laugh. "That game he got kicked out, it was a little bit embarrassing for the family, I think," he joked of Mike getting booted from Pittsburgh's 4-1 loss to Ottawa back on Jan. 17. "But it was funny."

Both Matt and Kiley said their friends see situations like that and have this idea that Mike is going to be intimidating. But they tell them they've got nothing to worry about, saying he's the complete opposite at home.

"I think a lot of my friends, they get scared of him when they come over the house for the first few times," Matt said. "But he's actually not that scary. You see him on the bench yelling, but honestly, I think I might be more scared of my mom than I am my dad."

Kiley confirmed that Kate is actually the stricter parent, saying their dad is almost laid back "to a fault." He can be serious, but he also has a wicked sense of humor. He's quick to use his booming laugh and crack a joke or a chirp.

"He thinks he's one of us most of the time," Kiley said with a laugh. "He plays the piano and drinks beers, and is the actual opposite of what you could ever imagine. He's really good (at the piano). He has taken lessons forever and then had us take lessons growing up."

Those beers are usually Guinness, which are his favorite, and he also likes his cigars. While he usually indulges in the summer during his leisure time, when he first came to Pittsburgh and was living in a hotel downtown, Rick Tocchet introduced him to Cioppino's in the Strip District. The restaurant actually has a separate onsite luxury cigar bar that the two of them would relax in whenever they got a chance.

To sum it up, Sullivan is basically the kind of guy you want to sit and have a few beers with.  

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He's also the kind of guy you want on your team if you want to win. His childhood friend Thomas MacDonald met Mike when they were in the fifth grade, after Mike's father George started a youth team in the area, and they continued to play on the same teams all the way up through high school.

It's clear that Thomas also has a great sense of humor, and the two of them probably have a lot of stories they could tell from their years growing up together. Thomas opted to keep most of those to himself, but what he did say was that what will always stand out to him about Mike is his competitiveness, even as a young kid.

"It really was (infectious) for me in general because the fact of losing just wasn't acceptable," Thomas said. "So I would say he was very intense. There was a moment one time when we were younger we won a championship and other than that, that's what I remember of Mike as a teammate and growing up through the years."

It makes Thomas smile to see how Mike uses that competitiveness to this day in his role behind the bench.

"Mike is probably one of the most competitive people I've been around," he said with a grin. "I definitely think, as you can see, it is evident in the way he coaches but I think he knows how to channel a lot of the emotions and understands a lot of that stuff. I feel honored to be a part of growing up with him."

To this day, the two of them remain close. MacDonald is currently the director of hockey operations for the Bay State Breakers, and took over running the organization from George. It's grown so much over the years, going from one team to 48 for both boys and girls.

After Sullivan earned his first Stanley Cup championship ring following his one season as player development coach for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2014-15, he called up Thomas on his way home the next day, asked him all about the experience of being on the ice after they won and being around hockey's holy grail.

"I was all excited," Thomas said. "I said, 'Oh, man, how was that, you were on the ice! I saw you on TV! Did you touch the Cup?' He said, 'Absolutely not.'"

At that point, Thomas laughed, saying he got mad at Sullivan for refusing.

"I'm like, 'what? You didn't touch the Cup?' He was like, 'I was next to it all night long and I didn't touch the Cup.' I go, 'why wouldn't you do that?' And he said, 'I don't want to touch it until I win it.'"

At that point, Thomas became incredulous, thinking his longtime friend had missed his best and closest chance. "I said, 'dude, you'll never come that close to winning the Cup again.' One year later, lo and behold, who would think he'd win the Cup? So I walk around this town very proud of him. He definitely deserves every part of it and any person or player that's around him, I'm sure that's (infectious) as well."

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It all comes back to that long road that Kiley mentioned. It took a while for him to get here, as he began his coaching career with the Providence Bruins in 2003 and had stops in Boston, Tampa Bay, the New York Rangers, Vancouver, Chicago and WBS before arriving in Pittsburgh. But along the way, Thomas doesn't think Mike ever doubted that he would eventually get a chance to finally touch the Stanley Cup and lift that trophy over his head after earning it for himself.

"I went down for Game 5 two years ago, and you're just taking it all in," Thomas said. "He was in Vancouver, he was out of a job, he was with Chicago, goes back down to the AHL, back up, gets called up and wins a Cup. Totally unexpected, but I think if you were to ask Mike he would say that he knew he'd win a Cup someday."

And now that he's won it for the second time, all that mattered to him was sharing it with his family, friends and the community. Mike has a big family, as he's one of five children - with two brothers and two sisters - and Kate is one of five as well. They're your typical big Boston Irish-Catholic family, and most of them are still in the area, which made for a fun and festive atmosphere all day.

"It's a difficult trophy to win," Mike admitted. "I've been associated with the NHL now for 26-plus years and the last two years have been the only two years that I've had the only opportunity to contend for it by going to the Finals, never mind win it. So it's a difficult trophy to win, and I think when you have the ability to bring it to your community, I don't think people take it for granted because you don't know if you're going to have the opportunity to do it again because it's that hard to win."

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Kaitlin works full-time in the Boston area. Kiley is entering her junior year at Boston University. Matt just graduated from Bowdoin College, where he was a defenseman on the school's NCAA Division III team. Though the kids are growing up, Mike and Kate aren't quite empty-nesters, as Matt will be living with them in Pittsburgh next year after getting a job in the city and the girls visit as much as they can.

"We do come to Pittsburgh a fair amount since it's not that far of a flight or anything," Kiley said. "We do see him a lot. It's probably the best place that we've ever been, moving-around wise. I wish growing up, we could have lived there."

Matt's looking forward to spending more time with his dad, who got a chance to coach his squirt team at The Bog during the 2003-04 NHL work stoppage. While Matt laughed that he got sat a couple of times for arguing with his dad, for the most part, it was incredible to have someone like that in the house who knows so much about the game and taught him so much growing up. To this day, even though Matt is stepping away from the hockey world to work in finance, he's still trying to learn as much as he can from Mike.

"I watch the games and pay attention to the concepts they're working on," Matt said. "I can have 1-on-1 conversations with my dad and talk about it, which is cool."

But the biggest thing all three Sullivan kids learned, Matt said, is work ethic and accountability. It's something that Mike has displayed in all 26-plus years in this league, something he imparts to his players, and something that Matt said they inherited from him and continue to work on every day.

"Definitely the work ethic is there, I think, in each one of us, and kind of the stern determination," he said. "I think all of us have it somewhat. He'll preach that it's not just about talent, it's about having the will, and that's why you see guys on the Pens like Sid have just such a great work ethic. That's why he's the best player in the world, and some of those other guys too. Just the work ethic thing and always being accountable."

As they mentioned, it hasn't always been easy going through some of the lows that come with their father's line of work. But the recent highs have helped make up for it.

"Everyone's like, that must be so cool," Matt said of their dad being an NHL coach. "But it's tough, too, sometimes when things aren't going well. It can be hard. But it's been really rewarding these last two years seeing it pay off for him and just the Pens having so much success, it's been awesome."

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