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Mike Sullivan cherishes return to his roots with Cup

by Shawn Roarke / Pittsburgh Penguins



BOSTON -- On the first of two days with the Stanley Cup, a day Mike Sullivan wasn't sure would ever come, the Pittsburgh Penguins coach refused to occupy the limelight.

Instead, Sullivan insisted the people who helped him write his story and the people who will write the next chapters of the long and glorious history of the Stanley Cup be the center of attention.

That was the mandate he and his wife of 25 years, Kate, had as they sat down and planned out his two-day itinerary with the trophy.

"We wanted to share it with as many people as we can that have had an influence in our life, but also the next generation coming up," Sullivan said during the first stop, at Boston College High School, during a jam-packed itinerary Wednesday that also included stops at Boston University and Marshfield Country Club before a private gathering at the Sullivan home. "I think [the Stanley Cup] is a great inspiration."

As he walked into BC High, carrying the Cup proudly, to greet former players, current students and other friends and family, Sullivan issued an order, doing so far more politely than the edicts he often delivers as a coach.

"I'm so glad you have the opportunity to see the Cup, it is so cool," he said. "Enjoy it while it is here."

For Sullivan, the 48 hours he was provided to share the Cup was a treasure he was not going to squander indiscriminately.

As he wished, the Stanley Cup was the star on this return trip to his roots, not the coach who took over the Pittsburgh bench on Dec. 12 and righted a foundering ship, taking the Penguins on a magical run capped by a six-game victory against the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Final in June.

On the return leg to Pittsburgh after the clinching victory in San Jose in Game 6, Sullivan realized just how important it was to share the spoils of victory with those who shaped his journey to the pinnacle of his profession.

Carving out a few quiet moments on a raucous cross-country flight, Sullivan sat with his staff as the coaches each talked about his individual journey to the championship and the support he received along the way.

"I had youth coaches that coached me when I was 10 or 11 years old reach out to me and wishing me well," Sullivan said. "I had some of my former teammates and former coaches at different levels [reach out]. I think all of us have that common story.

"What dawned on me was how many people have an influence on someone like myself to get to the point where we were at competing for the Stanley Cup. Also, I think they all take a small pride in the successes that our team was able to enjoy. It's amazing how many people it has an influence and an impact on. I never realized that until this year when we were getting really close to winning the championship."

Many of those people in Sullivan's life were on hand at some point Wednesday, ready to celebrate not only the Stanley Cup, but the path that delivered Sullivan to the place so few in hockey reach.

Teammates from BC High showed up to reminisce about the old days and bask in the glow of the Cup.

BC High hockey coach John Flaherty was present, bringing several members of the leadership core of the 2016-17 team along for a look at what their future could be.

"He obviously had an experience here that he was very grateful for," BC High senior Ryan Campbell said while he watched Sullivan carry the Cup into the auditorium. "I love it here at BC High and when I grow up, I want to look back on my experience and be able to look back on it with a sense of pride like [Sullivan] does."

Jerry York, the coach at Boston College and a graduate of BC High, made the trip back to his alma mater to extend his own well wishes.

As the trophy sat on a table, Sullivan's father, George, sat less than 10 feet away, looking at the line of people before him waiting to greet his son. Occasionally, George would glance to his right to sneak a peek at the Stanley Cup.

It formed a scene unimaginably far removed from his son's humble beginnings in the sport, which were defined by the car rides to the local rink taken by father, now 79, and son, now 48. Rides that began when Mike was 3.

"He was a great little player when he was a kid," said George, Mike's first coach. "I knew he would do something with [hockey] because he was talented as a kid."

George, wearing a black T-shirt with the name "Sullivan" on it and a tagline that reads "Make Pittsburgh great again," has been with his son every step of his hockey journey, through the stops at BC High, Boston University and a more-than-respectable NHL playing career as a two-way forward. George also was there through the peaks and valleys of an often turbulent coaching life, providing the soothing words and proper perspective when the end came for Mike after his first coaching job with the Boston Bruins a decade ago, as well as when his time as an assistant with the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks ran its course.

Later on Wednesday at Boston University, there were more links to the past and the future on hand to greet Sullivan. Young kids in BU red and white mugged with the Stanley Cup while Sullivan and his family caught up in the background with Dave Quinn, the coach at BU.

Quinn and Sullivan played together at BU during the 1986-87 season before Quinn left school after his junior season. During their season together, a bond was formed that remains unbreakable to this day.

Quinn wasn't going to miss the celebration of the crowning achievement of the best friend he has in the hockey world.

"To see him win the ultimate prize, you are so happy for him because this is such a difficult profession," Quinn said. "For him to wait as long as he did for a second opportunity, I just always shook my head because I couldn't believe it took this long.

"As good a coach as he is, he's a better person. It couldn't happen to a better guy."

As Quinn and Sullivan caught up, the line to the Stanley Cup never seemed to shrink.

Occasionally, a friend from the past or, just as likely, a complete stranger would approach Sullivan to ask if the coach would pose for a picture with the Cup.

Each time, Sullivan excused himself, walked over, said a few words to the person as he sidled up alongside him or her, and smiled brightly for the camera.

He couldn't help himself.

"These next couple of days for me are going to be a huge thrill," Sullivan said. "I'm going to try to embrace every moment with it. It never gets old, I'll tell you that."

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