Last year during the holidays, Erin Marie Carrick's son Declan was having friends over to decorate ornaments. He gave her a list with their names so she could invite them to the house.
Declan kept talking about inviting Mike Sullivan and Matt Murray, but since Erin Marie isn't a hockey fan, she had no idea who they were, assuming they were friends from school. So she went through all of the class rosters and still couldn't find those names anywhere, although Declan insisted she knew them, much to her confusion.
"One day I said to him, 'how am I going to get in touch with these kids?' and he said 'well, it's easy. You just call the Penguins,'" Erin Marie laughed. "And I said, 'the who?' And he said, 'the Pittsburgh Penguins. They're friends with Sidney.'"
Now, Sidney Crosby is a name Erin Marie was familiar with, so she finally understood that Declan was referring to the coach and goaltender of the team. And while they weren't able to make it to his holiday party, Declan's fifth birthday is coming up on Sept. 17, and Sullivan, Crosby and Murray are among the invitees for that as well.
Their attendance for that is still up in the air, but at least Declan got an early birthday present on Thursday when he got to meet one of his heroes, Sullivan, when the coach brought the Stanley Cup to The Bog Ice Arena in Kingston, Mass., for a public appearance during his day with the trophy.
"It was like a countdown," Erin Marie laughed of Declan coming face-to-face with Sullivan. "He's going to be talking about this forever."
Like Sullivan, Declan watches a lot of Penguins games. Erin Marie said they actually started by watching the Bruins, but Declan lost interest in watching full games. Instead, he wanted to watch the NHL Network show On The Fly because it gave highlights of all the games.
"And because they did so much on Sidney Crosby because he's so phenomenal, we had to DVR Pittsburgh Penguin games and he would just repeat them over and over," Erin Marie said. "For example, I think I had to watch the Penguins versus the Flyers eight times."
Now, he's one of the team's biggest fans, and the coach got such a kick out of Declan - who presented him with a handmade card even though his birthday is the one coming up. It was such a special day for the Carrick family, especially considering Declan has had a lot of medical issues and has undergone a lot of surgeries.
For him to come here, meet one of his idols and see the Stanley Cup is a day he'll always remember, and Sullivan is so happy to be able to give him that experience.
"I just think when you hear a story like that, it really reminds you of the influence you have on young kids and we certainly want to use that as constructively as we can," Sullivan said. "It's just such a great trophy. For the young kids in this area, to get up close and personal and read some of the names that are on the Cup and look over the years of the past teams and past great players that have played the game, for me, is a thrill. To have the opportunity to share it with our community is such a thrill for me. I feel like it's a responsibility, you know? And I think all of our players feel that way. I think it's part of the hockey culture regardless of which team wins it. I think hockey players, they never forget where they came from. They always want to share in their successes and this is one way that we can do it."
Last year, Sullivan revisited his roots with the Stanley Cup, taking it to his alma maters Boston College High School and Boston University. This year, he wanted to revisit his kids' roots with the trophy - taking it to the rink that all three grew up playing in.
Kaitlin, 25, Matt, 23, and Kiley, 20, spent most of their childhood in nearby Duxbury, where the family has had a residence for years. And they all played hockey at The Bog, which is less than a 10-minute drive away.
"This rink is where my kids grew up playing," Sullivan said. "I've spent a lot of time at this rink coaching kids over the years and coaching my own kids, and this rink in particular means a lot to my family and my kids. We thought it would be nice to bring it back and share it with the next generation. So it's so much fun for me to see the youth players come in and get an opportunity to see it up close and personal."
Penguins fans constantly see Sullivan behind the bench at PPG Paints Arena, but before that, he spent one season behind the bench at The Bog coaching Matt's squirt team when the NHL was in the midst of the 2003-04 work stoppage.
"I think I got sat a couple times for arguing with him," Matt joked. "But it was cool. It's just awesome to have somebody like that in the house who just knows so much about the game and taught that to me growing up. It was a really cool experience.
"We grew up playing hockey at the Bog there in Kingston for the Bay State Breakers program, and to see the kids that were in my shoes growing up in that rink and playing hockey for that same program, it's awesome to see their faces and just to see them light up when the Cup comes in the building. It's just definitely a cool experience."
And overall, the day was an incredible - and surreal - experience for Matt's father as well.
"I have so much respect for how difficult it is to win," said Sullivan, who later hosted a private party at his home for family and friends. "When we won it last year, it was just an amazing experience. I've got so much faith and belief in the group of players that we have, I felt like we could do it again. We tried to instill that and inspire our group to find a way to repeat.
"But having said that, it's hard to win. It's a competitive game, it's a competitive league, I have so much respect for how good the other teams are. A lot has to go right for you. So I can't say enough about the group of players that we have and what they've gone through and the sacrifices and commitment that they've made for us to have the opportunity to compete for it back to back, never mind win both times."