The Pittsburgh Penguins received their 2016 Stanley Cup championship rings at a private ceremony Monday at Heinz History Center.
There were about 150 people there: players, coaches, hockey operations staff, owners and executives, all with their wives and significant others.
"It's kind of like waking up Christmas morning, you're so excited," said Chris Kunitz, who was experiencing his third ring ceremony. "I think they did a great job with the presentations, the videos. They keep evolving, just like the team did throughout the year. The ring ceremony is a lot of fun. Great that they included the families and I know everybody's very excited about what the rings look like and how they turned out.
"They're just as big (as 2009). The diamond work, the face of it really looks very classy just like the organization that we play for."
The rings were created by Jostens. For a full description, click here.
"It's amazing," said rookie netminder Matt Murray of his new hardware. "It's a lot bigger than I was expecting, a lot heavier than I was expecting. It's something you strive for in your hockey career. So it's a pretty special moment here tonight to be able to share it with everybody."
It's a tangible reminder of what this special group accomplished, one they will cherish forever and one they can pass down to their kids and grandkids.
"It's huge. It's something that nobody can ever take away," Murray said.
I was there for the entire evening. Here's an exclusive account of what happened…
- Everyone began arriving at the Heinz History Center in the Strip District in the late afternoon for a cocktail hour, where the Stanley Cup was set up outside on the terrace with beautiful views of Pittsburgh behind it.
- After that, the crowd began filtering inside for dinner. It was an amazing setup. The tables were arranged to mirror the Stanley Cup logo, and each one had beautiful flower arrangements of white chrysanthemums, white tulips and black lilies. The place settings alternated black and gold from table to table, and everyone had a name card at their seat. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Pascal Dupuis, Marc-Andre Fleury, Trevor Daley and Phil Kessel had the most prime location. The bar even featured a beer called the "El Sully" in honor of head coach Mike Sullivan.
- When everyone was seated for the meal, the video that will play before the home opener on Thursday against Washington was shown on the two video screens that flanked the stage at the front of the room. I won't spoil it for everyone, but I will say it got everyone very emotional. "It kind of gives you some chills just watching the plays that we made during the playoffs and throughout the year," defenseman Kris Letang told me. "It's fun. It gives you a little push those few days before heading into the regular season."
- When that video ended, the lights went on to reveal Pens president and CEO David Morehouse onstage with the Stanley Cup next to him. He spoke briefly before another video was shown - this time a blooper reel, introduced by ROOT SPORTS' Dan Potash, who is beloved by all the guys. "I wish I could have been there," he says in the video. "Actually, you know what, no I don't. Because if I was there, all you would do is make fun of me, because that's all you ever do!" The guys were cracking up - "Potash was phenomenal," said Kunitz - and that continued on for the duration of the video. The clip that got the most laughs recurred throughout. It was footage of Patric Hornqvist mic'ed up during a game, continually insisting to a referee that he was not getting a penalty before finally surrendering and saying, "I got a penalty. Okay, good."
- When dinner was over, that's when the ring ceremony officially began. General manager Jim Rutherford gave a brief and heartfelt speech before thanking ownership. Tina Turner's "Simply the Best" played as Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle walked onstage to help Rutherford present the rings that they got for the organization. Letang was so appreciative of ownership afterward, telling me the gesture from them to give everyone at the ring ceremony such an amazing experience was just incredible. "They do everything first class and just a big thank you to them," he said.
- After that, it was time for the coaches and players to go up. They took the stage numerically, with Rutherford saying their names as their headshots showed on the screens. However, they didn't open their rings individually like they did in 2009. This year, they opened them all at once after Crosby's name was called and he took the stage. They won as a group, and they put their rings on as a group - with their victory song, Hall and Oates' "You Make My Dreams Come True," playing as they posed for a team photo. Murray loved that symbolic gesture, saying, "That's what makes it so special, going through the journey with all your friends."
- The wives and significant others received rings as well, with many of the women opting to get them as a pendant. After that, it was time for everyone to admire their new hardware. Everyone was taking a ton of pictures, with Letang taking the microphone at one point to call everybody to the stage for a photo with their rings and the Stanley Cup. "We got a lot of good pictures here and it's a day we'll never forget, for sure," Murray said. "It's just awesome to share it with people."
Re-living all of the memories from the Pens' amazing run in those fantastic videos, along with the other Cup-related events going on this last week - the White House visit, this ring ceremony and then the banner raising on Thursday - will be plenty of motivation and inspiration for the players to do it again.
"You definitely get those butterflies of the feeling you had when you were winning and watching again on TV," Kunitz said. "I think you'll always get those every time you see this group get together, everybody talks about the 2016 team so obviously we want to go out there and do it again this year. It's going to be a lot of hard work and we're looking forward to starting that on Thursday."