Dallas Stars left wing Niklas Hagman wasn’t alive to see his father Matti’s Boston Bruins face Montreal in the 1977 Stanley Cup Final. He also has no actual experience playing in a Stanley Cup Final himself, but in his childhood mind, he led all of hockey in Cup-winning goals.
“At some point you dream of playing in every big tournament you can come up with,” Hagman said, pointing out a common theme among kids learning any sport. “You pretend you are playing in World Championships, the Olympics and lots of Stanley Cup Finals. I know I played in a lot of Game Sevens as a kid.”
And how did he do?
“Probably scored the overtime winner at least 100 times.”
That, my friends, would have to be some sort of record.
That is, if every player now in the NHL hadn’t had the same dream, over and over and over again, that eventually played out with them scoring the big goal – or making a game-winning save on a breakaway – just before being called in for dinner.
Most kids dreaming up those scenarios never get a chance to live them out. Those who do, however, often find that playing in a Stanley Cup Final isn’t exactly how they dreamed it would be as a kid.
Sometimes, it’s even better. And the stories they become part of, the legends they see and the people they encounter along the way far exceed anything they could have imagined out on the ponds with their childhood friends.
But there are still the dreams. They may have been based on different teams with similar dynasties, or might have centered around one player who stood out as everyone’s favorite in their day. No matter the specifics, you can bet if not for those dreams, those heroes and those scenarios created in their minds, they might not be where they are today.THE THINKER
Stars television analyst Daryl Reaugh has no trouble telling you the turning point in his life, in terms of hockey, and when he decided he was going to become a goaltender.
“In 1971, my life changed for good, baby,” Reaugh said. “Ken Dryden took the Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup as a rookie, and it truly was a seminal moment in my life. I remember the vivid color of those Montreal jerseys on television, and I remember his pads were so short and he had that first generation mask. And I remember a save he made on Phil Esposito in Game Five. As far as the hockey goes, that’s a play that really stands out.”
It was so outstanding that Reaugh, just six years old at the time, spent the better part of his childhood trying to copy that save. Growing up in British Columbia, he had the luxury of early broadcasts, so whatever he saw Dryden do, that night, he could go outside and emulate.
“The games were on at 5:00 out west, and when it was over we would go outside, being spring time we still had some light, and we’d head out and play hockey,” Reaugh said. “We would play hockey all afternoon before the game, until we had to come in, and then we would go outside after. In between, we lived by the Montreal Canadiens and Danny Gallivan doing play-by-play. It was friggin’ awesome.”THE DYNASTY
Though he never played in a Stanley Cup final game, missing his chance to repeat Dryden’s save on Esposito, Reaugh did get the opportunity to be around the Cup quite a bit as a professional.
As a junior hockey player on a team owned by the Edmonton Oilers, Reaugh got to visit Edmonton in 1984 when the Oilers took on the New York Islanders in Game 5. That night, Edmonton won the first of what would be five Cups over the next seven years, and Reaugh, still a teenager, had his picture taken with the Cup on the night of the victory with several of his junior hockey teammates.
The following summer, he was drafted by the Oilers. He would be called up to serve as Edmonton’s third goaltender during three more Cup runs, spending practices fending off shots from Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Glenn Anderson.
“People always ask if I have a ring, which I don’t,” he said, “but I got to be, essentially, a roadie for the greatest hockey team of the 1980s, and you watch and you learn and you party and all those things. With those guys, that’s pretty special. There was some pretty epic hockey played in those days back in Edmonton.”
While he was caddying for Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog, two other current Stars were following the Oilers’ progress – from different ends of the earth, and for different reasons.
Stu Barnes, a native of the Edmonton suburb of Spruce Grove, was obviously an Oilers fan. He and his friends would start playoff pools each spring, selecting their favorites as a projected scoring leader – no doubt, Gretzky was the first pick in that pool each year.
Teammate Jere Lehtinen was tracking the progress of those Oilers teams in his native Finland, keeping tabs on Finnish national hero Kurri.
With no Internet or satellite television, Lehtinen and the Finns had to follow Kurri’s Oilers the old fashioned way – through newspaper reports. Sometimes, he said, the games would be played, tape delay, the following day in Finland.
Upon reaching his first Stanley Cup Final as a player, with the Stars in 1999, the levity of the situation wasn’t quite as evident to Lehtinen, not having grown up in North America. But after winning that title, and returning to the Cup Final the following season, Lehtinen said he realized the magnitude of even getting there.
“It’s so hard to get there one time,” he said. “Then you try to go back the next year, and it’s even harder. Every game is so close, so hard to play in, and you play in so many long overtime games. I just remember (Game 6, 1999 against Buffalo) such a feeling of relief of it being over.”OF MICE AND MEN
Barnes was on the losing side of that 1999 Stanley Cup Final as a member of the Buffalo Sabres, but it wasn’t his first trip to the Final. And it certainly wasn’t as strange as his first.
As a member of the 1995-96 Florida Panthers, Barnes got to experience something different than hockey frenzy in Edmonton. He got to bring hockey frenzy to an entirely new market. In the Panthers’ third season in existence, they found themselves in the Cup Final after a grueling, seven-game Eastern Conference final victory against Pittsburgh.
Their reward was a Colorado Avalanche squad that had been off for six days after beating Detroit in the Western Finals. And if Colorado’s four-game sweep didn’t captivate the hockey world, the legend of the rat did.
Florida forward Scott Mellanby, in the dressing room of then-Panthers’ home Miami Arena, had a brave rat approach him prior to Florida’s home opener against Calgary. Clearly not a fan of rodents, Mellanby quickly disposed of the rat with one fell swoop of his hockey stick.
“He killed it with a stick, and went out and scored two goals that night,” Barnes said. “They called it a ‘rat trick.’ Two goals and a rat with the same stick.”
Word spread of Mellanby’s exploits, and shortly after, a fan threw a plastic rat on the ice during a Panthers win. Before you knew it, Florida fans were littering the ice with plastic rats throughout the playoffs.
“It took on a life of its own,” Barnes said. “They had Orkin doing a promotion where they would come in and clean up the rats off the ice and everything.”WILD ABOUT MINNESOTA
Mike Modano entered the 2008 playoffs having participated in three Stanley Cup Finals. His first came at the young age of 20, when he helped lead the eighth-seeded Minnesota North Stars past top-seeded Chicago, followed by a second-round victory against St. Louis and a win over five-time Cup champion Edmonton in the conference final.
“It was a lot like this year,” Modano said. “We started out with some big wins on the road and we came home and protected home ice. I don’t think we lost a home game until the Finals against Pittsburgh.”
That’s where the dream of his first Cup ended, at the hands of the Penguins and a talented, motivated Mario Lemieux.
“Mario took over,” Modano said. “When he was healthy, he was a man playing amongst boys. They had a dominant team all around, with nine or 10 great forwards and at least four dominant defensemen. When that team got on a roll, they were tough to beat.”
At 20-years old, however, Modano had to figure this was just the start of more to come, right? As most young players realize, that’s not the case at all. It would be eight more years before he got back to the Final, on the way to that 1999 Cup championship with the Stars. Between the two trips, he admits to learning a valuable lesson.
“I didn’t understand the magnitude of it at the time,” he said. “When you lose, you just can’t wait to do it next year. And it took me nearly 10 years to get back. As a kid you don’t realize how hard it is, that’s why you have to enjoy it as much as you can when you are there because a lot of guys never get back.”
Sitting in the stands for Game 6 of the 1991 Cup Final – the night the Penguins clinched – was Minneapolis native and current Star Toby Petersen
, who was 12-years old at the time.
And while a highlight-reel goal by Bobby Smith is his most vivid memory of that playoff run, Petersen said he, like all his friends in Minnesota, spent their time on the ice trying to emulate Modano.
“He was everyone’s favorite,” Petersen said. “When he got the puck, your eyes just lit up because he could do so many things. He was magical on the ice.”
Two seasons ago, Petersen got a small taste of the Stanley Cup Final as well, after being called up late in the season with Edmonton. He got in two games of the Western Conference final, but was scratched when the Oilers faced off against Carolina for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
“That was a great experience,” he said. “And being in a city that is so hung up on hockey made it even more special.”HABS FEVER
Being a kid in Sherbrooke, Quebec, meant taking even more pride in the 1986 Stanley Cup win by the Montreal Canadiens, considering the large number of players called up from Sherbrooke’s AHL team that participated in that Cup run.
“They weren’t supposed to win that year,” said Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas
, a native of Sherbrooke who was 9-years old at the time. “I just remember the riots after they won. Cars were on fire and turned upside down in the street, windows were broken out of buildings all over town.”
In 1993, a 16-year old Robidas was playing midget AAA and was still just as passionate about his Canadiens. Unfortunately, his billet home was inhabited by Quebec Nordiques fans, and when Montreal lost the first two games of the opening round to rival Quebec, he admittedly took a bit of a razzing.
No worries. The Canadiens won four straight to close out the Nordiques, on the way to winning 11 consecutive playoff games. They would go 16-2 the rest of the way after dropping those first two.
“I think they won nine or 10 games in overtime,” Robidas said. “And I remember the illegal stick call on L.A.’s Marty McSorley in Game 2. That was a gutsy call. And I remember Eric Desjardins, he had never had a hat trick in his career, and he had a hat trick that night and scored the game-winner in overtime.”
A stellar defenseman exceeding his previous career-best goal production in a key playoff game, when his team needed it most … funny how Robidas would remember that. Sounds eerily similar to his entire 2008 postseason.
But more than anything, Robidas remembers the seemingly huge span of time that separated those two Canadiens Cups, which was really just seven seasons. But for a young Habs fan who expected to see his team win every season, it taught him a lesson that he’s carried into his professional career.
And having ventured deeper into the postseason than at any point in his career, that life lesson has just been affirmed.
“Every series is so hard to win, and the closer you get the more you realize how hard it is to even get to the Stanley Cup Final,” he said. “Knowing that, you really have to enjoy it, because this is a time you will never forget.
“I’ve talked to guys who have won it, and they say they remember every moment of it for the rest of their lives. Sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves, because we want to win so badly. But you have to forget that pressure. This is the most fun you can have in hockey, so you have to enjoy it.”