Hockey Hall of Fame - Stanley Cup Journals: 17
The Stanley Cup Journal

(July 16, 2003) — Opa! The Greek expression of celebration, and boy, was there a celebration in Greece on Saturday!

Greece, New York is a suburb of Rochester, and the town where Brian Gionta was raised. It's a lovely town, just northwest of Rochester, and named to honour Greece's independence from Turkish rule in 1822. To borrow a line from a once-popular song, for hockey fans on Saturday, 'Greece was the word!'

The night before, Gionta got a call from Mike Bolt, the Hockey Hall of Fame's Keeper of the Cup. "Brian? There's been some damage to the Stanley Cup and it's not really displayable right now. I hope you don't have any concrete plans for the Cup later today!" Brian choked back a swallow and replied, "Ooh, well. Okay. I guess there's not much I can do…" Just then, Joe Nieuwendyk grabbed the phone. "Gionta, you goof. He's pulling your chain," and both ends of the phone line convulsed in laughter.

The Stanley Cup arrived in Greece just before 9AM Saturday. Brian and his wife Harvest just purchased a new home in the area and haven't yet taken possession so have been staying with Harvest's parents. In the meantime, Brian's parents, Sam and Penny, relayed stories about their son's hockey career. "See that van?" Sam pointed to a well-traveled vehicle in the driveway. "That baby has almost 400,000 miles on it. It's seen more highways than I care to remember. We drove everywhere to watch Brian play. When he was with the Niagara Scenics (1995-97), we got to all his games. Then, when he went off to Boston College (1997-2001), we drove to all his games. We try to get to as many Devils' games as we can now, too. Plus our son Steve is at Boston College right now and we get down to most of his games. Damn van doesn't owe us anything. Hell, it can practically find its own way to most hockey games!" Just then, Brian arrived, ready for 'Brian Gionta Day' in Greece.

A packed concourse greets Gionta at the Greece Ridge Center.
At 9 o'clock, the family took photos with the Stanley Cup on the front lawn of the Gionta home. Then, Brian's Uncle Steve arrived with a Hummer, ready to take the family to the mall at Greece Ridge Center. Brian was scheduled to meet fans from 10 until 11:30 Saturday morning. Jim Hofford, the mall's manager, greeted the Giontas and pointed to the 3,500 locals who showed up as early as six-twenty that morning to see Brian and the Stanley Cup. Hofford, who played with the Rochester Americans between 1984 and 1990, and also got a taste of NHL action with both Buffalo and Los Angeles, proudly cradled the Cup and laughingly exclaimed, "I played hockey all my life, but it took becoming a mall manager for me to get to hold the Stanley Cup!" Brian posed for pictures all morning and when prodded by the crowd, would hoist the Stanly Cup over his head to the great delight and loud roar of the fans. Unfortunately, time commitments didn't allow Brian the opportunity to say hello to every person in line, but at noon when he proclaimed, "The Devils will just have to win it again next year so the rest of you can get a shot with the Cup," the crowd nodded, clapped and smiled. Everyone understood. Donations from the visit to Greece Ridge Center went to Golisano's Children's Hospital.

The pace quickened, with Brian stopping by a local sports store to thank them personally for their support through the years. Then, it was over to his Dad's store, Weinberger's Ace Hardware, for more photographs with the Cup on display for customers. Brian worked there when he was a teenager. "Yep, five bucks for the till, five bucks for me," he joked, but his Dad shot him a look that only a father can get away with and Brian assured him that he was only kidding.

Heads turn as Uncle Steve chauffeurs Gionta and the Cup in his Hummer.
At 2:00, the Hummer drove Brian, his wife and the Cup to Bathtub Billy's, a sports bar in Rochester. From the helmet-shaped entrance to the memorabilia on the walls, this is a great place to hang out. In fact, over a thousand people did just that between two and five Saturday afternoon, with Brian smiling widely (and wildly) the entire time. A newlywed couple heard that the Stanley Cup was on the premises and ducked into 'The Tub' for a wedding photo, her in beautiful long, white gown and him in his tux. It's a story they'll tell their kids and their kids' kids someday.

After a quick visit to the police department in Greece, Gionta took the Stanley Cup to the site of his new home for a few more photographs, and then returned to his parents' home for a private party. The next door neighbours arrived - great friends of the Giontas - and showed their absolute pride in Brian's accomplishments. They had saved all the newspaper clippings from Brian's career and during the playoffs, had made up a cardboard and tinfoil facsimile of the Stanley Cup that made the local media. Brian made certain they got a long visit with the actual Stanley Cup. Then, Brian snuck away with the Stanley Cup for a few minutes. He took the trophy up to his old room, still adorned with his childhood awards and trophies. "This is what every kid thinks about when he's playing," whispered Gionta. "I can't tell you how many times I've carried the Cup in my dreams." Had all the hard work paid off for the second year Devil? By watching Brian, his eyes closed and a slight smile tracing his lips as he held the Stanley Cup, you didn't need to wait for the answer. It was obvious.

On Sunday, the Stanley Cup was the special guest of Jacques Caron, the New Jersey Devils' goaltending coach. Jacques is originally from Noranda, Quebec, but after a long playing career that included NHL action with the Kings, Blues and Canucks, and World Hockey Association stops with the Cleveland Crusaders and Cincinnati Stingers, Caron joined the AHL's Binghamton Broome Dusters as general manager, and then settled in the area. Jacques Caron just celebrated his tenth anniversary of working with the netminders in the Devils' system. You know he's good when you see one of his prized students, Martin Brodeur, accepting both the Vezina and Jennings Trophies at the NHL Awards this past June.

New Jersey goaltending coach and former NHLer Jacques Caron.
Jacques and his wife Marjorie recently moved into a new home in Vesta, just outside Binghamton and right on Cayuga Lake. The scenic location was a perfect backdrop for photographs with the Stanley Cup. The trophy arrived at 11 that morning, with friends and family joining the Carons for pictures. While photographs were being taken, a passing car screeched to a halt. "Oh my God, is that the Stanley Cup?" When Jacques assured the incredulous driver that it was, he begged to have his picture taken with the Cup. Jacques and Marjorie chuckled and agreed. As the awestruck fan pulled away, he shouted, "Hey Jacques, thanks a million! This picture will be on my Christmas card this December!"

Jacques carried the Stanley Cup into a Mercedes convertible for a ride to the home of a friend who was throwing a Stanley Cup party for Caron and his wife. There was a band playing most of the afternoon, and roll after roll of film was shot with the Stanley Cup at the centre of each picture. Joe Nieuwendyk, who lives nearby, dropped by to celebrate with Jacques and his friends. Beautiful weather, great friends, good food and fun plus the Stanley Cup -- it was a perfect day in Vesta, New York on Sunday.

The Stanley Cup then flew north for a day with Devils' forward Scott Gomez, and you'll find out all about the celebration in Friday's Stanley Cup Journal.

Kevin Shea is a hockey journalist and historian residing in Toronto.

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