(October 1, 2003) The White House is an incredibly impressive place. It's so much more than the fact it is the seat of power in the free world, but it's an imposing building, with six floors and 132 rooms. And with thirty-five bathrooms, even the Brady Bunch would never have had an argument!
The New Jersey Devils were guests at a reception hosted by President George W. Bush on Monday (September 29). Laura Bush was in France meeting with French President Jacques Chirac, so would not be there to meet the team.
|The Devils' White House visit made headlines worldwide including this Toronto daily newspaper.
The security procedures leading up to Monday's visit by the New Jersey Devils were, understandably, stringent. Each person visiting the White House went through a personal security check before they set foot on the grounds of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest in Washington, DC. Turner Stevenson was concerned, having led the team with 115 penalty minutes last season, but that was of no concern to the Secret Service agents.
Accompanied by Hockey Hall of Fame staff member Mike Bolt, the Stanley Cup arrived at the White House at 10AM Monday morning. The reception with the President of the United States wouldn't be taking place until 2PM, but there were precautionary measures necessary before the Stanley Cup could be taken into the White House.
Bolt pulled up into the driveway as instructed. "Good morning, gentlemen. I'm here with the Stanley Cup for today's reception with the champion New Jersey Devils hockey club."
"Good morning, Mr. Bolt. We've been expecting you," came the reply.
Mike carefully extracted the trophy from its case to show the Secret Service agents. "My, that's a beautiful trophy," stated one of the security men, smiling. A security dog then did a circuit of the vehicle carrying Bolt and the Stanley Cup and ensured that all was fine. "There you are Mr. Bolt. Follow that route and they will direct you where to go," said one agent, pointing straight ahead.
The van then drove slowly through three separate metal security gates, each one making certain that the vehicle and its contents were safe to enter the grounds of the White House. Another dog sniffed the perimeter of the van and, once that had taken place, an agent had Mike park the van and unload the Stanley Cup. "Thank you Mr. Bolt. The reception will take place in the Rose Garden this afternoon. Would you be kind enough to set the Stanley Cp in that office so the interns can take a look?" "Not a problem," answered Mike.
The Stanley Cup, gleaming, having been newly polished and very recently engraved with the names of the New Jersey Devils was placed on a desk in an office. A group of interns huddled around the trophy, rubbing their fingers over familiar names and memories of past Cup celebrations. "Remember when Gretzky and the Oilers won the Cup in '84," asked one intern. "Uh, no! I was born in 1982," laughed another. Mike Bolt could only smile and shake his head.
The Rose Garden is right outside the President's Oval Office. While Mike Bolt waited for the Devils to arrive, he played with Spotty and Barney, the President and Mrs. Bush's pets. Spotty is a Springer Spaniel and Barney is a Scottish Terrier. Bolt truly wished he could have visited the White House bowling alley, but the dogs were playful and fun as they frolicked on the lawn.
The Devils' executives, players and their wives flew into Washington early that afternoon, then were bussed over to the White House. They were given a tour of the magnificent building by a coterie of military personnel. Just before two o'clock, the group was escorted to the Rose Garden.
President George W. Bush greeted each of them with a congratulatory handshake. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman also joined the reception.
The President started, "It's my honour to welcome to the Rose Garden, the Stanley Cup champs. Congratulations!"
President Bush continued, "I had the honour of meeting your captain. I saw a quote. He said, 'It's an awesome experience,' and talked about winning; what it's like to win as a team. And I want to congratulate the team that is with us today."
"They tell me this Cup is 110 years old. That makes it older than the Oval Office," joked the president. "I see it's got all the names of the players who have won it and now your names are on it. It's a fantastic legacy to athleticism and desire and drive." Then, looking in the direction of defenseman Colin White, President Bush smirked, "A couple of cuts here and there; maybe a missed tooth or two."
The President addressed the necessity of strong teamwork in accomplishing great things. "The concept of a team is really important. I have a chance to welcome champs to the White House on a regular basis and it seems to be a common ingredient, where people are willing to put something above individual achievement, called the team, where you kind of work together for something bigger than self-glory. It's the common ingredient of all the champs that come here and it's been the common ingredient of this team, led by a very capable captain and great players."
"One of the things that's interesting about the Stanley Cup is that each player gets to spend time with it. It must be pretty neat." President Bush had enjoyed reading the Hockey Hall of Fame's Stanley Cup Journal. "The Cup has travelled throughout North America and Europe. It's been to some famous sites recently. It was at the McDonald's drive-through in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. It must have been a pretty interesting moment for that burger flipper," joked the president, referring to Colin White's time with the Cup this summer. "It showed up at the Bob Evans restaurant in Brunswick, Ohio. It went to Filthy McNasty's Bar and Grill in Toronto. I don't know who took it there, but I bet you're pretty happy the Cup can't talk, if you know what I mean." As they chuckled at the comment, his teammates poked Grant Marshall in the ribs.
"Most important, though, these players took it to hospitals and schools, to senior centres and to a home for neglected and abused children. They took it to fire and police crews that are working long hours to keep their communities safe. They took it to the people in our Armed Forces. In other words, this Cup helped inspire people; helped lift up lives. What I'm telling you about is that champs are people who serve their community -- off the ice, in this case. Champs are people who not only serve something greater than themself, called their team, but their community. Champs are people who understand that when you're the champion and somebody looks at you; they wonder, what is it like to be a champ? So when you make right choices, set out the right examples, hug somebody who hurts, you're really helping our country. And if you're from Canada or other countries, you're helping your country, too. I'm most appreciative -- the thing I'm most appreciative about, I love your athletic skill, but I love the fact that you're compassionate people, as well." The President's well-chosen words inspired those in attendance, and drew a round of applause.
Humbled yet appreciative, the New Jersey Devils are champions, in every way each and every day. And their legacy will remain, as will the example set out for the next Stanley Cup champions, whoever that might be.
The President concluded the reception, saying, "It's my honour to welcome you to the Rose Garden, as the great champs of the National Hockey League. Congratulations. Welcome!"
At that moment, Captain Scott Stevens stepped forward and presented George W. Bush with a New Jersey Devils' jersey, and with the Number 1 and the name 'BUSH' sewn onto the back. The President laughed and happily accepted the gift. He then asked, "Would you boys like to see the Oval Office?" The team was thrilled by the invitation, and with their wives, got a tour of the President's office from the man who makes decisions that affect the entire world - George W. Bush.
Next Wednesday, the Stanley Cup Journal will visit the studio where 52 names, all affiliated with the 2002-03 New Jersey Devils, were engraved into the Stanley Cup.
Kevin Shea lives in a white house in Toronto, where he writes about hockey's rich heritage.