Hockey Hall of Fame - Stanley Cup Journals: 46
The Stanley Cup Journal

(October 17, 2003) — While the New Jersey Devils were raising a banner Thursday night to commemorate their third Stanley Cup championship, Joe Nieuwendyk sat in the visitors' dressing room at the Meadowlands, wearing the blue and white of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was a peculiar situation for the centre, who was recently voted the finest faceoff man in the NHL by The Hockey News. After all, Nieuwendyk was one key component that helped lead the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup championship last spring. But that was June, and it seems like an eternity ago to Nieuwendyk, who signed with the Leafs on the verge of training camp this fall.

Actress Michelle Pfeiffer, Mike Bolt and TV producer David E. Kelley.
It's been a full summer of celebrations for the New Jersey Devils. Each player spent at least a day with the Stanley Cup, celebrating in whatever manner they best saw fit. Some celebrations, like that of Pat Burns, were significant but subdued. Others, like Corey Schwab, prepared an itinerary that maximized the use of every available moment with the Stanley Cup. Some days were parties and parades; others were champagne and charities.

A few non-hockey celebrities found their way to the Stanley Cup this summer, too. Actress Michelle Pfeiffer and husband David E. Kelley, a highly regarded TV producer, visited with hockey's most magnificent trophy. So did Meg Ryan - and no, she did not replicate her famous scene from 'When Harry Met Sally.' Whoopi Goldberg was on the ice in New Jersey June 8 when the Devils were presented the Stanley Cup by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Martha Stewart had a chance to visit with the Stanley Cup at a New York Yankees game, the same day baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra came by to see the trophy. Don Cherry dropped by Grant Marshall's backyard Stanley Cup party in Mississauga. Rock bands Aerosmith and Good Riddance both got the chance to cradle sport's most legendary trophy. Other sports teams were inspired by visits from the Stanley Cup, including baseball's New York Yankees and the minor league Newark Bears plus football's Cleveland Browns.

Meg Ryan shares a moment with Lord Stanley.
The Stanley Cup was carried into the Continental Airlines Arena Thursday mid-afternoon. A two-hour rehearsal was scheduled to run through the itinerary for the Devils' triumphant return to the Meadowlands. Soundcheck was taking place while dry ice poured onto the arena's surface. A laser show rehearsed its timing. Mike Emrick, the longtime voice of the New Jersey Devils, was walking crews through the proceedings of the pre-game show. Mike Bolt and Walt Neubrand, the Hockey Hall of Fame employees who escorted the Stanley Cup through the course of the summer, were on hand, not only with the Cup but with the Prince of Wales Trophy as conference champions and the Vezina and Jennings Trophies earned by Martin Brodeur. These NHL merit awards were all on display in the lobby of the arena through the first and second periods.

The doors of the Continental Airlines Arena opened at 6:30, and fans stopped by to see the trophies. Meanwhile, the off-ice officials were in the referees' room examining the Stanley Cup. Then, at 7:30 as rehearsed, Mike Emrick strutted to centre ice and began the proceedings. Video highlights of last year's Stanley Cup run were played, and with each goal, each hit and each save, the crowd roared louder. Emrick then introduced each member of the champion New Jersey Devils. As Bolt and Neubrand stood in the wings holding the Stanley Cup, each player acknowledged them with a brief 'Hi,' a little wave or a friendly nod, but these boys were focused - they had an important game to play against the Leafs so there was little time for pleasantries. Igor Larionov, now a Devil but not dressed for the game, stopped by to chat with Mike and Walt. Both had met Larionov during the Detroit Red Wings' Stanley Cup celebrations.

Multiple-winner Martin Brodeur with the Stanley Cup flanked by the Jennings and Vezina trophies.
On the ice, Emrick invited the players to raise the banner. All skated over to one end of the ice and pulled ropes that would lift the proud new banner skyward. 'New Jersey Devils, Stanley Cup Champions. 2002-2003.' Scott Stevens was grinning ear to ear. "It's something that will be up there for the rest of our lives," he'd say later, after playing his 1,600th NHL contest.

The Toronto Maple Leafs stayed in the dressing room while the ceremony was taking place. Joe Nieuwendyk stayed with his new teammates in spite of an invitation from Lou Lamoriello to take part in the ceremony. In a Toronto Star article, Mr. Lamoriello stated, "We would love for him to be a part of it, but we'd understand either way." Nieuwendyk respectfully declined. "I appreciate the offer but I preferred to get ready for the game with my teammates in the dressing room."

It was time for the highlight of the ceremony. Bolt and Neubrand, wearing white gloves and their dark blue Hockey Hall of Fame blazers, carried the Stanley Cup through the dry ice and smoke out onto the ice. The cheer was deafening, and the crowd made hearing any semblance of conversation impossible. But while the fans stood and cheered, no player ventured close to the Stanley Cup. They had had their turn - the Stanley Cup was now open for competition once again and no one dared jinx the Devils' chances by claiming the Cup as their own.

The Devils' home opener looked like it would result in a loss, but the luck of Stanley wriggled in and inserted its influence. With two seconds remaining in regulation time and the Leafs leading 2-1, Sergei Brylin snatched a cross-ice pass from Brian Rafalski and a banged his own rebound past Ed Belfour to tie the game. The game ended in a two-all tie, and the Stanley Cup magic exerted its influence once again.

After the game, the players watched the New York Yankees earn a World Series berth with a 6-5 eleventh inning Game Seven win. Again, none of the Devils dared examine the Cup. Those days were over. It was anybody's Cup once again. A few of the players' families did stop over to say hello to Walt and Mike, and were anxious to see their husband or son's name newly engraved on the Stanley Cup.

And so, the saga of the Stanley Cup closes its chapter on the 2002-03 season. The trophy logged thousands of miles, earning thousands and thousands of smiles. It was at the crux of hockey's most intense battle, yet is the most revered and beloved trophy in sport. It drew nations together in competition and made us all realize how small the world truly is.

The Stanley Cup. There just aren't enough superlatives to describe the passion that surrounds hockey's mystical, historical and treasured trophy.

Kevin Shea has enjoyed bringing readers the Stanley Cup Journal, and looks forward to returning again next June. A thousand thank yous to Phil Pritchard, Peter Jagla, Mike Bolt, Walt Neubrand, Craig Campbell, Tyler Wolosewich, the New Jersey Devils, the National Hockey League and all at the Hockey Hall of Fame who helped bring fans like you this year's Stanley Cup Journal.

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