Well now, I've had a few days to savor all that I saw and heard at Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals, and I have some thoughts to impart.
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I was a very lukewarm hockey follower for a number of years, and got more serious behind it about 4 years ago. I became a Ducks fan because they were the perpetual joke of the NHL, and a long-suffering underdog to the L.A. Kings across town. Even several years ago I could tell the "Mighty Ducks" were really trying hard to be a good, if not great, hockey team.
I was not able to get tickets during the 2003 Cup run, so I listened on the radio. The sounds and sights (when I got any on TV, not having cable) totally engulfed me. The ups and downs of the roller-coaster ride known as the Stanley Cup playoffs were intoxicating. I was hooked for good!
Then the league went on strike................................thanks a lot!!! I got totally hooked, then had to suffer a year without hockey?!?!?!? That sucked!!!
Fast forward to the 2005-2006 Stanley Cup playoffs. I finally bit the bullet, and put down a seat deposit for 2006-2007 just so I could be in the "Pond" for the playoffs. If I thought I had a great time listening on the radio, I was just blown away to be in the arena for all the home games. It was amazing!!! I was crushed when Edmonton beat us in the WC Finals!! Sooooooo close!
When the time came to get my season tickets, I decided to get the entire season. As a relatively new fan, it was fantastic to be here for the whole season. It was an amazing journey to the playoffs, full of the highest of highs (the greatest start in team history) to the lowest of lows (losing both Prongs & Nieds to injuries at the same time).
The playoffs were just as exciting the 2nd time around. But when the Ducks won the Western Conference and entered the Stanley Cup Finals, I was about to experience what I'm sure some Canadians take for granted: The ectasy of watching your team going for it all. As the Finals continued, and the Ducks took a 3-1 lead over Ottawa, it finally sunk in to me just what I was witnessing. I have heard it said more than once that the sight of the Stanley Cup is an awesome experience. I had no idea...............................
The memories of Game 5 will be with me til my dying day. I've never been to a World Series game, or a Super Bowl, but I know it could not possibly compare to what I saw Wednesday night at the Honda Center. When Staff Sgt. Juan Contreras stopped singing the anthem so that the crowd could sing, I was brought to tears. I was so proud at that moment to be an American, I couldn't stand it!
The game itself was very under-whelming. Neither team played particularly well, but as the time ticked away, and the Ducks built an seemingly insurmountable lead, the electricity in the arena continued to build. The crowd got louder and louder every period, and during the last 5 minutes, no one was sitting, and it's a wonder that anyone on the ice could hear the ref's whistle. When we all counted down the last 10 seconds, I felt an elation that I've never felt before.
We didn't stop cheering for quite a while, as the officials brought out the Conn Smythe trophy. We booed heartily when Gary Bettman was introduced, which I enjoyed a lot. The cheers returned when Captain Niedermayer was presented with the trophy.
So far, it was a totally memorable experience. But when the handlers brought that beautiful, historic and amazing Stanley Cup out for presentation, all I could do was just stare at it. It was the most beautiful trophy I've ever seen!! There's a majesty to it that I heard of, but never experienced. Seeing the pure, unadulterated joy on the faces of the players as each hoisted it over their heads was so moving. When Teemu Selanne took the trophy, tears running down his face, I could somehow sense his elation at receiving the one award that had so long eluded him. The "Finnish Flash" finally got what he's long deserved. A great many of us cried with joy for him. Watching Scotty handing the Cup to his brother Rob, who he had beaten the Finals in 2003, you could tell how much more it meant to him this time than ever before in his career. It was so great to watch the players skating around the rink handing the trophy off to each other. Especially when it got to the boys at the end of the bench. Even though their names will not be on the Cup (yet), just being able to hold it and skate with it gave them all something to aspire to again in their careers.
It's been a long time since I stayed so long after an event just to watch the "post-game". My friends and I stayed for nearly 2 hours just watching the families and friends of the players and staff revelling in the experience. Giggy placing his new baby boy in the Cup for their family photo was one of the sweetest moments I've ever had the joy to witness.
I could go on and on, but I should end this narrative at some point. I witnessed something that is magical and rare in major sports: Players becoming children again in their unabashed joy at becoming "King of the hill". No other sporting event ends with such a joyous celebration. I can easily understand why the players were in absolutely no hurry to leave the ice.
I hope to someday see this glorious event again. Some have said the Ducks could do it again next year, if the team stays together. Perhaps. But if I never see it again, my memories of that amazing and magical night will stay with me forever.
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