- The Washington Times - Friday, January 1, 2010

Brooks Laich put it best: While girls spend their youth dreaming of their wedding day, boys who want to be hockey players lie awake at night and visualize what they would do on their day with the Stanley Cup.

It is one of the great traditions in sports. Every member of the championship-winning team gets to spend a day (or two if they’re lucky) with the Stanley Cup.

“It is the Holy Grail,” Laich said. “I think it is interesting when people win championships in other sports. Maybe it is more about the ring than the trophy. I won a championship in the minors and I’ve never worn my ring, but I will always remember hoisting the trophy. In hockey, I think the first thing everyone thinks about is drinking from the Stanley Cup.”

Added Brendan Morrison: “Even to this day, I always like to watch the game when a team can win the Stanley Cup. I think it is the most difficult trophy in sports to win. Four rounds, 28 games - so many things have to go right, and it is also the nicest trophy out there.”

The Washington Capitals will play their 41st game Saturday in Los Angeles. It will mark the halfway point of the 2009-10 campaign; for an organization known for postseason failures, maybe - just maybe - this will be its year.

Last season the Caps pushed the eventual Cup champs to the brink before a forgettable Game 7 at Verizon Center. This year Washington has maintained its place among the league’s elite, and general manager George McPhee has reworked his roster to provide the flexibility to add pieces at the trade deadline.

Any team that wins 16 games during a grueling two-month odyssey needs as much good fortune as it does talent, but it culminates with the moment every little kid who spends his childhood between two goals set up on a street or a pond fantasizes about.

“It sounds cliche, but it was always the same thing - it was always overtime of the seventh game for the Stanley Cup,” Jose Theodore said. “It was ‘What a save by Theodore!’ or ‘What a goal by Theodore!’ depending on what position. Then you just picked up whatever was around you at the time and pretended that it was the Cup.

“When you play street hockey, you don’t say, ‘Oh I just got 70 goals and I am going to be MVP,’ or ‘I just got my 10th straight shutout’ - it was always about winning the Stanley Cup.”

Added Mike Green: “We would build a Cup out of tinfoil with buckets. … We would watch [the Stanley Cup Finals] on TV and then get to experience it playing street hockey. All you want to do is grow up and win the Cup - especially in Canada. It is the greatest thing ever even when you’re a kid and you hoist this plastic, tinfoil thing. We’d play every day, and on Christmas Day we’d play for like six hours.”

Some players are superstitious and don’t want to divulge the details of what they would do on their day with the Cup. Stories about where the Cup has been and what people have done with it have become legendary.

Whether it was with Chris Chelios in the Pacific Ocean or at the bottom of Mario Lemieux’s pool, the Cup goes through plenty each summer, and the memories last a lifetime.

“I was the low man on the totem pole, but I still got it,” said Mike Knuble, who is the only current member of the Caps to have won the Cup. “We raised money and did some charity stuff, took it to a kids hospital. Had a couple of parties - had some buddies strip down and run naked with it through the neighborhood with it over their heads - just some typical stuff.

“I know it holds 17 1/2 beers.”

For some players, the first time they were allowed to stay up late enough to watch the end of the deciding game of the Stanley Cup Finals remains a distinct memory from their childhood. Veteran players pointed to one of the Edmonton Oilers’ titles or all five of them as a group.

Younger members of the Caps pointed to the 1994 Finals, one of the seminal moments in recent NHL history. While a couple of the Americans have fond memories of Mark Messier lifting the Cup to punctuate the New York Rangers’ first title in 54 years, British Columbia native Karl Alzner had a different reaction.

“I was watching at my aunt’s house,” Alzner said. “I remember Pavel Bure took the last faceoff because he was going to try to push it [on net]. We sat there through the whole ceremony. It was pretty depressing at the time.”

The Caps have been close once before, but the trip to the 1998 Finals was a surprise run. A few months from now, Alex Ovechkin and friends will be one of the teams expected to make a deep postseason run.

There’s a chance those dreams will be realized - and all those nights staring at posters on their bedroom walls will be the first step in a memorable journey.

“Time will tell, but we are legit,” Morrison said. “We have as good a chance as anybody, I believe.”

Added Laich: “I’d take it to Wawota, [Saskatchewan], my hometown, and have a big gathering at the rink where everyone can come and see it. There would be people driving from miles around to come and get their picture taken with it. I’m sure it would culminate with some sort of ball hockey game with my buddies where we could actually award the Stanley Cup at the end.”

• Corey Masisak can be reached at cmasisak@washingtontimes.com.

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