This post originally appeared on Mike DeKalb’s blog, Hockey Transplant. Be sure to pay it a visit! Thank you so much for allowing us to publish it. It has been edited for formatting; please visit the original post here for photos and memorabilia. - Hildy
Throughout the six years that it took my friend Chad and I to complete “The Quest” to see a game in every NHL arena, there was a thought that entered my brain and wouldn’t leave: I HAD to see the Stanley Cup awarded. It would be a great footnote for our adventures and a moment that most hockey fans would treasure. As luck would have it, just after finishing “The Quest” in Boston earlier in 2019, we would return to the same city that June for our date with history:
It was one year ago today - but let’s go back and provide some context to this triumphant occasion...
From the moment I became a hockey fan, I knew this was true to me: the Stanley Cup is the greatest trophy in professional sports. The year was 1993, which happened to be the 100th anniversary of the Cup first being awarded, and the league commissioned a patch which adorned the jerseys of every team that season. I immediately knew that this was no ordinary trophy - it was special. Maybe it’s because each player on the winning team gets his name etched on the Cup. Maybe it’s because each player on the winning team gets to spend a day with the Cup that summer. But I also think it has to do with the way it is presented each June...
During my childhood, I remember all of the championship trophies of the other major sports being given to the winning team in their locker room - a cramped space packed with reporters and drowning in champagne. Meanwhile, the Stanley Cup was awarded on the playing surface itself, so that all of the fans in attendance could share the moment when the team captain raised the Cup over his head and passed it along to his teammates (I also like that the Cup is given from the commissioner to a PLAYER, while many of the other sports have their championship trophies given to the OWNER first). I can’t be the only one who noticed this trend, because it seemed like the other sports started giving out their championship trophy on the playing field not long afterward.
I consider myself quite lucky to have seen the Stanley Cup in person on multiple occasions, with photos to prove it:
1. In 1996, I stood in line for over two and a half hours to see the Cup at Union Station in St. Louis during the NHL Entry Draft;2. A much shorter line (about 30 minutes) greeted me when I saw the Cup inside of Staples Center during the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles;3. When the Los Angeles Kings won the Cup in both 2012 and 2014, they brought the trophy to the 20th Century Fox studio lot where I worked so that the employees could see it. Both years, the lines were incredibly long, but I did make sure to get a cool photo with the Kings mascot Bailey while the Cup rested in the background;4. During my Hockey Road Trip to Toronto, I waited in a short line to see the Cup at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
But I’d never seen the Stanley Cup handed out on the ice, and I now had the means to make that happen. Of course, I had experienced my share of near-misses...
MY PRIOR ATTEMPTS TO SEE THE CUP AWARDED
Sadly, growing up as a fan of the St. Louis Blues meant there were never any real chances to see the Stanley Cup Final in my vicinity, but I thought that might change when I moved to Los Angeles. Four years after I arrived, the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup, and I never really looked into going to the Cup Final games as I assumed the tickets would be out of my price range. Five years later, the Los Angeles Kings were in the Cup Final and I once again decided against going to those games - although I believe that was mostly due to being bitter about the fact that the Kings had eliminated the Blues in the playoffs that year and I could not bear the sight of them skating around the ice with the Cup.
But in 2014, the Kings were back in the Cup Final and Chad had the idea of going to a game. It was the first year of “The Quest”, so we were in the mood for adventure, but we were faced with a huge dilemma: the Kings held a 3-1 series lead and were playing Game 5 on home ice, but what if they didn’t win? We kept an eye on ticket prices all day leading up to the game, and the cheapest pair to get into the building were $700 each. I could not shake the thought that it would be unfortunate to drop that kind of money and watch them lose, so I passed and we watched Game 5 together at home - as you can imagine, my heart completely sank when the game was tied going into overtime and then this happened:
Sure, I still had my $700, but this would have been a great moment to witness in person. Though we were spending lots of money on traveling to see games in all of these arenas, Chad and I weren’t quite ready to handle the costs of both the accommodations AND ticket prices for a potential Cup Final game, even when the nearby San Jose Sharks were in the Cup Final in 2016. But in 2018, another opportunity presented itself that we would have never imagined...
When the Vegas Golden Knights entered the NHL that season, we made sure we were there for the historic opening night game against the Arizona Coyotes. I figured this would be the highlight of their inaugural season, so I was shocked to see them win the division and head to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Not wanting to miss out on more history, Chad flew to Las Vegas for Game 1 of their first-round series against Los Angeles - I would have joined him, but it was my wedding day! The team’s surprising run continued and we knew a “golden opportunity” had presented itself when the Knights won the Western Conference Final and secured a spot to face off against the Washington Capitals for the Stanley Cup.
Without even asking me - because he knew I’d say yes - Chad bought us tickets for Game 7 in Vegas, should the series go that far. We watched each Cup Final game together, cheering for whichever team was down so that the series could be tied for as long as possible to set up the winner-take-all finale. Once again, we were thwarted as the Capitals won the series in five games and Chad got a refund for the tickets he had purchased (only $500 each, by the way). It was frustrating, and Chad made up his mind at that point that we should try even harder the following season.
2019: THE YEAR IT FINALLY HAPPENED
In March, “The Quest” to see a game in every NHL arena was now done, and we had been ever so close to seeing the Cup awarded the year before, so Chad and I started brainstorming. The funny part was that just as the 2019 playoffs began in April, my wife and I were in England for our honeymoon and came across the exact spot where the Stanley Cup was created:
It was a sign - it had to be! We started following 2019 playoffs with great scrutiny, breaking down the flight schedules from Los Angeles to the potential host cities of the Cup Final. By the time the Conference Finals had begun, I had a detailed spreadsheet with approximate dates for the Final games, so it was just a matter of waiting to see where they would be. Boston secured the first spot in the Final, eliminating the Carolina Hurricanes in a four-game sweep, while the Western final between San Jose and St. Louis continued. My heart obviously wanted the Blues, but a Bruins-Sharks matchup would make for much easier travel within California. In the end, my heart won out.
When the Blues and Bruins squared off in Game 1 of the Cup Final, Chad had started to monitor ticket prices for the potential series-clinching games: we were able to rule out Game 4 as soon as the teams split the first two games, and then we eliminated Game 5 once the series was knotted at two wins apiece. We then booked a flight to St. Louis for Game 6, and when the Blues won Game 5 in Boston, I knew I had to be there for the next game - the city was electrified by the thought of seeing their beloved team capture its first Cup on home ice, which probably explained why the ticket prices for the game itself were ridiculous, hovering around $2000 each! All of a sudden, I was back to the same dilemma from 2014.
To see the team I grew up cheering for win its first Cup on home ice would be a moment that I would never forget, but if I dropped $2000 (plus a plane ticket) to see them lose I would be miserable. And if the Blues lost, I would be faced with another decision - do I spend another $2000 AND buy another plane ticket to fly to Boston for the last game? I weighed with the decision for a long time, before ultimately deciding to pass on seeing Game 6, which proved to be the smart move as the Bruins won in St. Louis to force a deciding Game 7. Chad and I had booked our flights through Southwest, and they refunded our money via a “travel credit” that we could use for future flights - we both fly to St. Louis at least once a year, so that credit would definitely get used soon.
The day after Game 6, Chad and I started tossing around the idea of going to Boston for the final game. The dilemma was now gone - the Stanley Cup was going to be awarded that night, no matter what. I would either see the Blues win their first championship, or watch the Bruins claim the title on home ice. In a way, it was the perfect scenario that removed so much of the guess work. There hadn’t been a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in eight years, and there had only been six such games in the previous 25 seasons! I had to be there, and we had to make a plan.
I talked it over with my wife - who was VERY understanding and I’ll always love her for that - and then met up with Chad to go over the logistics. The non-stop flights to and from Boston (on Alaska Airlines, of all carriers) were fairly cheap, likely due to the midweek travel, so it was just a matter of buying the game tickets. The nose-bleed seats were more than $1500, so we figured it would be worth it to just pay the extra money and sit closer. I watched YouTube videos of the Chicago Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup in Boston in 2013 to determine which end of the rink would give us the best views of the trophy being awarded, then checked the ticket prices for those lower sections. YIKES! But it didn’t matter to me any more - it was just money and I could pay it off later (he says, after spending $2300 on his Game 7 ticket).
ONWARD TO BOSTON
I don’t think I slept all that much before the 8am flight to Boston that Wednesday morning, though I’m sure I got some rest during the nearly six hours on that plane - we arrived around 4pm local time, and took a Lyft directly to TD Garden. To make sure we would have no issues with arena security, neither Chad or I brought any suitcases or normal luggage. We knew we could get a disposable toothbrush and toothpaste from our hotel, and I planned to wear the same jeans on the flight home the next morning, so my only “carry-on” item was a drawstring bag that contained an extra pair of underwear and deodorant which I could take inside to the game. I also layered up, wearing a flannel shirt over a Blues shirt, so that I could simply wear the flannel by itself for the return flight.
Our first stop was the team store, which was already pretty packed with fans three hours before game time. We each bought a few things, and then walked across the street to see the various broadcast teams set up outside, which included both the NHL Network and NBC Sports for the American viewers.
We desperately needed some food, and all of the bars and restaurants around the arena were packed with fans, so we took a little stroll and wound up slightly hidden out of view at City Winery. Just as we were seated, a large group consisting of the wives and girlfriends of the Blues players walked in and grabbed a table not far from us - I would later get a nice smile and words of encouragement from Tyler Bozak’s wife, Molly, when I showed her my Blues shirt and said they were going to win!
We went back to TD Garden as soon as the doors opened, using the extra time to walk around and soak in the unique atmosphere. I still couldn’t believe I was there, and the view from our section was spectacular! A married couple - longtime Bruins season ticket holders - were seated next to us, and we proceeded to strike up a very lively conversation with them before the puck was dropped. They obviously wanted to see their team win, but they had great things to say about St. Louis and their fans and hoped they could experience a Cup victory as well. The players soon skated out onto the ice for their warmups and the pregame ceremonies began...
THE HOCKEY GAME ITSELF
I have been to MANY hockey games in my life, but I’ve never seen a crowd so frenzied. I’ve never heard a roar so deafening. It was Game 7 so it was expected, but it was still amazing. The loudest ovation came when they introduced Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who had broken his jaw in Game 4 and didn’t miss any time, playing the rest of the series with a full face shield.
The puck was dropped soon after and something fascinating occurred - nearly everyone remained standing...for the entire first period. It was incredible, and also quite funny when people nearby would yell “SIT DOWN” and no one listened. Again, it was Game 7 so the rules were out the window. We all stood in nervous anticipation, and you could hear audible gasps during every close play. There were a handful of Blues fans in our section that were just as animated as the Bruin supporters, and we all watched as Boston dominated most of the game but they were unable to get on the scoreboard. The Blues were being badly outshot, but with just over three minutes remaining in the period, St. Louis struck first:
The crowd fell deaf for a moment, while my heart started pounding uncontrollably. I didn’t know how to react, so I just turned to Chad and mouthed one word: “WOW!” To their credit, the Bruins fans didn’t let the first goal deter them, and they countered with a sustained roar that equaled their loudest from any point during the period. It was beginning to look like it would remain 1-0 going into the first intermission, but the Blues captain had other ideas:
The period came to a close and I was finally able to sit down and catch my breath. I looked at my phone for the first time in a while and saw that I had missed some text messages from old friends around the country, all watching the game on TV and cheering on the Blues. My good friend Adam actually drove to St. Louis to watch the game at Busch Stadium, and was giving me updates on the atmosphere there. The Boston fans next to us were disappointed but optimistic, and these next two periods would seemingly take forever in the eyes of the St. Louis faithful.
The home fans were no longer standing when the second period began, perhaps due to the two-goal deficit, but they were still just as loud as before. The action was tense, with each team having great chances only to see them denied by the opposing netminder. Before I knew it, the period was over in a flash, with the score unchanged. Another chance to catch my breath and check my text messages, and then it was time for the third period.
A sense of doom was starting to sink in, as the Bruins fans could feel the game slipping away with each passing minute. The Blues were operating in a tight defensive shell, not allowing Boston much of anything in the offensive zone. The next goal would be huge, and thankfully it came off the stick of a St. Louis player:
The Blues had now taken a commanding 3-0 lead, and the final minutes were slowing ticking away. Hockey can be a cruel sport, so I was always thinking about some crazy dramatic comeback that could happen in an instant. The lead seemed somewhat insurmountable, but you can never be too sure, though the Bruins fans had gotten deathly quiet as they awaited the inevitable outcome. Four minutes later, Massachusetts native Zach Sanford put the final nail in the coffin:
It was only then that I could finally breathe, waiting for the last minutes to play out and witness what I thought I would never see: the Blues would be hoisting the Stanley Cup and I would have a front-row seat for the festivities. The Boston fans were resigned to their defeat, and began to slowly make their way to the exits. Meanwhile, I had to take a moment for myself...
THE CELEBRATION ENSUES
I spent the final minute fighting back my own uncontrollable emotions, thinking about my late mother and the various Blues-related gifts she would get me for Christmas. I thought about all of those St. Louis fans who had been born, lived and died without ever seeing their team win the Cup. The tears slowly trickled down my face as the team jumped on the ice to celebrate. I’m not even sure I heard that final horn - I just grabbed my phone and started taking as many pictures as I could. What’s funny is that I was so wrapped up in the game that the previous picture in my camera roll was the opening face-off, which would be followed by this:
The St. Louis players had poured onto the ice, mobbing goalie Jordan Binnington and wailing loudly into the air. The handshakes with Boston followed as the Blues were receiving their official Cup Champion hats and t-shirts.
League officials brought out a red carpet and the Conn Smythe Trophy, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman presented the MVP award to Ryan O’Reilly. Enough Boston fans had left so that I was able to move down, positioning myself about eight rows from the glass:
Now was the moment we’d all been waiting for, as the “Keepers of the Cup” brought out Lord Stanley’s chalice!
Bettman returned to read his prepared speech to a chorus of boos, then presented the Cup to Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo. He raised the revered trophy over his head and was swarmed by his teammates.
The thrilling encapsulation of a long season had come and gone, so now Chad and I were left to simply stand around and observe the celebration. Each player held the Cup over his head while skating around the ice, then passed it to a teammate so he could repeat the process. I stood quietly and watched it go from player to player, soaking in the joy of their priceless reactions. Family members arrived to greet their loved ones, while groups of reporters conducted on-ice interviews, and the remaining Blues fans cheered on their favorite team.
By now, TD Garden was nearly empty and the security teams were clearing out each section one at a time, resulting in all of the Blues fans congregating in one area near the St. Louis bench. We all participated in one final “Let’s Go Blues!” chant and then triumphantly walked out into the Boston night.
And just like that it was over. We’d been to every arena. We’d seen the Stanley Cup awarded. 25 years as a hockey fan had led to this moment, and it was an exhilarating experience. Chad and I departed for our hotel, where we proceeded to sleep for a few hours before returning to the airport for our trip home.
I know the purpose of this blog is to verbalize my adventures, but moments like this are so hard to put into words. I feel justified for sinking a small fortune into what could best be described as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I know the future is uncertain, but I’m not sure what can top this as a hockey fan. I just hope that everyone who watches sports and has a favorite team gets to enjoy a night like this at least once - you’ll never forget it, and you might even have a hard time describing it to anyone.