In the aftermath of victory, with the 2006 Stanley Cup won and the arena in bedlam, Rod Brind’Amour says he couldn’t hear a thing.
Brind’Amour, the Carolina Hurricanes captain, could see NHL commissioner Gary Bettman formally presenting the Cup. He could see Bettman mouthing some words.
“But I was oblivious to it,” Brind’Amour said this week, smiling at the thought. “I knew at some point I’m supposed to grab this thing. I didn’t want to miss my chance …”
So Brind’Amour grabbed the thing, snatching the Cup away Bettman. He held it high over his head, eyes closed, as Canes fans roared and the din of the arena, so loud for so long that June night in what was an hours-long standing ovation in Game 7 against Edmonton, grew even louder.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
Brind’Amour quickly thought of his parents. He thought of his family. He thought of the hours working out alone in the summers when he wondered how many other players were so obsessed by it all, convincing himself there was a purpose, a reason, for it.
“I’d dreamed about that moment my whole life, since I started playing hockey,” he said. “Then, to have it happen, I was just so grateful.”
Brind’Amour was 35 in 2006, realizing he was nearing the end to his playing career. He now jokes that he and some of other veterans on the 2006 team were “hanging on” and driven to win a Stanley Cup before retiring.
Having had his turn with the Cup, Brind’Amour handed it off to defenseman Glen Wesley. The Cup went from player to player, eventually reaching Cam Ward.
Ward was 22, a rookie. The goaltender, brilliant at times in the playoffs, also had his can’t-hear-a-thing moment – when the Conn Smythe Trophy winner was announced.
Many believed the Conn Smythe, awarded to the playoffs’ most valuable player, might go to Brind’Amour. The selection was Ward, who appeared somewhat startled that night in PNC Arena, then the RBC Center.
“Somebody had to poke me,” Ward said this week. “I didn’t even realize they were announcing it. That’s an award we know could have gone to anyone. It could have gone to Rod Brind’Amour, could have gone to Eric Staal. There were a number of players on our team who were deserving of that award. My focus was on the main trophy, the Stanley Cup.”
You should only lift it when you actually win it. That’s kind how I view it.
Rod Brind’Amour on Stanley Cup
As for holding the Cup, Ward said he was surprised it wasn’t as heavy as he believed it would be, but added, “That might have been the adrenaline pumping.” And 10 years later, his first moments with the Cup have more meaning.
“Josef Vasicek was the one who passed me the trophy,” Ward said. “That forever will be special to me.”
As the players from 2006 gather this weekend for a 10-year celebration of the Stanley Cup run, stories will be told and retold. Many of the big moments in the biggest games will be recalled.
Their names are etched on the Cup, a band of hockey brothers forever linked. But Vasicek, “Big Joe,” the Czech center with the perpetual smile, is gone.
Vasicek was killed Sept. 7, 2011, when the charter plane carrying Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, Vasicek’s KHL team, crashed outside Yaroslavl, Russia.
Vasicek’s death came five days before his 31st birthday. It deeply touched his former teammates, and the Canes later wore patches with No. 63, Vasicek’s number, in his honor.
Ward, 31, is a few weeks shy of his 32nd birthday. Married in the summer of 2006, he and his wife, Cody, have two children and his playing career has made him financially secure.
Ward was a backup to goalie Martin Gerber during the 2005-2006 regular season, but Gerber fell ill just as the playoffs began. Ward had 15 of the Canes’ 16 playoff wins, including Game 7 victories in the Eastern Conference finals against the Buffalo Sabres and Stanley Cup finals against the Oilers.
“Cam got the opportunity and it was like it was his time to shine,” said Peter Laviolette, the Canes coach in 2006 and now head coach of the Nashville Predators. “He was phenomenal.”
With the 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy came higher expectations, and Ward agrees the award in some ways has been both a blessing and a curse.
“I think yes and no,” Ward said. “Obviously to have those expectations is a good thing, because it proves you’ve been there and done that. I’m proud of that, but at the same time it can be difficult. We’ve seen 10 years later how difficult it is to get back to that moment, let alone get into the playoffs.
The Hurricanes have reached the playoffs once since 2006, advancing to the Eastern Conference finals in 2009. They’ve been close in some years, not-co-close in others.
“I would appreciate it a little more now that I’m in my older years and been in the league a lot longer,” Ward said. “I hope to get that opportunity again.”
The Canes, who host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday, are 24-21-9 this season. Before Thursday’s games, they were four points out of playoff position in the tightly bunched Eastern Conference.
Ward and Eric Staal, who succeeded Brind’Amour as captain in 2010, are the only members of the 2006 team still playing for Carolina, and both are in the final years of long-term contracts. Brind’Amour retired as a player in June 2010 and is in his fifth year as a Canes assistant coach.
That Brind’Amour remained in hockey after his playing career is no surprise. But coaching? Brind’Amour said he believed he might get into the management side of hockey, but has found that he enjoyed working with the players and being behind the bench.
While several activities are planned for the 10-year reunion, Brind’Amour has work to do. The Canes face the New York Islanders on Saturday at PNC Arena, playing another Metropolitan Division team they’re chasing in the standings.
The Stanley Cup will be taken to center ice for a ceremony before Saturday’s game, giving the 2006 players another chance to hold it. Many probably assume Brind’Amour will recreate that seminal moment from 2006 and give the Cup another big lift.
Brind’Amour isn’t so sure.
“I don’t know if it’s tradition, I don’t what it is, if it’s superstition, but it doesn’t feel right because it’s such a meaningful trophy,” he said. “You should only lift it when you actually win it. That’s kind how I view it.”
At the same time, Brind’Amour said it’s great to reflect on 2006, on a memorable team and a special time in franchise history, and celebrate the only major-league championship won by a team in North Carolina.
“You have to move on but it is so important for the community, for the players now, to know it did happen here,” Brind’Amour said. “We can do it here. It’s not a pipe dream.”
10th anniversary Stanley Cup celebration
5 p.m. – 2005-06 Champions red carpet arrivals on the South Plaza of PNC Arena (open to the public).
5-6:45 p.m. – Champions Tailgate with the Cup.
5:45-6:45 p.m. – Autograph session with 2005-06 players (Erik Cole, Niclas Wallin, Craig Adams) outside section 108
7 p.m. – Canes vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, fans to receive 2005-06 commemorative poster
First intermission – Ray Whitney interview
The Stanley Cup will be on display on the PNC Arena concourse after 7 p.m. through the end of the second intermission.
5:40-6:40 p.m. – Autograph session with 2005-06 players (Glen Wesley, Ray Whitney, Chad LaRose, Andrew Hutchinson) outside section 108
Pregame – On-ice ceremony honoring 2005-06 Stanley Cup Champions
7:15 p.m. – Canes vs. New York Islanders, fans to receive 2005-06 commemorative poster
First Intermission – Erik Cole interview
The Stanley Cup will not be on the concourse from 6:45-7:10 p.m. (pregame ceremony) but will be on display through the end of the second intermission.
Of note: The Stanley Cup will be at Crabtree Valley Mall Saturday from noon-1:30 p.m. on the main floor in the promotions court (across from Sears). The photo opportunity is free, but donations will be accepted for the Kids ’N Community Foundation.
1:30 p.m. — 2016 Hurricanes Alumni Fantasy Game, PNC Arena. No admission charge.