BY KATE GUSTAFSON – Special to Sportsnet.ca
Kenora, Ont. — Early Saturday morning, a float plane landed on Lake of the Woods, carrying the Stanley Cup, where my friend Mike Richards of the Los Angeles Kings, was born and still spends his summers. The plane couldn’t dock at Mike’s place due to a reef, so he put in a small favour to a neighbour and asked to have the Cup dropped off a few docks over. They didn’t seem to mind — just another day at the lake.
The journey for the Stanley Cup to make its way to Mike’s hands has taken 27 years; it’s taken 105 years for the Cup to make its way back to Kenora. The northwestern Ontario town is still the smallest Canadian city (pop. 15,300) to have won the Stanley Cup.
Mike compared Friday night waiting for the Stanley Cup to Christmas Eve. Mike says he didn’t grow up dreaming about what he would do with the Cup when he brought it home; he dreamt about the moment on the ice when you get to hoist it for the first time.
Mike spent his day sharing the moment with the people who have been part of the journey, those who’ve been part of his success and growth as an athlete and individual. Mike’s accolades include being the only player to hoist the Memorial Cup, the Calder Cup and the Stanley Cup. He has also won gold at the 2005 World Junior Championships and Olympic gold with Canada’s men’s team in 2010. The most notable influencers of Mike’s success are, of course, his parents Norm and Irene. Other significant guests included Mike’s billet parents and former Kitchener Rangers teammates, who made the trip to recognize his achievement.
With help from the City of Kenora, family, and friends, Mike crammed in as much as one possibly could to celebrate sports most recognizable trophy. After the float plane dropped off the Cup, Mike’s day began with a breakfast at Dino’s, a local Greek restaurant owned by family friends and the Richards’ childhood neighbours.
Following breakfast, he rode through the Kenora harbour aboard Grace Anne II with his family and was shuttled by the OPP Marine Unit to the docks for a procession into the Whitecap Pavilion. Mike greeted and took photos with thousands of fans from the community. Many sported local Rednex Rebellion, Mike Richards signature apparel, for the occasion.
The Cup spent the afternoon on Mike’s boathouse. My brother and local fisherman, Ben Gustafson, caught two small-mouth bass for the occasion. The Cup went for a standup paddleboard trip (sporting a life jacket) and numerous boat rides, which is fitting considering Mike is an avid angler and outdoorsman.
Following a family dinner, the Cup and crew boarded the M.S. Kenora for a tour of Lake of the Woods. The lake provided a stunning backdrop for the boat cruise that included former local hockey coaches, friends, neighbours, and family. A life-size Stanley Cup cake from a local bakery also took the ride. A lucky few drank from and hoisted the Cup with Mike. To say the least, it was a generous and inclusive way for Mike to share this moment with so many people who have played a part in his life and speaks largely to the type of friend he is.
Most Canadians know exactly what they would do with the Stanley Cup if they had it for one day. What is never mentioned in each long-winded description of what they would do with it is how to win it in the first place. No one ever describes the sacrifices, the move to a bigger city at 15 years old. The drafts. The losses. The injuries. The trades. Mike has certainly had his fair share of success and adversity, which makes bringing home the Cup so special.
On behalf of everyone who was part of the festivities and Mike’s journey to get the Cup, he has inspired an entire town with his pursuit of athletic excellence. We’re so fortunate to have been along for the ride.