Few sporting feats are harder to achieve than winning a Stanley Cup. It’s weeks, months and years of work — a lifetime, really — culminating into one single moment when that iconic silver cup is handed to you.
But for Ron Francis, who won the first of his two Stanley Cups in 1991 as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the most uniquely special moment of claiming hockey’s biggest prize is not when the buzzer sounds and you know you’ve done it, or when it’s first lifted above your head. iI’s what comes after.
“As a kid growing up, especially as a hockey player, you always dream of winning the Stanley Cup,” Francis said during a virtual Hockey Happy Hour in which he answered questions live on Twitter. “I remember being on the bench standing next to Paul Coffey, who had won it before in Edmonton, and as the clock is ticking down five, four, three, he’s looking at me and he said ‘As great as this moment is, it’s only going to get better every day of your life because it’s something they can’t take away from you.’
“That’s been really true. And I think the beauty of the Stanley Cup is that you get to share it with people that are important to you.”
After winning the Cup, Francis was at an event in Pittsburgh with his Penguins teammates and their families at the Grand Concourse — a historic Pittsburgh establishment that was originally built in 1901 as a railroad station, before being converted into a high-end restaurant in 1978; Grand Central Station except filled with well-aged wooden tables and chandeliers glowing a quiet yellow instead of hectic commuters.
Francis’s father, mother and brother were in town for the event. When they were about to leave the restaurant, Francis looked up and saw a security guard standing next to the Stanley Cup. These were the days before the Cup had an escort with it, and Francis approached the security guard and began talking to him.
“Who’s taking care of the Cup?” Francis asked.
“I don’t know,” Francis recalls the security guard saying.
“I’ve got it,” Francis said, and took the Cup home with him.
When he got back, it was around 12:30 in the morning, maybe 1:00. He called his neighbours and before he had the chance to hang up the phone, they were knocking at the door. Francis and his new company started having champagne and indulging in the simple joy of being in Lord Stanley’s presence. The most indelible part of that night, though, was seeing his father’s reaction.
“I remember the look on my Dad’s face,” Francis said. “Just the sheer excitement of being around the Stanley Cup. We started doing some fun things. ‘Dad lay in the bed, pretend you’re sleeping with the Stanley Cup.’ ‘Dad, sit in the bathtub, take your shirt off and look like you’re taking a bath with the Cup.'”
Francis was quick to clarify that his father was mostly clothed and the water was never turned on, but the image of his Dad’s smile is the most enduring one regardless.
“The look on his face, I’ll never forget,” Francis said. “He was just so thrilled to do that.
“I think that’s the beauty of players in the NHL and winning the Stanley Cup, it’s not something that we just take for ourselves. It’s something that we give back to our family, our friends, our communities, hospitals, they share it with the people that are important and I think that’s what makes our trophy so special.”