VANCOUVER -- Everyone dreams of winning a Stanley Cup, but nobody dreams of sipping champagne from it through a straw -- so as to not actually touch the chalice and jinx yourself.
When little else was going for Luke Schenn a couple of years ago, superstition worked for the defenceman who went on to win and touch the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, twice, before the 31-year-old happily and improbably circled back to the Vancouver Canucks, the team that helped save his NHL career in 2019.
Life is funny.
“I just shake my head sometimes at how it worked out,” Schenn said Wednesday. “Just a big smile.”
If Schenn’s career didn’t quite seem over in the winter of 2018-19, it was at least on life support after the Anaheim Ducks dumped the former fifth-overall pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs into the American Hockey League with the warning he wouldn’t be coming back.
That January, the Canucks agreed to take Schenn with the seventh-round pick they acquired from the Ducks in exchange for defenceman Michael Del Zotto. They sent Schenn to their own AHL team in Utica, N.Y.
A month later, after injuries, the Canucks recalled Schenn and gave him the chance to play again in the NHL. And on March 28 of that season, Schenn shepherded Quinn Hughes into the league, partnering with the phenom who arrived straight out of the University of Michigan. Schenn had first met Quinn and Hughes’ little brother, Jack, when the boys’ dad, Jim Hughes, was a development coach for Schenn and the Maple Leafs.
Then the story got better.
Schenn’s own little brother, Brayden, was part of the St. Louis Blues’ chumps-to-champs Stanley Cup run that spring. Luke and the Schenn family, which is from Saskatoon, attended Game 7 in Boston. When the Blues won, Brayden invited Luke on to the ice.
At Brayden’s Stanley Cup party back home -- “It could have been a wedding, so many people were there,” Luke said -- the older brother was invited to drink from the Cup.
“I never touched the Cup the first 30 years of my life,” Luke said. “I drank out of it with a straw, so I guess that doesn't count as touching it. I was a little superstitious. At that point, I had just kind of worked my way back to the NHL. The dream is always to win a Cup, but when you're just kind of grinding back into the league, you don't know how much of a reality that is. Next thing you know, I'm one ahead of Brayden."
Spending big on free-agent defenceman Tyler Myers before adding Jordie Benn and Oscar Fantenberg, the Canucks didn’t re-sign Schenn in 2019. Instead, he signed with Tampa and became an important depth piece on the Lightning team that won the last two Stanley Cups.
A year after sipping through a straw, Schenn was able to guzzle while holding the Cup in Edmonton after his first championship in 2020.
“We had a cool moment,” Schenn recalled. “I always sat beside Ryan McDonagh on the plane in Tampa. We had the Cup in the plane on the way back from the bubble in Edmonton. A lot of guys were celebrating, partying, and we actually just took the Cup and sort of put it between our seats for a bit and we were just going over the names on it. That was one of the coolest experiences, seeing my brother on there and all the other names. Brayden and I took some pictures this summer with our names beside each other, back to back, on the Cup.”
And then Schenn, who played junior hockey in Kelowna, B.C., and eventually built a house on Okanagan Lake, returned to the Canucks in July, signing a two-year, free-agent contract worth $850,000 per season. Schenn turns 32 next month.
“You know, I owe a lot to (Canucks general manager) Jim Benning and the organization for kind of giving me a second chance in the NHL,” Schenn said. “From here, you kind of go into free agency ... and I ended up in Tampa and had an incredible experience there. But for sure, it’s been in the back of my mind wondering if there would ever be a chance to come back here, and I'm so lucky it worked out that way.
“Honestly, I don't even really think about the money anymore. I'm the luckiest guy; this is Year 14 for me (in the NHL). I've been extremely grateful to have the experiences I've had. When you first go into your career, a lot of guys think about where they got drafted and everyone wants to win a Stanley Cup and go out on top. But in reality, that's really not the way it goes. It's usually a lot of ups and downs and roller-coasters. I've been on different teams and I've seen ups and downs, been in the minors. But ultimately, I've got my name on the Stanley Cup and that's been a dream come true. I'm still young; I'm always trying to figure out ways to get better.”
Coach Travis Green explained the return of Schenn this way: “You want character, good character people on your team that are good hockey players and love winning. Those are things that we talk about a lot. I think Schenner checks all those boxes. Being an older guy now in the league that's been around and gone through a lot of things -- he's had some hard times and he's had some of the best of the best times -- I think it was an easy decision when we signed him.”
And it wouldn’t be a Luke Schenn story without another plot twist: signed for depth, the rugged right-side defender is likely to start the season as a lineup regular due to the ongoing absence of Travis Hamonic.
“I've got enough experience to know that things change in a hurry,” Schenn said in a press conference after Wednesday’s practice.
Later, in the hallway outside the media room, he said: “It's hilarious that I'm the second-oldest guy on the team. When I was here the first time, I saw how much talent was here. And now these younger guys are coming into their prime. I've followed the team ever since I played in Kelowna. It just means a lot to come back and play here and I really want nothing more than for team success and to be part of that here.
“It’s just crazy the way it has worked out.”