Stars savouring rare opportunity to live out long-awaited dream

EDMONTON — Ryan Bowness was a 33-year-old scout for Pittsburgh back in 2017 when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, bestowing upon the Bowness family their first Stanley Cup ring.

He had his day with the Cup that summer, and brought it to the Halifax home of his parents. There, father Rick — a hockey lifer who had pursued that very chalice for far longer than Ryan had been alive — hosted a party in his son’s honour.

“I couldn’t have been more proud of him than when he brought that Stanley Cup home for the old man,” said Rick, the Dallas Stars head coach who gathered round ol’ Stanley for the requisite pictures.

“Of course, I didn’t touch it.”

After all these years in the game, Rick Bowness — drafted in 1975 by both the defunct Atlanta Flames and the Indianapolis Racers of the defunct World Hockey Association — will take his shot at earning his day with the Cup this summer, when he leads the Dallas Stars into Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night in Edmonton.

His is just another of the many tales that are authored whenever two teams of 40-some players, coaches, managers and organizational hockey folk get this close to The Dream.

For half of them, The Dream will be realized. For the other half, having spent two-plus months in the bubble only to lose the Cup Final, they will reel from the cruelest of blows. Some for years to come.

“When I was growing up (in Kazakhstan and Russia) my dream was to play in the NHL,” said Stars goalie Anton Khudobin. “I didn’t really think to win the Stanley Cup, but when I came here and realized it’s not so easy to get here to the Final, I start thinking it would be a great accomplishment to get there and sometime win the Cup.”

Today, Khudobin is 34 and near the end of the line. Like teammates Joe Pavelski (36) who has never won, and Corey Perry (35), who won as a sophomore in Anaheim and has never been back, this is very likely their last kick at the cat as well.

“My first time going to the Final (in 2007) we played Ottawa, and pretty much three-quarters of my family is from Ottawa,” recalled Perry. “So there were a lot of people at every game. Here, my wife is coming in (Saturday), and I’ll see her in four, five days -- after the quarantine. It’s a little different. Not travelling across the country, everything is right here. It’s just a matter of going out and playing hockey.”

For every Bowness and Pavelski, however, there is a Tyler Seguin. He won a Cup as a rookie in Boston in 2011, defeating Vancouver, where Bowness was an assistant coach, in seven games. Seguin returned in 2013, where the Bruins fell prey to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Seguin was 21, and had two Finals under his belt and his name on the Stanley Cup.

At age 28, how does it feel to be back again?

“I have more respect for it. More of a smile,” he said. “You realize how hard it is to get to this point. Back in the Boston days you figured it was going to happen every other year, with how my career started. (Now) I know the worth of the Cup a lot more, and how it is to get here. So, I am definitely knowing every moment.”

If only we all had a chance in life to relive our biggest moments two or three times. To get enough reps so it’s not all a blur, whatever your moment may be.

“And with the experience I have, you want to go talk to guys if they look nervous, or they’re not smiling,” Seguin said. “This is what we all dream about. The best time of year, a best position to be in.

“It’s the opportunity you have. Everything that’s happened so far? Nothing matters. It’s one series. Anything can happen in these moments.”

Seguin recalls stressing over setting up tickets for family at his previous Cups, a rite of passage for any player who gets this far — until this season.

“Big Markets,” he said. “Back in Boston, playing in Vancouver and Chicago in the years I went to the Final, tickets were pricey. Worth every dollar to have your family and friends there, but these are different times. It’s 2020. Nothing is unexpected.”

Begrudgingly, Seguin smiles as he admits even to missing us scribes. OK, not personally. But the media presence at a Final is what helps make the experience, another facet that simply doesn’t exist in these bubble playoffs.

Friday was Media Day, which meant a series of Zoom calls. Woo hoo…!

“Honestly, you miss those (media) days,” Seguin admitted. “Being there twice, it feels like you’re a football player. There is so much media. Cameras in your face. It’s definitely surreal, and a memory I have.”

There are so many elements that are different this year. The result, however, will not be cowed by COVID-19.

Win the Stanley Cup, and it is something these players and coaches will never forget.

Lose? Same.

“The Vancouver one stays with you every day of your life,” Bowness admits. “When you get to Game 7 and you lose a Stanley Cup Final? That stays with you.

“I’ve only been there a couple of times, but any time you get to those Stanley Cup Finals, man, it stays with ya. The rest of your life.

“It’s painful.”

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