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Summer of the Stanley Caps: Eller and Burakovsky

August 29, 2018
Wednesday, August 8

After a long holiday weekend in Toronto and the Tom Wilson and Devante Smith-Pelly Cup days, our tour got ready to hop over the Atlantic for a second time this summer. Our group – including Caps digital media manager Zach Guerette and Cup caretakers Phil Pritchard and Mario Della-Savia – boarded a Tuesday night red eye flight from Toronto to Copenhagen for Lars Eller’s Cup day.  

It would be the first time a player brought the Cup home to Denmark, and we were on a tight schedule. Upon our scheduled 9 a.m. arrival, we had an hour to collect our bags and the Cup and then get to Eller’s first event of the day, slated to start an hour later. Those plans were scotched before we even left North America; a flight delay killed any chance of an on-time arrival in Copenhagen and ensured that we’d spend the early part of Wednesday playing catch-up with the itinerary, and doing so on short rest. 

Since the summer of 1995, players from the Cup championship team have been able to enjoy a private day with the coveted hardware. There was a time when Pritchard, who has been at it for three decades now and is the man most associated with the care-taking of the Cup, went to all the Cup days. But in the early days, only the 20-25 players would have Cup days spread out over roughly three months worth of summer before the Cup heads to Montreal for its annual engraving engagement. This summer, more than 50 different members of the 2017-18 Stanley Cup champs are slated to have their day with the bowl, all in the span of about two and a half months.

The Cup’s schedule is relentless; it travels around the globe every summer and its days are long ones. Generally speaking, a Cup day goes from 9 or 10 in the morning until midnight. Many of the Cup days are back-to-backs with travel in between, and that’s what we’re up against here. After Wilson on Sunday and Smith-Pelly on Monday, Tuesday is the travel day and we’ve got Eller on Wednesday and Andre Burakovsky – across the bridge from Denmark in Malmo, Sweden – on Thursday.  

We touched down in Copenhagen about 45 minutes late, and then we had to clear customs and wait for the Cup to be delivered to the oversize luggage area. After picking up the Cup and all of our bags, we loaded up a van and headed to a restaurant where Eller and his family and close friends eagerly awaited our arrival. Some 75 minutes after we were to arrive there, Eller finally got his mitts on the Cup and hoisted it for the first of several dozen times, and flashing a broad, proud smile as the first Danish-born and trained player to win it and bring it home.

Most of the guests were on the outdoor patio area, and Eller and close family members quickly and happily assembled for photos. Eller and his guests ate a popular chilled summer dessert concoction from the Cup, a sort of lemony buttermilk soup with small, twice-baked biscuits – koldskal and kammerjunker.  

Inside, a video of the Caps’ run to the Cup played and guests reacted with applause whenever one of Eller’s many timely playoff exploits were shown. After the video, Pritchard and Della-Savia combined to deliver a short history of the Cup and some of its oddities and minutiae. Pritchard notes that Denmark is the 26 thdifferent country to host the Cup. Eller also conducted a brief press conference, fielding questions from local media in his native language for about 15 minutes. 

Back outside, some of those in attendance started up a game of Kubb in a nearby field, with the Cup in the middle of the two sides. It’s unseasonably hot in Denmark on this Wednesday, as it has been throughout most of Scandinavia for the summer of 2018, but it’s still more pleasant to be outside. 

Early in the afternoon, we depart the restaurant, following Eller in a couple of white vans. We go to an auto dealership in Eller’s hometown of Rodovre, a town of about 36,000 in the greater Copenhagen area. Here, Eller picks up his ride for the remainder of the afternoon, a bright red 1969 Buick Wildcat convertible. 

Eller and his family drive to the next stop, Rodovre’s city hall. Hundreds of people assembled in front of a stage festooned with red and white balloons, and others leaned out of windows of a multi-story office building as several took the stage and spoke, including the mayor and the U.S. ambassador to Denmark and Eller himself.  

Once the stage celebration of Eller has concluded, he and family drove the Buick at a motorcade clip of about 5 mph, slow enough that the conquering hero could sign autographs as the car inched its way along the boulevard with an adoring and growing crowd surrounding the vehicle. It’s a short distance to the next stop, Rodovre Skojte Arena, where Eller played as a youth. This 3,600-seat rink is also home to the Rodovre Mighty Bulls, a team in Denmark’s Metal Ligaen, the top level of pro hockey in the country.

Larger-than-life banners of Eller and his fellow NHL Danes Jannik Hansen and Mikkel Boedker adorn the outside the rink, and a sizable crowd had already gathered inside. Eller carried the Cup through the throng outside and into the arena where he was introduced to the approving crowd. Eller posed for photos with various current Rodovre youth hockey teams, and a really warm moment occurred when some of Eller’s own former youth teammates and coaches joined him on the ice. Eller was happy to see them, and they were thrilled to share in their old friend’s special day. 

Once the on-ice ceremonies concluded, Eller was further feted at a VIP reception in the upstairs area of the arena. Late in the afternoon, and after grazing on hors d’oeuvres at the reception for half an hour or so, we were back on the road. Eller wanted to make a stop at his nearby grade school, and it was a quick one. As he posed with the Cup held high, he told us of a family photograph of him sitting on these same front steps before his first day of kindergarten. “This is the ‘after’ photo,” he beamed, pumping the Cup toward the sky again. 

At this point, we separated from Eller, who went to downtown Copenhagen for a national television appearance. For the rest of us, it was an opportunity to finally go check into our hotel, get out of the clothes we put on in Toronto a day earlier, get a shower and maybe even a quick nap. We had got just under two hours before we needed to reconvene for the last leg of Eller’s day, a stop at Dandy, a downtown Copenhagen nightclub where a private reception is scheduled. Our crew walked from the hotel to the appointed meeting location, and as the sun sank behind the skyline, Eller carried the Cup a block or two from his hotel to Dandy, and the night was underway. 

Caps teammate Andre Burakovsky showed up hours before the start of his own day with the chalice, and the place was packed to the gills. We stayed at Dandy long enough to witness the video presentation and Pritchard and Della-Savia’s presentation too, we shared a toast, and then us folks in the Caps’ crew opted to duck out early. It was the right move; we were able to dine outside under the night sky in gorgeous Copenhagen, and more importantly,  we were able to get back to the hotel and get some of the sleep we missed out on the night before, when we were trying unsuccessfully to doze at 30,000 feet. 

 

Thursday, August 9

Geography became our friend on this day. We had to travel across the Atlantic Ocean for Eller’s day with the Cup, but we needed only to take a short drive of about 45 minutes to get over the Oresund Bridge from Copenhagen to Malmo, Sweden for our next stop. Malmo is the home of Caps winger Andre Burakovsky, and after a hearty breakfast at our Copenhagen hotel, a short drive and a brief encounter with customs agents, we arrived at his parents’ house shortly after 9 a.m.  

Burakovsky and some friends and family members greeted us, and we spent a few minutes in the backyard taking some photos. The doors of his home were wide open, and Burakovsky’s dad Robert pointed out the unusually hot summer they’re having in Sweden this year. Most homes and places of business don’t have air conditioning in this part of the world, but the summer of 2018 is the hottest here in more than 250 years. Wildfires have broken out to the north, and there is a temporary embargo on barbecuing or grilling outside, with hefty fines as the penalty for doing so. 

We snapped a couple of shots of Burakovsky standing near an old and battered hockey net, the same one he practiced with as a kid. We made one more stop at a nearby beach to get some good shots of Burakovsky raising the Cup with the water and the Oresund Bridge in the background. 

Among all the countries in the world, only Canada and the United States have produced more NHL players than Sweden’s 318, according to hockeyreference.com. Andre Burakovsky was born in Austria while his dad was playing there in 1995, and the elder Burakovsky is one of five Malmo natives to reach the NHL over the years. But the younger Burakovsky is the first NHL player to win the Cup and bring it to this seaside metropolis. 

Our next stop was the rink where Burakovsky played until his early teen years, the Linhamn Hockey Rink in Malmo. A stage was set up outside, and Burakovsky drove up to it with the Cup in a silver convertible. As some short speeches were delivered, a long line began to form and Burakovsky spent the late morning and early afternoon posing for photos and signing for autographs until the line was gone. 

While Burakovsky signed, I took a peek inside the rink. A local team was in the midst of a well-regimented practice session, and the brief portion I witnessed consisted of about eight simultaneous, two-man puck battle drills. It always feels good to be inside a hockey rink, but it was especially welcome on this scorcher of a midsummer day in Malmo. 

Burakovsky’s next stop was a somber one. He visited the home of former Malmo Redhawks teammate Jesper Mattsson. Earlier this summer, Mattsson’s teenaged son Oliver passed away after a fight with a rare ailment, aplastic anemia. 

After a late afternoon change of clothes, we arranged to meet Burakovsky in front of a downtown hotel. From there, the plan was to carry the Cup through the downtown city streets of Sweden’s second largest city for a happy hour stop at the Moosehead Bar, a nice spot with plenty of outdoor seating. As you can imagine, the Cup turned heads and helped pull an even bigger crowd to the Moosehead, which was already teeming with Burakovsky’s friends, family and other guests for the evening. 

A few champagne toasts were given, and then the kegstands commenced. It was here that one of us wondered whether these kegstands were a frequent thing with previous Cup-winners. According to Pritchard, not at all. He doesn’t remember any other team ever doing kegstands, so consider that the Caps’ unique contribution to the Cup’s still expanding 125-year lore and history.

From the Moosehead, Burakovsky carried the Cup a short distance further to our final spot for the night, Paddy’s. Inside the Paddy’s complex there is an enclosed gin bar and an enclosed restaurant. In between the two is a decent sized outdoor patio with several tables and a canopy that can quickly be pulled across in the event of inclement weather. The Cup was placed upon a small platform in the outside area. 

Guests mingled and enjoyed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres for an hour or so before they were seated for dinner, and because the Cup was outside and the evening so pleasant, Pritchard and Della-Savia opted to dine in the open air. And because their company can’t be beat, we opted to join them. The meal was right up there with the company, among the best I had in my time in Europe this summer. I had the burrata with roasted beets to start, and went with long-baked roast celery with Swedish risotto, ramsonpesto and browned butter as my entrée. It was truly outstanding, all of it. 

Once dinner concluded, it didn’t take long for the party to get started in earnest. A DJ had much of the crowd up and moving for most of the night, and of course the Cup got plenty of attention as well. Burakovsky turned up at Jakub Vrana’s Cup day in Prague nearly a month earlier, and Vrana made the trip into Malmo to return the favor. Some speeches are made after dinner, including one by Burakovsky, who summons Vrana to the dais to join him. All of the speeches are in Swedish, but us Americans are able to make out the chanting portion of the Burakovsky/Vrana speech: “Back to back! Back to back!” 

As the night draws to a close, the skies open with a torrential downpour just after the canopy is pulled over to protect the outdoor guests. As midnight approaches and the last kegstands are executed and the final photos are taken, Burakovsky wraps his arms tightly around the big silver mug and hugs it lovingly for a minute or so before it’s placed in its box. 

Pritchard and Della-Savia wheeled the Cup here from our hotel, which is maybe half a mile away. Because of the ongoing rain, that was not an option for the return trip. After a bit of an adventure in trying to find a cab that can ferry five humans and a really big, wheeled box back to the hotel, we finally managed to do so. Sleep will be short; it was nearly 1 a.m. by the time we returned, and we’ve arranged a meeting at 8 a.m. in the lobby to head to the airport for a late morning flight to Stockholm. 

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