It’s not quite on the breathless level of “Hey, Uncle Travis, tell us again about the time you won the Cup,” but it’s in the same neighbourhood.
Big-time hockey players are fans of the game, too, and there’s an unmistakable cachet that comes with having hoisted the NHL’s sacred chalice.
So, at times like these, players like Montreal Canadiens winger Travis Moen – one of five members of the team to have their names etched on the Stanley Cup – are often called upon to tell war stories to younger teammates.
“It probably comes up more than you think, guys are interested to hear how it happened, what went into it,” said Moen, who won with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.
The Habs have five players who will be taking part in their first postseason game Thursday at the Bell Centre, when Montreal faces off against the Ottawa Senators.
Virtually every player in the NHL has played for a championship at one time or another in their life, whether it’s in the minors, junior or youth hockey, but the Stanley Cup playoffs, hockey people insist, are different.
The physical intensity, the crazed fans, the stage and the stakes make it that way.
Some players wilt in the hothouse atmosphere, others suddenly thrive, there’s no reliable way to predict it.
That’s where playoff-hardened veterans can come in handy, whether it’s with a timely bit of advice, or with an anecdote of pain and suffering – which are legion in the postseason annals.
“Everybody wants to get there from the time they’re a little kid,” Habs rookie Brendan Gallagher said, referring to the Stanley Cup, “so it’s good to hear about exactly what it takes, from people who have done it.”
If there’s any pressure on the Habs group of playoff neophytes – it includes Gallagher, fellow rookies Alex Galchenyuk and Jarred Tinordi and young veterans Max Pacioretty and Raphael Diaz – head coach Michel Therrien, who has a Stanley Cup final appearance on his résumé, is doing his best to alleviate it.
“We don’t feel the pressure,” he intoned Wednesday, “we apply the pressure. That’s how I see it.”
It’s a message Therrien delivered directly to his players – he met with each of the quintet to get a feel for their mental state.
“To me, there’s no pressure … they’ve done their homework,” he said.
While the Sens are carrying 16 holdovers from last year’s first-round series against the New York Rangers, they also have half-dozen postseason debutantes.
But many of them are players like Eric Gryba, who won a Calder Cup in the AHL, and first-year centre Mika Zibanejad, who scored the overtime winner for Sweden at the 2011 world junior championship.
“It’s good to have that feeling of having won before,” said the 20-year-old Zibanejad, who didn’t hide his excitement at the prospect of a playoff bow in a raucous building like the Bell Centre.
Ottawa coach Paul MacLean, who won the Cup as an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings, and defenceman Sergei Gonchar, a member of the championship-winning Pittburgh Penguins squad in 2009, are the only Sens with Stanley Cup pedigrees.
But there are several others, including captain Daniel Alfredsson and resident hard man Chris Neil, who remember the sting of losing the 2007 final to Anaheim.
“You have to try and keep guys patient, and remind them not to try and do too much at the start,” Neil said. “You also have to know how to take care of yourself, treatments, rest and all that. There are a lot of distractions, people calling for tickets, friends and family coming to town … you have to know how to put that aside.”
At the same time, the 31-year-old forward said the relevance of experience can be overblown; players tend to figure out quickly what’s required in the playoffs, whether it’s on their own or because a veteran or a coach gets in their ear.
Winning, it seems, is a habit that can be acquired, provided you’re willing to pay the often steep cost. “They’ve all got cool stories,” the 20-year-old Gallagher said of his conversations with players like Moen and captain Brian Gionta, “a lot of them are about the crazy injuries guys played with. Basically, if you can stand, you play.”
Moen’s memories of triumph are as fresh as Neil’s are raw.
Of the many tales he tells his teammates, not all of which are suitable for public recounting, perhaps the most uplifting is that of former Ducks goalie Jean-Sébastien Giguère.
As Anaheim prepared for the first round, Giguère’s wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, a boy who needed a risky surgery to deal with a severe eye ailment.
“[Ilya Bryzgalov] started the first round against Minnesota for us, and he stood on his head, but we got shelled pretty good in Game 4. And so [Giguère] came back in and carried us from there. To have something that traumatic happen to your family and come back like that is pretty amazing,” Moen said. “That’s the playoffs.”