Tomas Kaberle is in the same exact position as his older brother, Frantisek, was five years ago: playing for the Stanley Cup and thinking this might be his one-and-only chance to win an NHL championship. Frantisek's Carolina Hurricanes were the favourites and he was one of the defence-by-committee crew that ultimately played seven gruelling cross-continent games against the Edmonton Oilers before winning it all.
"When I saw him come back that summer after winning the Stanley Cup, he looked like a different person," Kaberle remembered Tuesday. "It was a difficult couple of months for him and they had to work really hard.
"But the first thing he said was, 'It was worth it.' I was watching back home on TV. At the end of the day, he said, 'It was an unbelievable feeling and I'll probably never be in it again, so I was enjoying it.'"
Kaberle gets his chance to follow in his brother's footsteps, beginning Wednesday when the Boston Bruins open the 2011 Stanley Cup final against the Canucks in Vancouver – and the challenge is pretty comparable. It'll be more than 4,000 kilometres of flying each way between the cities, the longest travel in a final in NHL history.
The 33-year-old defenceman from the Czech Republic was used to far shorter commutes in his previous life with the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he played before joining the Bruins at the NHL trading deadline last February . And while he's had an up-and-down time making the transition to his new team, he is here now, four victories away from the Stanley Cup, averaging a little more than 16 minutes of ice time a game and with a chance to get the Bruins slumping power-play going.
If the Canucks have an edge anywhere, it is on the blueline, where their starting six runs deeper than Boston's. However, should Kaberle ramp it up this round – and coach Claude Julien said he liked what he saw of Kaberle in three of the past four games – then the margin between the two teams shrinks just a little.
Kaberle didn't want to leave Toronto, where he played his entire career, but said his former teammates have stayed in constant touch throughout the playoffs – and escalated the text messages in the five days before the final, offering congratulations and best wishes. According to Kaberle, friendships don't end – even if a player moves on to another team.
"It's nice to hear from them," Kaberle said. "Just because we don't play together any more or spend time together any more doesn't mean we can't to talk to each other any more."
But he's also happy in his new surroundings for however long it might last. Kaberle becomes an unrestricted free agent following the season and it's anybody's guess what the market for his services will be – or if he'll need to move on again. In the meantime, "I'm happy," Kaberle said. "It's been a long run so far and hopefully, it's going to be successful. I have such fun with these guys, they are such good guys in the dressing room, on and off the ice. Not being in the playoffs the last six years, it was difficult.
"Obviously, we got twice to the conference final with Toronto, but this is different. This is special. It seems like it's the Olympics. You never know if you can do it again, so hopefully, you can make the best of it."