The plan, hatched by general manager Dean Lombardi, was to bring the Stanley Cup to Parliament Hill on Wednesday, a day ahead of the Los Angeles Kings game against the Ottawa Senators. It would have been a chance for the players to meet Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor-General David Johnston and perhaps start a new tradition, mimicking the long-standing U.S. practice of celebrating a sports championship at a White House function hosted by the president.
Unhappily, the timing didn't work out. The Kings' visit would have overlapped with the funeral in Montreal of the legendary Jean Béliveau, where the Kings will be represented by the president of business operations Luc Robitaille.
The Kings had the names of 16 Canadian-born players inscribed on the Stanley Cup, including Justin Williams (of Cobourg, Ont.), who won the Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP; and defenceman Drew Doughty (of London), the runner-up.
"It's out respect for the game of hockey," explained Robitaille, of the decision to cancel the visit. "Doing that, to me, was important for our organization – and our players are totally on board. They know there's no way we can go celebrate with the Stanley Cup on the same day as Jean Béliveau's (funeral)."
The Kings tried to seek out replacement dates, and something could change at the last minute, but their schedule is tight with games in Ottawa Thursday, Montreal Friday and Toronto Sunday before they head back west to play St. Louis and finish their five-game trip.
According to Robitaille, "We thought, could we come back Saturday, could we go maybe Monday? But it's three games in four nights. It's so much."
Kings coach Darryl Sutter, a long-time acquaintance of the Prime Minister dating back to his days with the Calgary Flames, had hoped to schedule a number of team activities on the trip to Ottawa, including a practice on the Rideau Canal with some local minor hockey teams had it been later in the winter.
The irony is that it was Lombardi, an American-born in Holyoke, Mass., who came up with the idea of bringing the famous trophy to Parliament. Lombardi made the suggestion after the Kings won their second Stanley Cup in three seasons last spring. From there, it was handed off to Robitaille and Michael Altieri, the Kings vice-president of communications and broadcasting, to flesh out the details.
"When Dean said it in the paper, we were going, 'man, he's right!'" said Robitaille. "We were blown away that the Cup doesn't go to Canada. Hockey means so much to all of us in Canada; it should go every year. It means a lot to Dean. It was his thing. He understands the hockey culture in Canada."
Instead, Robitaille will attend Béliveau's funeral. He spoke of what an icon the Canadiens great was in his family.
"This is how I described it to my wife and the people in the U.S.: The Rocket was like Babe Ruth and Jean Béliveau was like Joe Dimaggio," said Robitaille. "I remember, when I was growing up, on Christmas, we would go to my grandmother's and downstairs, some of my uncles would play poker and some would play pool. I was eight and I'd listen to them telling stories about the Rocket and Jean Béliveau. This was the era of Guy Lafleur and my dad loved Yvan Cournoyer, so he was my guy. But everybody would talk about the legends of Jean Béliveau and Rocket; they were almost above and beyond the game. There was such an aura about them.
"I didn't realize what he meant then until I was a player and then thought, 'wow, he's got his name 17 times on the Cup.' We talked here for eight years about developing a culture – and what it means – and then you think, it's guys like that who help you create a culture. Imagine going to play for the Montreal Canadiens and Jean Béliveau stops by to say hello. I don't care who you are, if you don't respect that, you shouldn't play hockey."
And since it doesn't look as if it'll work out this year, the only solution is for the Kings to win the Cup again.
"Sure, I was looking forward to going," said Williams, "but I'm not going to dwell on it. It is what it is. Oh well, we'll win another one and try it again."