What's in a name?
If you are lucky enough to be one of the 3,177 names engraved on the Stanley Cup, it means your own piece of immortality.
The importance of those small engravings, done once a year by a silversmith since 1924 – when the practice of putting the names of the players from the winning team on the Cup began – is spotlighted in a new NHL TV spot. It was first shown at the start of the conference finals a few weeks ago, on both the Canadian and U.S. broadcasts, and will run throughout the Stanley Cup final.
In the 60-second video, called Spelling, 23 current and former NHL players, all of them Hall of Famers or surely headed there, simply spell their names as the camera pans from one great to the next, with a couple of shots of where their names appear on the Cup.
The first to speak are the two generational Penguins superstars, Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby. The spot includes a father and son in Bobby and Brett Hull, a salute to the late Gordie Howe as Wayne Gretzky holds his picture, and four members of the New York Islanders dynasty of the early 1980s – Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin and Billy Smith. The video ends with a rare appearance by Bobby Orr, who may have the shortest surname on the trophy.
"If you're fortunate enough to be on a team that wins it, your name is on it and you're king forever," Toronto Maple Leafs legend Dave Keon, whose name appears on the Cup four times, told the makers of a separate documentary, Names on the Cup, which will be shown at Cineplex cinemas this week.
The Spelling spot is the latest in a series of NHL videos about what winning a Stanley Cup means to the players. Spelling, like the other videos, has received a lot of positive responsese from hockey fans, mostly on social media.
"Well, I didn't see the commercial until it was on TV," said Bobby Clarke, of Philadelphia Flyers fame. "Like all the fans, I liked it. I thought it was well done. You get a lot of people saying how much they enjoyed the commercial. How well done it was, how great it was."
For such an effective spot, it did not require a lot of resources. Just a few cameras and simple, dim lighting. And no script to memorize.
"Well, yeah, it was easy. We all can spell our own names," Clarke said. "They just brought you over, you had to spell your name, laugh and joke with them a little bit. It was easy but it was fun."
The shoot was made easier because the NHL brought 67 of its surviving top 100 players to the all-star game in Los Angeles in January for a black-tie celebration, so a lot of them were readily available for the shooting.
The project had been in the works for several years, and the spot was ultimately a collaboration between the league's marketing department and Baby Bear's Porridge Productions, a New York advertising agency that also worked on a similar 2015 spot.
Brian Jennings, the NHL's chief brand officer, said the idea of doing something with the names on the Cup goes back about three years. It gained steam not only because 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the NHL, but because it's also the 125th anniversary of the Stanley Cup.
"We'd talk about the silversmiths and having the names put to that," Jennings said.
"Over time, when we were doing some of these executions, we came up with the rough outline of, 'Wow, it would be really cool to focus in on having your name immortalized on the Stanley Cup.' You look at the names, you go over them with your fingers and get really up close to the Cup.
"Typically, if we were to go around and try to capture all these guys, it would be prohibitively expensive for us to do and do effectively," Jennings said. "We knew time was going to be scarce with these athletes because they were going to be called up on stage at the theatre [in L.A.], so we probably had – in some instances – anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes with each guy. Not a lot of time to nail what we wanted to do, which is always multiple outtakes in making sure we were capturing their personalities and their expressions."
But even in this short spot, some of the players' personalities come through. There is the intensity of Jonathan Toews and Steve Yzerman, the humour of Phil Esposito and a flash of warmth from Orr, among others.
Two versions of the video were shot – one for Canada and one for the U.S. The crucial difference is the pronunciation of the letter Z in Gretzky and Yzerman – zed in Canada and zee south of the border.
"Some guys' personalities are always serious, and that's what made them the players they are," Jennings said. "You saw some of their personalities come out, which I thought was really great. They won, their names are immortalized, their names are on there.
"That was the best part, watching the guys as it was shot. I pinched myself a couple of times because there was so much hockey royalty there. You're almost like, 'Oh my god, waiting outside the room is Mark Messier.' And he comes walking in, and then Gretzky comes walking in and then Toews. And you're like, 'I've got the coolest job in the world.'"
The shot of the four Islanders shows that getting your name on the Cup creates a strong bond with those who did it alongside you.
"You can clearly see how close the four of us still are," Potvin said. "The same goes for the rest of the teammates. Sixteen of us have four [Stanley Cup] rings, 19 consecutive playoff wins."
For the record, there were 23 players shown in the 60 seconds of the video. In order of appearance they are: Orr, Bossy, Trottier, Potvin, Smith, Brett and Bobby Hull, Lemieux, Crosby, Keon, Messier, Gretzky, Sergei Fedorov, Ray Bourque, Clarke, Patrick Roy, Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Esposito, Toews, Martin Brodeur, Mike Modano and Teemu Selanne.