Take it from me — one of the benefits of a lifetime in journalism is the fun and excitement you experience along the way.
For that, I’m forever grateful.
In how many occupations do you get to meet Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip — not once, but twice in a few days? Or meet and interview seven Canadian prime ministers? How about attending the World Series, the Olympics, Stanley Cup celebrations, several Grey Cup games and many other highlights thrown in?
I was so fortunate; I did all those things.
That’s what came to mind last Thursday evening as I watched Alex Ovechkin acting like a kid in a candy store or toy department as he consumed the joys of the Stanley Cup championship won by his Washington Capitals.
I was lucky to have been in four Stanley Cup dressing room celebrations — three by the Toronto Maple Leafs, one by the Montreal Canadiens.
Being there, getting soaked with champagne, I could easily understand what the big centre, latest winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy, was experiencing. He wasn’t overdoing it. He was responding to a dream he possessed for a long time.
I have no idea what it would be like to be a member of a championship team. I can only go by what I’ve seen up close. Ovechkin and his teammates were demonstrating what victory means to athletes, no matter how long they’ve been striving for such a triumph.
I have to admit, I haven’t always been an Alex Ovechkin fan, even though knowing he has been one of the greatest scorers ever.
But I was happy for him the other night.
He has never really been given the recognition he’s deserved through his NHL career.
An example: The Hockey News, in its 2017-18 yearbook last fall, didn’t even consider him as the best Washington player. In its NHL ratings, Ovechkin was in the number 36 slot, trailing goaltender Braden Holtby at number 13, and centre Nicklas Backstrom at number 16.
In the accompanying article, the hockey “bible” said of Ovechkin: “The scrutiny will be searing this year, as Ovie tries to prove he’s not a fallen star.”
Well, he sure didn’t fall anywhere.
Through two months of playoff hockey, Ovechkin lived up to his reputation. So did Holtby and Backstrom. So did T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson and others.
For Ovechkin, receiving the MVP prize was icing on the cake.
In 1965, when the Conn Smythe was presented for the first time — to Canadiens captain Jean Beliveau — my friend Sterling Bain and I were in the dressing room in Montreal. A photo of us with Beliveau, the Stanley Cup and Smythe trophy was one of Sterling’s most prized possessions right up until his death.
The morning after Washington’s victory, I browsed the social media outlets to see what was being said about the club’s triumph against the Vegas Golden Knights, the finest expansion team ever in any professional league.
One headline, more than others, caught my attention — and got me thinking of my experiences covering the Toronto and Montreal celebrations a half century ago.
The headline: “This is what it’s all about. Memories that will last forever.”
How true. How very true.
I thought of some of the comments spoken by members of the Capitals.
“It’s the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me,” said one.
“I’ve never seen a team come together like this. I’ve never seen such chemistry,” said another.
Again, I was feeling blessed that, during my scouting years with Toronto, I got to be in four Stanley Cup dressing rooms in just five years. I never got tired of it.
The Leafs win in 1963 — the club’s second in a row — was in Maple Leaf Gardens. What a dream-come-true it was to be there watching guys like Frank Mahovlich, Dave Keon, Johnny Bower and Tim Horton spraying each other with champagne like excited children.
I wanted to return the next year and, sure enough, there I was, again in Maple Leaf Gardens. That was the year I watched the sixth game of the finals in Detroit, the night Bobby Baun scored the winning goal in overtime on a broken leg. Two nights later, I was at the victory party following a shutout clincher by Bower.
Since Sterling Bain, a Montreal fan, came with me to Toronto, I promised him another trip — if the Canadiens ever win the silverware at home. It happened the very next year and it was great seeing Sterling mingling with stars like Beliveau, Yvan Cournoyer and Henri Richard.
Should I mention my last experience being at a Leafs championship? If I say it was 51 years ago — in 1967 — you’ll quickly notice it was the last time Toronto and the cup got together. And I confess, it’s been a very long time since then.
Let’s forget those details.
The other night, I also thought of other winning clubs through the years, teams right here in our own province.
I thought of the championships by Pictou County hockey teams like the New Glasgow Rangers, Pictou Maripacs, Stellarton Royals, Trenton Scotias and Weeks Midgets.
I thought of winners in Halifax-Dartmouth like the Nova Scotia Voyageurs, Cole Harbour Scotia Colts and Halifax Mooseheads.
I thought of other champions I saw, like the Halifax Atlantics, Amherst Ramblers and Windsor Maple Leafs.
That’s the wonderful thing about sports — teams reaching their short-time or long-time goals.
The dreams of so many.
For 100 plus years, youngsters of all ages and sizes in communities across our great country have had their childhood dreams. Not just in organized leagues, but on streets, on ponds, in family driveways. Always playing, always shooting pucks into a net, always envisioning that they just won the Stanley Cup.
Yes, “this is what it’s all about.”