Steven Stamkos was in full equipment when he took the Stanley Cup on Monday night from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, the Tampa Bay Lightning captain pressing the priceless trophy overhead at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
Under a Stanley Cup Champions hat, with a triumphant yell and a kiss of the sterling barrel, Stamkos promptly handed hockey’s holy grail to defenseman Victor Hedman, who moments earlier had been presented the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the postseason.
No sweat. Literally.
What Stamkos hadn’t done Monday, in winning his first Stanley Cup championship in his 12th NHL season, was skate a single shift. And in not playing for the Lightning in the final game of their remarkable run, a lower-body injury having trimmed his entire postseason to 2:47 over five shifts in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Dallas Stars, Stamkos joined a small group of captains who, from the sidelines, watched their team win the Stanley Cup.
The NHL statistical database does not track team captaincy, but the most accurate League records indicate that this was the sixth time since 1937 that a winning team’s captain did not take part in the trophy-clinching game.
Twice during his Hockey Hall of Fame career, Montreal Canadiens captain Yvan Cournoyer watched his teammates win the Stanley Cup, back surgery having prevented him from suiting up.
“It’s an interesting thing about the captain not being able to play — his teammates really want to win it for him,” Cournoyer said in the hours before Game 6 on Monday. “Of course, the Lightning want to win for themselves and their fans, but they also want to win for Stamkos, who’s a great leader on their team.”
Doug Young of the Detroit Red Wings was the first sidelined captain, breaking his leg 13 games into the 45-game 1936-37 schedule. His replacement, Orville Roulston, then broke his leg before the start of the playoffs.
Detroit Red Wings coach and GM Jack Adams and members of the 1936-37 team celebrate their Stanley Cup championship.
NHL president Frank Calder wanted to present the trophy to Jack Adams, the Red Wings coach and general manager, but Adams was so overcome with emotion, his team having successfully defended its 1935-36 championship, that he fainted in a Detroit Olympia dressing room. Calder finally brought the trophy into the winners’ room to hand it over, Young among the celebrants after the Red Wings had defeated the New York Rangers in five games.
Jean Beliveau was the next captain in street clothes, the Canadiens legend having taken a shot off his right ankle in practice before the clinching game of their five-game 1968 semifinal against the Chicago Black Hawks. Beliveau played through the pain to help eliminate Chicago but was badly hobbled the next day with an injury that was diagnosed as a bad bruise.
On crutches, his right leg in a cast from his foot to his knee, Montreal Canadiens captain Jean Beliveau speaks to fans in the Montreal Forum following the team’s 1968 championship win.
“It was really painful in the third period and overtime [of Game 5],” Beliveau said on the eve of the Stanley Cup Final against the second-year St. Louis Blues. “They didn’t find any crack with X-rays right after the game but two days later I could hardly walk. It’s a little better today but there will have to be a lot more improvement before I can skate again.”
Beliveau gave it a try, dressing for Game 1 of what would be a four-game sweep of the Blues, but he played just a few shifts in the first period before warming the bench the rest of the night.
Within a couple of days, his right leg was placed in a cast, from his foot to his knee, his season finished. Wearing a suit and on crutches, Beliveau spoke to a joyous Montreal Forum crowd after the Stanley Cup had been presented to veteran forward Ralph Backstrom by NHL president Clarence Campbell.
In street clothes, Montreal Canadiens captain Yvan Cournoyer kisses the Stanley Cup following its 1977 presentation by NHL president Clarence Campbell.
Cournoyer would twice in three years be out of uniform for Montreal’s Cup-clinching victories, surgery on his back in 1977 and again in 1979 leaving him on the sidelines.
Nicknamed “The Roadrunner” for his blazing speed, Cournoyer was unable to play a single game in the 1977 postseason, the Stanley Cup accepted that year at Boston Garden by acting captain Serge Savard after the Canadiens’ four-game sweep of the Bruins.
Cournoyer returned to lead the Canadiens to the 1977-78 championship, but would play 15 games in 1978-79, a second operation on his back ultimately ending his NHL career. Savard, who would assume the captaincy for two seasons upon Cournoyer’s retirement, again accepted the trophy, this time in Montreal after the Canadiens defeated the Rangers in five games in the Final to give them a run of four straight titles.
Calgary Flames co-captain Lanny McDonald with the Stanley Cup in 1989. At right, he’s joined by fellow co-captains Tim Hunter (left) and Jim Peplinski, who didn’t play in decisive Game 6 against the Canadiens.
And most recently, perhaps with an asterisk, there are the 1989 Calgary Flames, who were co-captained by Lanny McDonald, Jim Peplinski and Tim Hunter.
Only McDonald played against the Canadiens in Montreal on May 25, 1989, the Flames defeating the home team in Game 6 and winning the Stanley Cup. But Peplinski and Hunter came out onto Forum ice to join their team’s celebration, NHL president John Ziegler having presented the Cup.
McDonald, the future Hall of Famer who today is chairman of the Toronto shrine, went out in style. With 500 NHLregular-season goals and 1,111 games played, he scored that night in Calgary’s 4-2 win to help lift the Flames to their only championship to date, then hung up his skates for good.
Photos: Getty Images/HHoF Images