(August 13, 2003) — The Stanley Cup sat in the airport in Prague late Sunday (August 3), waiting to be checked through for its flight to Moscow. "I am sorry gentlemen, but this container is overweight and we will have to charge you extra," a man at the check-in counter explained apologetically. "It will be quite expensive because this case is very, very heavy."
Resigned to the financial fate, the Cup Keepers shrugged and pulled out a corporate credit card. This wasn't a new scenario by any means, but was not a regular occurrence. But as the large blue case housing the Stanley Cup ran through the x-ray, an animated agent exclaimed, "Holy cow! Is this the Stanley Cup?" "Uh huh," came the reply. "Oh my word! Guys - I've got the Stanley Cup here!" The agent called his colleagues over. "Can we look at it?" "Sure," came the reply from the Keeper of the Cup. As the case was opened and the brilliant trophy removed, the flight manager stepped forward. "Boys," he started, "Thank you for the opportunity to see this historic trophy and thank you for bringing it to our country. Don't worry about paying the added freight cost, I'll waive the amount and you're fine to go on. And by the way, as our thanks to you, we've upgraded you to business class seats. Please enjoy your flight!"
The flight from Prague to Moscow took two hours, and at 1:15 early on Monday, August 4, the Stanley Cup returned to Moscow Airport. This was but the third time the Stanley Cup had visited Russia. The first was in 1997 when Slava Fetisov, Slava Kozlov and Igor Larionov brought the Stanley Cup home after the Detroit Red Wings won the championship. Last year, after Detroit's victory, Larionov and teammates Pavel Datsyuk and Sergei Fedorov brought the Cup back to Russian soil. On Monday, both Russian Devils, Oleg Tverdovsky and Sergei Brylin, met the plane at the arrival deck and escorted the Stanley Cup to a VIP holding area while passports were processed. Within moments, Oleg Tverdovsky pulled out one of the seven bottles of champagne he had purchased en route, and the bowl of the Stanley Cup was filled to the brim with the sweet nectar of champions. Tverdovsky passed the Cup from his agent to one of his friends, each taking a healthy sip from the legendary mug. A number of media members were also present, and at 2:15 that morning, a press conference featuring both Tverdovsky and Brylin took place.
As the parties exited the holding area, Oleg looked at the Cup Keepers and said, "You guys ride with the guy with the weapon." The boys from the Hockey Hall of Fame couldn't move. It was almost as if their feet were cemented to the Russian sidewalk. "Wha-wha-what?!"
"Yes," Oleg explained. "You will find that everywhere we go in Moscow, there will be an armed guard." "Are you concerned about something happening," asked Mike Bolt, one of the two people escorting the Stanley Cup. "Concerned? No," said Oleg. "But you never know. It's just the way things are done here."
The mini-convey of two Mercedes and an SUV holding the Stanley Cup whisked into an exclusive enclave approximately twenty minutes from the airport where Russian President Vladimir Putin also resides. There, at three in the morning, a feast had been laid out for Oleg Tverdvosky and his guests - fish, breads, salads, cheese plus the requisite wine and vodka. Toasts were made to the champion. "We respect the Stanley Cup and know how much it means to Oleg and the NHL, but hope some day to have a Russian trophy that means the same to this country," said one celebrant as he raised a glass of vodka to honour Tverdovsky.
The welcoming party dispersed just after 6AM, and with a Moscow sunrise very much in evidence, the Stanley Cup was taken to the Moscow Renaissance Hotel. Within hours, the Cup was on its way once again.
Oleg Tverdovsky met the guys from the Hockey Hall of Fame at 12:30 that Monday afternoon and led the Stanley Cup to the first of two arenas. Both featured a gaggle of kids on the ice honing their skills. Oleg had once played at the second arena with Krylja Sovetov (Soviet Wings) before moving to North America and joining the Brandon Wheat Kings in 1994 as an eighteen-year old junior phenom. All the children got their photographs taken with Tverdovsky and the Stanley Cup, and there was no doubt that each one of those kids knew the significance of the trophy with which they posed!
After leaving the second arena, Oleg took the Stanley Cup to the gym where he works out -- a relatively new Gold's Gym. While there, the group ate lunch and met more of the media wanting to cover Oleg's visit to Moscow with the Stanley Cup.
Mid-afternoon, the Stanley Cup was driven to a large hotel where it would reside for the rest of the day. Oleg Tverdovsky set the Cup up in a private room and for almost two hours, a media reception took place. As the reporters were leaving, Oleg's friends began to arrive for a party in his honour that evening. Teammate Sergei Brylin showed up, as did NHL greats Slava Fetisov and Igor Larionov. Exhibiting the finest in Russian hospitality, the party-goers were well fed and well-watered. "It is very special to bring the Cup home to Russia and show all the people here," beamed Oleg. The Russian hockey players are very aware how much the Stanley Cup means to fans in their homeland. "I can't even explain what I feel like," Tverdovsky blurted excitedly last June in the Devils' dressing room after being presented with the trophy. "We won the Cup. My name is going to be on the Stanley Cup. That is something I will always remember." Ironically, Oleg joined New Jersey from Anaheim prior to the 2002-03 season in a deal that also brought Jeff Friesen to the Devils.
The party continued until three o'clock in the morning before sound minds wrapped up the celebration. At 7:30 on Tuesday, August 5, it would be Sergei Brylin's turn to celebrate with the Stanley Cup. Brylin met the Cup Keepers in the hotel lobby, then they all made their way to a television station.
In the United States, early morning television viewers watch 'Good Morning America.' In Canada, it's 'Canada AM.' In Russia, the most viewed morning show is 'Dobroye Utro,' and it's on that popular show that Sergei Brylin brought the Stanley Cup on Tuesday. "It's always special to have the Cup," Brylin said. "I thought it would be great for my family, friends and fans in Russia." Although this is the third Stanley Cup victory for Brylin, on both prior occasions, Sergei and his wife Elena celebrated with the Stanley Cup at their home in New Jersey.
After the television show, Sergei carried the Stanley Cup out of the downtown studio. The Cup Keepers were seriously taken aback to see guards with machine guns outside the TV station, but Brylin explained that it was the way of life in much of Russia, and that no one should feel nervous or intimidated.
The Stanley Cup was driven to the Moscow suburb of Khimki and the home of Sergei's parents. The Brylins live in a seven-storey apartment complex northwest of the Russian megacity. Stepping inside, Sergei walked hockey's ultimate prize into the bedroom that, not so long ago, he once used to dream about playing in the NHL. Sergei's hockey items from his childhood have been left intact. His hockey cards are still there; many hanging on the walls where they were taped when Brylin was a boy. "It's a great honour to now have my picture on a hockey card just like the ones I used to collect," Sergei said with no small amount of pride in his voice. Looking out the window past a dog-eared poster of Patrick Roy, Sergei pointed out the spot where he and his neighbourhood friends played street hockey long before his move to North America in 1994.
After saying goodbye to his mother, father and sister, Sergei took the Stanley Cup around Moscow. Brylin noted, "This is my first time bringing the Cup home to Moscow, and you never know if you're going to get another chance. I want to show the Stanley Cup to as many people as possible!" Red Square was closed that day, so Sergei was unable to take the Cup to what many regard as Moscow's most famous site. The Cup posse stopped at a fitness club called Wild, and the management presented Brylin with flowers as the media looked on. They later went to a friend's printing shop, where 1,000 red t-shirts had been prepared with the date (AUGUST 5) and a photograph of Sergei Brylin holding the Stanley Cup. There, with champagne and hors d'oeuvres, they celebrated Brylin's third cup. A massive banner had been prepared that, translated, read: 'SERGEI BRYLIN, NEW JERSEY DEVILS, CONGRATULATIONS!'
The Stanley Cup, as always under the watchful eye of fully-armed guards, then went over to a press conference at the Izvestia office. Moscow City Duma's Vladimir Platonov presided over the event, which included Sergei, his father and a number of other Russian athletes. An animated discussion about the state of hockey in Russia ensued.
A private party was then on the agenda, held at the Moscow Sheraton. Family and close friends entered the reception hall at 6PM to the sight of cakes made in the shape of the Stanley Cup. Vodka was being poured liberally and the food was incredible - sweet and sour chicken, pork, roast beef and plenty of vegetables and salads. Attendees, including colleague Oleg Tverdovsky and Vladimir Bure, enjoyed themselves immensely. Bure is the Devil's fitness consultant and an Olympic athlete from Russia. Two of his sons know a little bit about hockey too: Pavel and Valeri Bure.
Sergei had another trick up his sleeve. "I've rented Stone, and I want you all to come and we can celebrate there." Stone is one of Moscow's most exciting and exclusive nightclubs, and they closed their doors to the public that night for Brylin's party. "When I went to book it, they didn't want to rent it to me," chuckled Brylin. "It didn't matter who I was or whether I had the Stanley Cup. It took a while, but I was finally able to convince them to rent it to me." The club has the feel of a cave, but has pink fur on its walls. It's unusual, but that's what makes it so much fun. Sergei and his friends danced and enjoyed their evening thoroughly.
The party didn't go too late in relative terms. At 12:30 early Wednesday morning, it was time to put the Stanley Cup back in its case. By six o'clock, it would be on a plane from Moscow to Stockholm, Sweden.
Friday, set your dials for excitement as the Stanley Cup Journal ventures to Sweden, and a day celebrating with New Jersey Devils' defenseman, Tommy Albelin.
Kevin Shea is a freelance hockey writer and researcher from Toronto.
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