Rozner: Richmond's Stanley Cup dream comes home
Steve Richmond sat within a stick length of the big, silver souvenir Tuesday night, gazing at the Stanley Cup as if it were a mirage, almost as if he wasn't entirely sure it was real, afraid he might wake up to find the party just another cruel dream.
It had, after all, happened before.
He's not the first hockey lifer to spend four or five decades in the game and wake up at night, sickened by the reality, drenched in sweat, shivering in the dead of summer.
But this was no dream. It did not vanish. It was real.
"That's the Stanley Cup," Richmond repeated time and time again, cackling with delight as dozens of friends and family stared at the greatest trophy in sports. "That's the Stanley Cup, right here in my backyard."
It's not unusual, such a reaction, centermen and civilians alike often unable to move or speak when in the presence of hockey's Holy Grail, bewildered by its subtle beauty, beckoned by the names engraved upon its dented, ancient body, as if touching each letter might bring them closer to eternal hockey life.
It wasn't as if Richmond hadn't embraced Lord Stanley's bowl. The Capitals' director of player development, Richmond held it many times the night Washington won the title in June, and in the days following when Alex Ovechkin wasn't taking it for a swim in the National Mall.
But this night at his Lake Zurich home was so very special, the opportunity to share it with those nearest to him, those who had experienced his close calls, his night sweats in broad daylight.
"The whole day has been surreal," Richmond said. "It started at 7:30 this morning and 16 hours later it's still the same.
"You can see it out here right now at my house. People look at it and say, 'Oh my God. That's the Stanley Cup. It's really here.' "
Richmond made the rounds with the Cup Tuesday before his private party, taking it to bars, restaurants, schools and the Lake Zurich police and fire departments, sharing with old friends, strangers, children and teammates from his childhood in the city and suburbs, from which Richmond emerged as one of the first Chicago players ever to reach the NHL.
"Watch the look on people's faces. It makes it all worth it," said the 58-year-old Richmond, who's been with the Caps for 16 years. "It feels good to give my friends a chance to be with the Cup. I see what it means to them.
"All you have to do is look at their faces. Anyone who's ever played hockey dreams about winning it. To be near it is special.
"It took me a long time … "
Richmond stopped as wife, Jeanne, walked past. He grabbed her arm, pointed and said, "Look, it's right there. The Stanley Cup is in our backyard."
He watched her stop and look, again. He laughed, again. And then continued.
"We took nothing for granted that night in Vegas. We thought it would be our third or fourth Cup at that point, so you take nothing for granted," Richmond said of the night they clinched. "We were up three games to one. Up a goal, less than a second left and faceoff in our end. Still, you're saying, 'Win the faceoff. Please win the faceoff.'
"You can't describe the moment. Impossible. You wait your whole life, since you started skating at 6 years old in Wells Park in Chicago.
"I couldn't win it as a player. I had chances in the NHL in management. You start wondering, 'What do we have to do?' You start to wonder if it's gonna happen.
"It's so hard. It's hard to win one game in the playoffs, let alone 16. We lost the first two at home to Columbus and were short-handed in OT of Game 3 at their place and they hit a post and we win in double OT and win the next three.
"One post and we wouldn't be standing here in my backyard talking to you.
"I know how hard it is, every other night for two months, grinding it out. One game is hard. You win one game. You take a deep breath and you say, 'We have to win 15 more.' Are you nuts? It's so hard. That's why it's the greatest championship in the world."
With camp about to open, Richmond was getting on a plane Wednesday afternoon back to D.C., preparing for another long season of NHL hockey, with one significant difference.
"I got the chills when you said that," Richmond said, grinning ear to ear. "I can't wait to get back to Washington.
"I always love going back to work, but it's so special because we're the defending champs."
A ring will be removed from the trophy in the next month, names like Gordie Howe, Rocket Richard, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita coming off the Stanley Cup, soon to be replaced by Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Braden Holtby.
And, finally, Steve Richmond.
"You feel different when you win the Cup. I feel different in my profession," Richmond said. "You look at Cup winners differently. People look at me different now. It's still a surreal feeling to know we finally got there."
It was getting close to midnight and the Keeper of the Cup, Howie Borrow, was facing a seven-hour drive to Ohio after arriving in Chicago at 4 a.m. Tuesday.
With "We Are The Champions" still blaring on the patio speakers, it was nearly time to say goodbye to the silver chalice, so Steve Richmond put the trophy on his front porch and took a final picture.
"Look at that," he offered one last time. "That's the Stanley Cup."
The stuff that dreams are made of.
• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.