DENVER — For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, the NHL held a traditional Stanley Cup media day Tuesday. Every non-injured player from the finalists, the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning, sat at a podium and took questions from scrums of reporters.
For The Athleticit was an opportunity to hear what a multitude of players had to say about various championship-related questions — a player poll like we were able to execute in the pre-pandemic days.
What were players’ favorite Stanley Cup memories from their childhoods? Which of their teammates is most likely to be back to the Cup Final someday as a coach or GM? What do they think will happen in the final two games of the NBA Finals?
We asked scores of players, and here’s what we heard.
What was your favorite Stanley Cup memory growing up?
Cale Makar, Avalanche: As a kid, I was a Flames fan, so that ’04 Cup run was definitely the highlight of my childhood.
JT Compher, Avalanche: Probably Patrick Kane’s overtime winner against Philly (in 2010).
Valery Nichushkin, Avalanche: When I was young, I didn’t really watch hockey a lot, so it’s hard to (think of) a special one. I think the (Evgeni) Malkin first one (in 2009). He’s from Magnitogorsk, Russia. His town is close to my town. I remember how big it was — news, TV, everything.
Mikko Rantanen, Avalanche: I was a Pittsburgh guy growing up. 2009 was one I remember. I was watching Game 7 in Finland even though it was the middle of the night. … Don’t tell (teammate Darren Helm, a former Red Wing) I said that, though I guess he won the year earlier.
Jack Johnson, Avalanche: I do remember going to the Hockey Hall of Fame as a kid, young kid. I had a tournament in Toronto. I got to see the Cup at the Hall of Fame. I never touched it for whatever reason, so that was a good thing. That was one of the things that stands out: actually seeing it in person. But I’ve seen it on TV a bunch. Especially as a kid growing up in Detroit, I remember the Red Wings winning their back-to-back (in 1997 and 1998), Yzerman lifting the Cup. I remember when the Avs beat Florida in Game 4 (in 1996). Barely remember New York winning (in 1994). That’s about it.
Erik Johnson, Avalanche: I do remember when Colorado won the Cup in ’01. I remember when the Rangers beat the Canucks in ’94. I have a lot of good memories of it. I remember Ray Bourque getting the Cup.
Alex Newhook, Avalanche: The one I can remember most is when Danny Cleary won it (with Detroit in 2008). I just remember being pretty young and watching him in the Cup Final, and everyone in Newfoundland was pretty excited. I remember hearing stories about him growing up at home, and when he did win it, bringing it home and everything made it feel real, made it feel possible for guys like me to come up and get to this point. Big moment for me.
Pavel Francouz, Avalanche: Definitely when some of the Czech players played in the Cup, like Dominik Hasek with the Red Wings. And also my favorite memory was when Tim Thomas won the Cup with Boston.
Logan O’Connor, Avalanche: I think watching the Penguins and Sidney Crosby was pretty cool and all the hard work he put in and the expectations he had as a player. That’s not super long ago, but it’s pretty cool seeing what he accomplished and the legacy he has now.
Darren Helm, Avalanche: Didn’t really watch a lot of hockey. Probably the most memorable one would be the Dallas one (1999), where there was kind of a controversial goal.
Andre Burakovsky, Avalanche: I remember ’01, Avalanche in the Final and Peter Forsberg and all those guys. Forsberg was one of my favorite players growing up. And also Detroit with Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg and all those guys.
Josh Manson, Avalanche: I only have a bitter one of when my dad (Dave Manson) lost. I was at the game in Dallas when they lost to New Jersey (in 2000), and that was tough. I was young, but I realized the magnitude of what they were playing for, all the hard work he put into his career. And to lose, it was tough. It stuck with me my entire life, how hard it is to win the Stanley Cup, and you can’t take it for granted. Winning isn’t an easy thing.
Cal Foote, Lightning: Honestly, ’01. I don’t really remember too much, but the family winning, that’s pretty cool.
Nikita Kucherov, Lightning: As a kid, I never watched the NHL. We didn’t have the right channel. All I remember is the pictures. … All the Russians winning the Stanley Cup, I had those pictures on my wall. That’s something I wanted to do as a kid.
Mikhail Sergachev, Lightning: I was never watching NHL until I was 16 when I came to Canada. I was mainly watching KHL. … But there was world juniors, 2011, when Russia beat Canada.
Ryan McDonagh, Lightning: I actually followed the NFL a lot more with my uncle (Steve Walsh) playing in the NFL. … I do remember watching a lot of the Detroit Red Wings and the success they had. They used to be on ESPN, and you’d always be hearing the name Chris Chelios and started following the Hall of Fame career he had. Some of those Red Wings Cup moments would be some of the early memories for me.
Corey Perry, Lightning: You had school in the morning, so you watched some of the game but you don’t know who wins. I remember, waking up in the morning, that’s the first thing I did: Try to see who won the Stanley Cup.
The 2009 Penguins and the 2001 Avalanche — perhaps aided by revisionist history from Colorado players — tied for the most common answer.
What under-the-radar player on your team could score a big goal in the Stanley Cup Final?
Rantanen: Pretty much anybody. I don’t want to pick one guy because a lot of guys are playing well, under the radar. We have a lot of good players, like Cale and (Nathan MacKinnon) leading the way — those guys get the most recognition — but we have a lot of guys playing well.
Anthony Cirelli, Lightning: Maybe me. I haven’t scored a lot in these playoffs.
Alex Killorn, Lightning: (Ondrej) Palat. He’s just got a knock. Always knows where to be. He’s just got ‘it.’
Zach Bogosian, Lightning: Cirelli. He’s had great looks. He’s been talked about all playoffs for how good he is defensively, but he’s gonna score a big one.
Colton: Palat. He’s had so much success. Whenever we need a big play to happen, a goal or assist or a blocked shot, he does it all. He doesn’t get talked (about) as much as the other guys.
Jan Rutta, Lightning: Ross Colton.
Nick Paul, Lightning: Brandon Hagel.
The leaders for this question, at two a piece, were “anyone” from Colorado and Cirelli and Palat from Tampa Bay, though it should be noted that data was influenced by the question-askers only getting the chance to ask two Avalanche players.
What non-hockey sports championship would be the most fun to play in?
Calculate: Growing up, I probably would have said baseball. Now, I’d probably say golf. The Masters.
Nichushkin: I’m tall (6-foot-4). Maybe basketball. I played soccer a little bit when I was young because it’s a huge sport in Russia, so I like soccer a lot, too.
Rantanen: I’m from Europe and a big soccer guy. Or as we call it, football. You guys call it soccer. World Cup soccer would probably be the thing for me.
Newhook: The Masters would be pretty cool. I don’t have the goods to get there, but it would be cool to play in.
O’Connor: Masters would be tough to beat.
Manson: (I would) love to be coming down the stretch of the Masters with the lead. That would be surreal.
Erik Johnson: The Masters would be pretty sweet.
Burakovsky: I played soccer growing up, so if I had to pick one, it would probably be Champions League.
Foot: Super Bowl.
Sergachev: NBA Finals.
Brian Elliott, Lightning: I’d probably go baseball. I’m not a baseball player, but baseball playoffs are so intense. Every pitch means so much.
Bogosyan: Super Bowl. One game, everything on the line. That’d be awesome.
Colton: The Super Bowl would be pretty cool. I never played soccer. I always played baseball, so maybe the Super Bowl or World Series.
Rutta: Champions League Final.
Paul: Super Bowl.
For those not keeping track on your own…
What’s your NBA Finals prediction?
Calculate: Golden State is up 3-2. I don’t think you’re betting against Steph (Curry) now.
Newhook: I like the Celtics, just playing (college hockey) in Boston. I know a lot of people in the city, so it would be cool to see them win it.
O’Connor: At this point, probably Golden State, though I haven’t watched much.
Erik Johnson: I don’t follow basketball, but I like watching Steph Curry play.
Manson: I went to college in Boston. Take the Celtics. Maybe they win one at home and steal (Game 7).
Burakovsky: Golden State.
Cirelli: Golden State.
Colton: Golden State.
Sergachev: Golden State.
Paul: I want to say Boston, but I think Golden State is going to do it.
Rutta: Last night was probably the first basketball game I watched in 10 years. The Warriors looked pretty good.
What player or players who didn’t make the Stanley Cup Final impressed you most?
Calculate: That Florida top line. (Auston) Matthews. Obviously playing against (Connor) McDavid, (Leon) Draisaitl. Probably the top guys.
Newhook: Obviously McDavid, Draisaitl — those two guys had an exceptional postseason. I thought (Ryan) O’Reilly was really effective when we played against him. Maybe doesn’t stand out as much as McDavid, Draisaitl, but in the role he plays, his style, I thought he was really effective.
O’Connor: McDavid is an obvious one. Guys who maybe don’t get as much attention would be (David) Perron and O’Reilly. Those guys played so well in that series.
Helm: Nashville’s goalie, Connor Ingram. I thought he did a great job coming in in a tough situation.
Burakovsky: McDavid is always one. I played with him in Erie in junior. What he’s been doing is unbelievable. I’m really happy for him.
Manson: (Draisaitl) was playing with injuries and he was making things happen. That was really impressive.
Of your teammates, who could get back to the Stanley Cup as a coach or general manager?
Jack Johnson: I would probably have to go with (Gabriel Landeskog). He’s a pretty even-keeled guy. I think he could be able to make some decisions where he could separate some emotion from intellect.
Newhook: I’d say probably Gabe. He has that leadership trait and I could see him leading a team from any aspect, including GM.
Francouz: Landy has a good chance to be a good GM.
Erik Johnson: I could see Gabe doing it. I don’t know if he’s going to live here when he’s done playing. I don’t know if his wife will let him. But maybe him.
O’Connor: I could see Cogliano at some point. He’s been around the league for a long time. He’s very smart. You don’t play 1,200 games without having a good understanding of the game.
Burakovsky: I could see maybe Gabe or (MacKinnon).
Manson: Cogliano. Maybe as a GM. He’s got a good feel for what is going on with the team, what players might work in roles, system. He’s a very analytical person. He thinks about things, and when he speaks, you listen. Usually, he hits the nail on the head.
Foot: Patrick Maron.
Killorn: Stammer (Steven Stamkos) would be a great GM one day. Coach? Not me. I’m not sure any of our guys would want to follow (Jon Cooper’s) footsteps. Hard guy to top.
Bogosyan: McDonagh (as a GM).
Paul: I think (Brayden) Point would be a pretty good coach.
Rutta: (Victor) Hedman as GM.
Sergachev: Stammer could be a GM. Heddy could be a GM. He actually plays FIFA GM. Kucherov would make a good coach, but not a head coach. He gets upset.
McDonagh: I would say Stammer as far as a GM, building a team. … He’s grown up just watching hockey his whole life. He just knows the history and what it takes to win and all the important things to help build the team.
Perry: Ryan McDonagh.
(Top photo on Nathan MacKinnon: Ron Chenoy/USA Today)