Long Cup wait ends for Hedican
OAKDALE, Minn. -- It is not yet 9 a.m. on a Saturday, and Jerry Hedican is standing at the edge of his driveway on a quiet cul-de-sac peering toward the end of this quiet, suburban street near St. Paul.
The Cup is on its way, and the nervous energy at the Hedican household is hard to contain. Minutes later, Jerry's son, Bret Hedican, rolls into the driveway. Beside the Carolina Hurricanes defenseman, reclining slightly, securely belted into place, is the most famous trophy in all of sports. Looking out the driver side window, Hedican grins like a maniac.
The Cup is quickly surrounded by Hedican's parents Jerry (Gerald) and Terry (Theresa), friends and family.
"There she is, boys," the veteran defenseman says with the kind of reverence usually reserved for newborn babies and buried treasure.
Hedican's wife, former Olympic gold-medal figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi, their two children and her family, in from the West Coast, arrive and the celebration is in full swing.
Not that this is anything unusual for the Hedicans.
Terry is one of 12 children. Christmases have and continue to be loud, raucous affairs featuring skating and hockey. In fact, the first time Yamaguchi skated on natural ice was at a Hedican Christmas party.
Through 14 years of sometimes frustrating NHL play, Hedican has found advice and refuge in his family.
Hedican's aunt Margi warns that they are the "loud" family. Given her 11 siblings, who could blame them? Margi recalls baby-sitting Hedican and forcing the youngster with the nimble feet to show her Michael Jackson's famous moonwalk over and over.
"He's a phenomenal dancer," she insists.
When Hedican was drafted by St. Louis with the 198th overall pick in the 1988 draft, the entire Hedican clan descended on St. Louis, plundering the Blues' merchandise store, buying everything in sight.
Having shared in the uneven road that brought Hedican to the pinnacle of the game two months ago lends an almost surreal texture to the day for the Hedican clan.
"Oh my god. Phenomenal. We've been on a high since the playoffs started," Margi says. "We've been on cloud nine. He feels like he won the lottery. Better than the lottery. And we all feel the same way. We've got a piece of that lottery."
Walt Neubrand, the sleep-deprived Keeper of the Cup, is fresh off his second straight all-nighter, having been with Erik Cole and his friends and family in Oswego, N.Y., on Friday following an all-night affair with Eric Staal's family in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
The trip from Thunder Bay to Oswego to Minneapolis has been complicated by the fact that the jet chartered by Cole to maximize his time with the Cup would not accommodate the Cup's blue, rectangular carrying case. That forced the Cup to ride, passenger-like, in the coach section while the case was rerouted to the Twin Cities.
"We tried every which way. Every angle," Neubrand says, shaking his head.
Along with the Cup, Cole and his family have sent a congratulatory note to Hedican. Some of the signatures were produced at about 5 a.m. and look more like the results of an EKG than signatures, but it's the thought that counts.
Given the Cup's heavy workout, Neubrand figures the mug could use a wash down and borrows some dish detergent from Terry while Jerry unrolls a garden hose from the garage.
Near the front walk the Stanley Cup has a bath.
After it is dried to a lustrous shine, the Cup quickly serves as the breakfast bowl of all breakfast bowls for Keara, almost 3, and Emma, just shy of 9 months. There is concern there won't be enough Kix, but some Dora The Explorer cereal eases the dilemma as mom, dad and the girls enjoy a Stanley Cup breakfast moment.
The backyard is crowded now with friends, neighbors, the curious.
Hedican says he thought briefly about simply taking the Cup to his lake home in Brainerd, Minn., but then he and members of his family sat down and asked themselves what they should do. And so they decided the two places that meant the most, outside of the family home, were Hedican's high school in North St. Paul and his college, St. Cloud State.
"That's going to mean a lot to me. More than just sitting on a dock," he says. "I want to make sure people see it."
It's unusual for an NHL player to share the spotlight of fame with his spouse. But Yamaguchi's profile as an Olympic medalist and longtime skating star gives her a unique perspective on Hedican's pursuit of excellence and the incline of the hill he has climbed.
That was especially crucial in recent months, when Emma was a newborn and Hedican, who had twice been to the Cup finals but lost, was preparing for what would be the most important playoff season of his life.
When you get to a certain age, there are very few things that are startling or revelatory, Yamaguchi says.
"But this certainly is a special thing," she says. "You just never dream that you're going to wake up and the Stanley Cup is going to be yours for the day."
"It's been such a long road for him," she adds. "I think it really drove him all this year to get back to that place."
Sometimes the two will be in the car or doing household chores. They'll turn to each other and one will simply say, "We won the Stanley Cup."
As for the planning for the day, Yamaguchi likens it to planning for their wedding. "It was hard to sleep last night."
Although Hedican's mother's family makes the Waltons look like pikers, Hedican has only one sibling, Kelly, who is 16 months older. Throughout the day, Kelly seems only slightly removed from bursting into tears of joy.
"Where he is in his life, his age, it just means that much more," Kelly says.
Asked about watching her brother hold the Cup for the first time after Game 7, Kelly begins to tear up. "I was just so happy for him, just a lot of emotion," she says. "Almost like a weight that had been lifted off his shoulders."
As if on cue, her brother walks past with the Cup in his hands. "It's hard to imagine it here," she says, dabbing at her eyes again.
Yamaguchi passes by and notices Kelly's red eyes and shakes her head knowingly. "No more crying, Kelly," Yamaguchi says with a smile.
Shortly after noon, a police escort arrives to guide Hedican to North High School. Corsages have been handed out to the ladies in the Hedican party, while Hedican has disappeared into the living room to try to collect his thoughts for the ceremony at the high school.
"Just trying to get it all on one sheet of paper," he says with a nervous smile.
Some in the family are debating who is likely to burst into tears more times during the day, Kelly or Bret.
As Hedican prepares to leave, a well-wisher calls out; "Enjoy your day, Bret. Live it!"
Not far from North High School, the procession stops abruptly. Cars are abandoned in the middle of the street as Hedican poses beneath the town's signature landmark, a 44-foot, four-ton stucco snowman. In all the years the family has been in North St. Paul, the snowman has remained unblemished, but on this day it bears Carolina Hurricanes colors.
A Canes flag flies from the snowman's great stovepipe hat and "Hedican" and his No. 6 are featured across his great snow belly.
"Fifty years and nothing's touched that snowman out there," Hedican tells the crowd at North High School. "Now it's got Hurricanes' colors all over it. I love it."
As a young boy, Hedican would play tennis-ball hockey with his father along a narrow strip of concrete in the family's basement. Jerry would pepper his young son with tennis balls. Sometimes a shot would catch the youngster on the arm or head and Hedican would run upstairs in tears, but both parents would insist he return to finish the game.
"I was pretty tough on him," acknowledges Jerry, a longtime employee at Northwest Airlines.
On winter weekends when Hedican was a boy, Terry would bring her son's lunch to the outdoor rink and put it in a snow bank; otherwise, Hedican wouldn't stop to eat.
"When he's a little boy, you never, ever dream he's going to be driving up your driveway with the Stanley Cup in the front seat of your car," his father says.
Standing outside the packed gymnasium of his old high school, Hedican points to the names of the players inscribed around the Cup's circumference to a group of excited youngsters.
"Got a goal? Go get it. Dreams do come true," he says.
Inside the sweltering gym, Hedican is treated to a who's who of his past. Former coaches, teammates, classmates and teachers are among the several thousand crammed into the room, while current players and youngsters watch wide-eyed as Hedican tours the room with the Cup over his head.
Former coach Bill Halbrehder announces that Hedican's high school number will be retired, the first time in the school team's almost 65 years of existence such an honor has been bestowed. The gesture brings Hedican to tears.
"I was doing pretty good until they retired my number. That put me over the edge," Hedican tells the crowd, dabbing at his eyes.
He tells them that winning the Cup isn't about a person but about the people who helped along the way. Hedican's name on the Cup really represents his family and friends, he says: "And now the town of North St. Paul is represented on that Cup. When I raised the Cup that night, I thought about bringing it right here.
"It took a long time to climb that mountain. But boy, it sure looks good from up here, doesn't it?"
Halbrehder was a teacher at North St. Paul for 31 years. For 21 of those years, he coached the boys' hockey team. Although he's technically retired, he still coaches the girls' hockey team. Long after Hedican graduated, he continued to address his former coach and teacher as "Mr. Halbrehder," too polite to call him Bill.
Hedican began his hockey career as a forward. But four games into Hedican's senior year, Halbrehder lost two defensemen and was forced to move Hedican to defense.
"When we put him back there it was like instantly flipping a switch," Halbrehder says. "The difference was dramatic how he saw the rink."
Although he would continue to play some forward, even in college, Hedican had found his place.
"I don't even need to see his number on television, I know his style of skating," Halbrehder says.
Halbrehder played junior hockey in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and grew up with the same dreams that drove Hedican. Looking across the gym to see the Stanley Cup sitting on a table in the gymnasium where his dreams ultimately brought him, Halbrehder shakes his head. For this day at least, this, too, is Halbrehder's Cup.
"It's so special I don't really have a good way to tell you," he said.
For years, Hedican avoided the Stanley Cup. He believed it was bad luck to engage it, look at it and certainly touch it. Then, after friend and fellow Minnesotan Ben Clymer won the Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004, Hedican went to Clymer's summer Cup event. "I'd avoided it for so many years and that didn't work, so I thought, why not try this," Hedican says.
It was an event that Hedican said reinforced his desire to keep marching forward.
Among those in attendance at the North St. Paul high school was Clymer.
Although Clymer wishes he was still a "defending Stanley Cup champion," he concedes that if he has to give way to someone, it's nice to give way to someone like Hedican.
"He truly deserves to have his name on there because of the way he lives," Clymer says.
After a brief parade through downtown North St. Paul, two motor coaches are loaded with family and friends, followed by about eight or nine other vehicles, most adorned with fluttering Carolina Hurricanes flags as they make their way toward St. Cloud.
Among more than 2,500 fans waiting for Hedican is fellow champion (and now former teammate) Matt Cullen, another St. Cloud alumnus.
Cullen, who signed with the New York Rangers in the offseason, already enjoyed his day with the Cup and is touched that Hedican has included him.
Cullen hosted a golf tournament to raise money for his children's foundation, and one of the most indelible memories for him was watching young cancer patients drinking punch from the Cup through straws at the golf course.
When it came time to give up the Cup, at about 3 a.m. that same day, Cullen took it into his room and sat quietly with it, reading the names.
"It's so cool when you get it. It's unbelievable. And then it's gone -- it's that fast," Cullen says.
When the Cup departed, it left a ring on the carpet in his room, a reminder Cullen is doing his best to preserve. "I haven't vacuumed yet."
On the ice, the players ride out on twin Zambonis to the strains of Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back In Town." The two players then delight the crowd by peeling off their Carolina jerseys to reveal St. Cloud State jerseys.
With the sun setting and evening starting to disappear, the Hedican clan boards the twin buses once more for the 1½-hour trip to Brainerd. There, the Hedican party carries on at Zorbas Restaurant not far from Hedican's lakefront home. With time winding down, Hedican and Yamaguchi spend a few quiet moments with the Cup at the couple's lakefront property while Neubrand showers and prepares for his next visit, with assistant coach Jeff Daniels in Raleigh, N.C.
"I thought I had a mental image of what to expect," Hedican says of his day with the Cup. "But it was just overwhelming. It was everything I was hoping for and more."
Hedican then carries the Cup one last time to the back of Neubrand's vehicle and slides it back in its case.
Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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