How it All Got Started

For all of those who read about the experience, I would like for you to know the reason the Gift of the Cup exists is not because of me, it is because of my brother.

Brett and his brother

Brett and his brother: The younger years

The two of us played hockey together growing up, he was the defenseman with a wicked slapshot, and I was the idiot younger brother willing to stand in front of it. We both played through high school, on the same team a couple times (IHSHL JV State Champs once), and I went on to play in college. By the time I reached my senior year of college, I had begun to feel like the game was more of a job than anything, and as soon as I unlaced my skates in February of 2003, that was the last time I played goalie. My brother and I would text occasionally, talk some hockey when we met up, but the game was really not a major part of my life at all other than passively watching the playoffs.

Being my roots are in Chicago, I have always cheered for the Blackhawks. Some of my earliest memories are of heading into Chicago Stadium for games, and where I once met all of the Blackhawks at a pre-game skate during the playoffs in a series against the Red Wings. Roenick, Belfour, Chelios, and even Hasek and Darren Pang as backups! Talk about impressionable moments. When the 2010 playoffs came around, seeing the excitement in my dad’s eyes watching the replays after they ended a decades long drought was amazing. As the Blackhawks made their way deep into the 2013 playoffs, I could sense the excitement building in my family. At the time, I was living in Hartford, CT, and my brother was just outside Syracuse, NY. The Finals were between Boston and Chicago, and on the Thursday before game 5 in Chicago, my brother texted me.

“What are you doing Monday night?”

To which I responded: “Nothing…why?”

He swiftly said: “The ‘Hawks are playing in Boston on Monday, wanna go?”

Me: “Awesome, do you have tickets?”

Him: “No.”

Me: “What are you asking me for then?!”

Our conversation spiraled a bit, but then I realized how cool it would be to go to the game with my big brother, and spend some time with just the two of us. I was beginning to see how much the game meant to him still. At that point, I decided to challenge him, and said if the Blackhawks win on Saturday night, they could win the Cup on Monday night, and I would pay for the tickets to game 6 if he drove from Syracuse to Hartford, picked me up, and drove us to Boston. While watching the game at a dive bar in CT, my excitement to potentially see the Stanley Cup handed out was growing, and I was cheering more than I had in a long time for a hockey game. The ‘Hawks had to win, and they came through.

After the game, I texted my brother and asked if he was ready to go on Monday. He has a couple kids, and needed to find someone to watch them for the day and night, to which Monday morning came around, and he finally confirmed he was getting on the road to pick me up. Game on. I quickly went to find tickets to the game, and managed to get us seats about twelve rows off the ice in the Blackhawks offensive zone. Little did we know how spectacular a game we would see sitting in perfect seats for the final moments.

When my brother picked me up, I realized it was the first time the two of us had done anything together in a number of years, no animosity or issues between us, mere distance and age causing us to grow apart, but we picked up right where we left off. The infectious excitement of my brother was intense and I was riding along, beginning to realize how awesome of an event we were going to attend. I don’t think we stopped talking the entire drive, and about 75% of the conversation was “we’re going to the Finals!” or “The Stanley Cup will be in the building!”.

We had a quick pre-game meal, and went over to the arena, where oddly enough, we both realized the last thing we had done together was go to an essentially meaningless Bruins/Blackhawks regular season game at the then known FleetCenter. Waiting in line to enter the game seemed like it took forever, but in reality was mere minutes. There were a lot more Blackhawks fans than I expected, and we were chatting up all the people around us. The atmosphere at the Finals was nothing short of electrifying. All of the announcers, famous people, and pure hockey fans, combined into an unforgettable buzz. As we went to our seats, we took a picture by the glass, the arena filled up quickly, and my brother pointed out Don Cherry in his loud jacket in the far corner. He was a staple in our house, one of the reasons we both got into hockey was the “Don Cherry: Rock’em Sock’em Hockey” videos, showing highlights of ridiculous goals and fights. A completely surreal experience even before the first drop of the puck.

Brett and his brother

Brett and his brother: All grown up

After the first period, my brother and I called our parents, as we both knew they would want an update during the game. We talked about all of the cool things we had seen, and my dad said “You guys will be talking about this day for the next 50 years!” Him saying that made me truly realize how special the experience was going to be for us.

As the game progressed, we were soaking everything in, talking to fans around us, watching a great game, feeling the energy every time the puck was in the zone in front of us. However, the excitement of seeing the Stanley Cup handed out was fading a bit since the Blackhawks were down 2-1 late in the third period. With about three minutes to go, my brother, who stands about 6’4 and 250lbs, looks at me and says “Well, at least we saw a good game, and we get to see a Game 7 on Wednesday.” to which I instantly turned to him, reached up, grabbed his face and proceeded to berate him about how we’ve got plenty of time left, there is a one goal difference, and a lot can happen in three minutes. Based on the look on his face, I think he thought I was nuts. I never give up, he knows that, and he also knows you play until the last whistle. That was the moment I suddenly found my passion for the game again.

When the Hawks scored to tie the game with under two minutes to play, my brother and I went bananas. I can recall the feeling of elation that we may be able to sneak out the win in OT, and telling my brother “That’s why you play to the end!” We were both standing, feeling like we might actually get to see The Cup that night. Before we could even embrace the tie score, the Hawks were back in the offensive zone, and my brother was screaming like a high school girl for them to shoot the puck. We were sitting right on the goal line, and as the puck came out front and was crossing the line in the air, I watched the puck go in…I turned to hug my brother and he was about 500 feet in the air! The absolute euphoric feeling of that goal was unreal. We were screaming, hugging every Blackhawks fan around us, jumping uncontrollably, and nearly in tears. Now we had to close out the remaining minute or so left in the game. Everyone was standing, the rush of having the lead turned to please don’t let this slip away, we have it in our hands. As the clock ran out, we were jumping, hugging, screaming, and having close to an out of body experience, and we hadn’t even seen the Stanley Cup come out on the ice yet!

Hawks win
Brett and his brother

Where we were, we had the opportunity to watch The Cup being carried along the boards right in front of us. The feeling of seeing a trophy so unique and special to me and my family is something I will never forget. It was thirty feet away, and my brother and I were fulfilling a dream of a lifetime, not only watching the Stanley Cup being awarded, but to our team. Meanwhile, we moved closer to center ice when all of the friends and family were let out on to the ice, and I was looking for a former teammate who works for the Blackhawks. I was able to spot him on the ice, and managed to see him hoist The Cup. Never thought I would see a fellow teammate on the ice hoisting the Stanley Cup!

The Cup is revealed
2013 Stanley Cup Champs

As I absorbed the experience, I knew I wanted to go to the finals every year. While I thought about going in the coming years, I realized a large part of the experience was sharing it with my brother, someone who has a passion for the game and the team that won. Every fan deserves the opportunity to see their team win the Stanley Cup. The more I thought about how much it costs to go, and how many true fans simply can’t afford to pay for tickets, yet absolutely deserve to feel the experience, I decided to save money throughout the year to bring a superfan to the Stanley Cup Finals, and give them a chance to see a game, feel the energy of the finals, and maybe see their team hoist the Stanley Cup. It was the greatest night of my life, I want to give back to a game of which shaped me as a person, and give someone a chance to realize their dream of watching the greatest trophy in sports raised by their team.

The first two years have been spectacular, check out the stories from both my perspective and the people who have attended the games.