PITTSBURGH – Ron Hainsey’s typical Memorial Day Weekend would be spent either playing golf or having fun with his kids. This is year, however, his annual plans have changed and he’ll be spending the holiday on Monday playing in his first Stanley Cup Final game with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The same goes for defenseman Trevor Daley, who missed the entire 2016 Final after suffering an ankle injury during the third round. Daley watched all six games of the Penguins series against the San Jose Sharks from the dressing room, living and dying each scoring chance.
“It sucks to watch. I don’t know how you guys do it,” Daley joked during Sunday’s Stanley Cup Final Media Day.
For Hainsey, he played 907 NHL games before experiencing his first Stanley Cup playoff game. Between stops in Montreal, Columbus, Atlanta/Winnipeg, and Carolina, each year his off-season would begin much sooner than desired.
“I would have loved to have played 100 playoff games and have three Stanley Cups by now, but it’s just not how it’s worked out for me,” Hainsey said. “I don’t think I’ve gone out there and sunk teams for 14 years previous to this year.”
At the time he was acquired, the Penguins were missing Daley, Kris Letang and Olli Maatta and general manager Jim Rutherford needed to add depth to his blue line, so he went out and acquired Hainsey. Since arriving in Pittsburgh, it’s been nothing but firsts for the 36-year-old defenseman.
His first game with the Penguins was outdoors at Heinz Field (He was a healthy scratch for the 2003 Heritage Classic.). He made the playoffs for the first time. He won a playoff series for the first time. And now he’s four victories away from winning his first Cup.
The 33-year-old Daley experienced that Cup-winning feeling last year, but not the way he envisioned it. So when it was clear the Penguins were going to clinch that night in June, he put on his gear and skates and joined the team for their post-game celebration, and was even the second player to hoist the Cup after captain Sidney Crosby.
Like Hainsey, Daley joined the Penguins late in the year in 2016. He became a big asset on the back end before the injury ended his season. Now they’re back a year later looking to become the first repeat champions in nearly 20 years. The road to here hasn’t been easy.
“It’s hard to win in this league, never mind getting back to the Final,” Daley said. “Each night, through 82 games, every night it’s tough to win, there’s so much parity in the league today with all the teams. You look at the team we’re playing, they were the eight seed going in and almost had a chance to not even get in.”
The only time Hainsey has been in a championship situation as a pro was the 2003 Calder Cup Final. He played all 23 games for the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs during that run before the team fell in a Game 7 to the Houston Aeroes. He was 22 then. But in the years since, he hasn’t given much thought as to why he couldn’t as so much just had the experience playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I didn’t know what to think. It wasn’t like I sat around the house beating my head against the wall on it,” Hainsey said.
As for Daley, he said there are some nerves going through his body ahead of Game 1 Monday night, but sometimes that’s a good thing to have. It’s been a long road for the Penguins to get here. After 82 regular season games and 20 playoff games, they’ve overcome injuries and tired bodies after playing a lot of hockey over the last two seasons.
They’re nearly at the finish line once again and Daley can see it.
“We felt pretty good about ourselves going into this year. We knew we had a good team,” he said. “Even our first 10-15 games when everybody thought we were going to have a hangover we had our best player out of the lineup, the best player in the world and we still found ways to win. That’s just been the M.O. of this team is finding ways to win no matter who’s in the lineup or who’s out of the lineup. We do good job of finding a way to win.”
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