Teemu Selanne savoured every second of it.
Hockey’s pinnacle moment in 2007, the awarding of the Stanley Cup, was as sweet as can be for the 36-year-old Finn, who finally won the NHL’s biggest prize in his 15th season.
“What an unbelievable feeling,” Selanne said after his Anaheim Ducks won the Cup. “I’ve been waiting a long time.
“There were some times when I never thought this would happen.”
Anaheim, led by Conn Smythe Trophy winner Scott Niedermayer, became the first Pacific Coast team to earn the oldest trophy in North American pro sports since the Victoria Cougars won it in Vancouver in 1925.
Hockey Canada had just as much reason to celebrate as the Ducks in 2007, winning gold medals in men’s and women’s IIHF world tournaments as well as a third straight world junior title.
Other hockey champions in 2007 included:
-The Vancouver Giants winning the Memorial Cup;
-The Hamilton Bulldogs taking the AHL’s Calder Cup;
-The New Brunswick Varsity Reds capturing the University Cup;
But the biggest prize of all was delivered to the Californians, meaning 2007 would again not be the year a Canadian team reclaims the NHL championship. The 1993 Montreal Canadiens remain the last Canadian club to capture the Stanley Cup after the Ottawa Senators, much like Calgary in 2004 and Edmonton in 2006, failed to deliver in the final.
The Ducks romped over the Senators in five games, capping the one-sided final with a 6-2 victory at the Honda Center.
Asked what his reaction would have been before the Cup final if someone had told him Ottawa would lose in five games, Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson didn’t blink.
“I would have thought you were a fool, no offence,” Alfredsson said outside a subdued visitors’ room after Game 5. “We felt we were going really good going into the final.”
Most experts agreed and picked the Senators to win. But the hottest line in the playoffs, Alfredsson with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, ended up on three separate units come last the game of the series.
That pretty much said it all.
“This is hands down the hardest loss I’ve ever had,” said a teary-eyed Spezza. “We’re so tight in the room, we had high hopes for ourselves. I don’t know what to say, it’s the hardest loss I’ve ever had.”
Almost two months earlier Spezza and the Senators had limited Sidney Crosby’s first NHL playoffs to only five games in the first round.
It was still a magical year for the Pittsburgh Penguins superstar as Crosby completed a rare hat trick during the 2006-07 season.
The youngest player in league history to win the Art Ross Trophy as scoring champion also won the Hart Trophy from writers as most valuable player and the Pearson Award from his peers as most outstanding player. The native of Cole Harbour, N.S., became the seventh player in league history to pull off the Ross-Hart-Pearson hat trick.
“The sacrifices of my parents, the early mornings, the practices … I owe a lot of thanks to them,” he said during awards night in Toronto.
Crosby took a pass on the IIHF World Hockey Championship in Moscow after it was revealed he played with a broken foot during the playoffs. Canada won anyway, with Rick Nash scoring a breathtaking breakaway goal to secure a 4-2 win over Finland in the final May 13.
“He was spectacular. He was head and shoulders above everyone,” said Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman.
It was Canada’s third men’s gold in five years after triumphs in 2003 and 2004.
The Canadian women reclaimed their gold as well, beating the rival United States 5-1 in the final at Winnipeg on April 10, playing the most complete game of the tournament when it mattered most.
“We’re able to bring our best when it counts,” captain Hayley Wickenheiser said after the big win. “I think that makes us great as a team.”
The American women had taken away the world title in 2005 (there was no world championship in 2006, when Canada won Olympic gold.).
“People look at us and think it’s easy,” said Wickenheiser, who was named tournament MVP. “It’s not. It’s a lot of hard work and dedication that goes into it for everyone involved. It’s a lot of pressure at times and a burden to carry when you are so successful.
“I think it’s a really good test for us heading into the 2010 Olympics in our home country to deal with these type of crowds and scrutiny and things like that.”
The year began with another world junior gold for Canada.
A 4-2 win over Russia on Jan. 5 in Leksand, Sweden, was good for Canada’s third straight gold medal in the under-20 world showcase. The championship run is second only to 1992 to 1997, when the Canadian men won five straight.
“I hope, looking back as I get older, that this was the start of another great era,” said forward Ryan O’Marra.
After victories in Grand Forks, N.D., in 2005 and Vancouver in 2006, the challenge for the 2007 squad was to win the crown outside of North America, which hadn’t been done since 1997 in Geneva.
Canada got it done on the strength of stellar goaltending by tournament MVP Carey Price, a strong defence corps and excellent special teams.
“It’s not just me. I had a lot of help,” Price said after the world junior final. “We’re 22 brothers and we stuck together the whole tournament.”
Price was back in the spotlight a few months later. After leaving the junior ranks in the spring, he backstopped the Bulldogs to the AHL title and claimed playoff MVP honours.
“He’s a young kid with great skills and he’s not nervous,” Bulldogs forward Maxime Lapierre said of Price after the last game. “He made us look good all playoffs long. I think he’s going to be a great goalie.”
Price then surprised many when he broke camp with the Habs in the fall. His story has many more chapters to come.
While Price was stopping pucks in the AHL last spring, the Memorial Cup was staged in his home province. The host Vancouver Giants captured their first Canadian Hockey League championship with a 3-1 win over the Medicine Hat Tigers in the final game.
Giants forward Milan Lucic was tournament MVP and in what ended up his last junior experience. He cracked the Boston Bruins lineup this season.
Vancouver had lost three straight to Medicine Hat heading into the final. The Tigers won Game 6 and 7 of the Western Hockey League championship series between the two clubs – prevailing in double overtime in Game 7 to take the title.
That foiled the Giants’ bid for a second straight WHL championship, but Vancouver was still in the Memorial Cup as the host club.
“There’s not many times you lose a championship and get a chance to win a Memorial Cup,” said coach Don Hay. “We didn’t want that to slip by.”