As told to: Greg ThomasMy path to the Cup was pretty crazy because it looked like my career might be over.I had signed a one-way contract in Chicago. I thought I was going to be a part of the team’s future. I bought a house, completed the paperwork on the mortgage, got home, picked up the phone and discovered that I’d been traded to Tampa Bay, the worst team in the league. Steve Ludzik was coaching in Tampa. We didn’t get along. The only saving grace was I had a good relationship with Rick Dudley, the general manager.
Things started off poorly with me breaking my ankle in my first game. I broke it in the first period and kept on playing until the middle of the third. The trainer, Dave Boyer, came to me to find out what was wrong. I told him it felt like somebody had poured a cup of coffee on my ankle. I took off my skate and Dave said: “Whoa.” It was a mess. I end up flying back for what turned out to be the first of four surgeries. I managed to battle through the year, playing when I really shouldn’t have been, doing everything I could for the team. I had another surgery in the summer and finally found somebody to fix it properly. I skated again and got ready for training camp.
I made the team, no problem and started off the season playing pretty good hockey. But about 8 games into the season, Rick Dudley, the GM, called me in and said to me, “I have to send you down. I cannot listen to Steve Ludzik hating on you anymore.” I told Dudley: “Fly me to Toronto. If I can’t play on the worst team in the league then I’m done.” I sat at home with my parents for a couple of weeks.
The GM of the Detroit Vipers, Tampa’s farm team, kept calling me to convince me to come down and give it a shot. He encouraged me to use it as an opportunity to prove to everyone I didn’t belong in the AHL. Eventually, I decided to try. I went down to Detroit and played hard. I played with one thing in mind, to get back to the NHL.
Around this time, Dave Yingst– the GM for the Hershey Bears who remembered me from my first year in the AHL with the Bulldogs– called up his bosses in Colorado and asked them to let him trade for me to help with a Calder Cup run. I think they gave up a seventh round draft pick for me. So I went from the worst team in the NHL to their farm team to being traded to one of the best teams in the NHL to play for their farm team for a Calder Cup run. It wasn’t t what I was anticipating, but it was alright. I played around twenty games in Hershey as an angry, focused man. I hit, scrapped, got points. I played well.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, Michel Goulet came down to Hershey and pulled Doug Yingst aside: “Who is this and when did you get him?” Doug said, “Oh this is they guy I talked to your scouts about that I wanted to get for the Calder Cup run.” Michel Goulet told him that they wanted to call me up. This was just after Ray Bourque had been traded to the Avs and they were trying to set their team up for a big run deep into the playoffs.
A few games later, Mike Foligno, my coach in Hershey, called me into his office. Michel Goulet was there, Doug Yingst was there and I was thinking: “Oh shit.” Doug said: “Well, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.” I told him: “Gimme the bad news.” He said: “Well, we won’t be having your services for the Calder Cup run.” I was confused. Then he told me the good news; I was getting called up. Michel Goulet broke it down for me. There were eleven games left in the season and if I played well I was going to be the seventh or eighth defenceman for the Av’s Cup run. I did eleven games, held my spot, played during the playoffs. I was going to retire. I was going to quit hockey. But a few people believed in me when I didn’t, and, in the end, I won the Stanley Cup.
GREG THOMAS is an accomplished actor and playwright from Nipawin, Saskatchewan.
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