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ON THE NHL

Cup Is Off Limits for Now

May 16, 2003|Helene Elliott

Kurt Sauer is so close to the Stanley Cup, he can see it.

Of course, the Mighty Ducks' impressive rookie defenseman could see it six months ago, long before the stunning playoff run that has carried them within one victory of the Western Conference championship and a berth in the Cup finals.

Sauer's seat in the Ducks' locker room is a few steps away from a large, framed picture of Lord Stanley's gleaming chalice. The picture has occupied a prominent place on the wall all season but was given a new black frame early in the playoffs, making the image -- and the team's mission -- stand out.

"This is the closest I've been to it," Sauer said Thursday, after the Ducks had practiced for tonight's potential clincher at the Arrowhead Pond. "I never went to the hockey Hall of Fame or anything like that.

"It's fun to think of what you'd do with it if we win. I'd probably bring it back to my hometown [Sartell, Minn.]. Hopefully, my little boy will still be small enough to fit in it so I can give him a bath in it."

Kohl Sauer, nearly 11 weeks old, will have to wait a bit. There's more separating his dad and the real Cup than 10 feet of padded bench, although the Ducks' destruction of the Minnesota Wild's defense Monday in building a 3-0 series lead and Jean-Sebastien Giguere's playoff-long mastery in net suggest they will earn their ticket to the finals tonight.

"You've got to stay focused," Sauer said. "That's one thing we've been doing a good job at, sticking with the present."

They're also good at following the time-honored tradition that you don't touch the Cup until you've won it.

Should the Ducks finish off the Wild tonight, don't be surprised if team captain Paul Kariya refuses to skate a victory lap with the Clarence Campbell bowl, the prize awarded the West champion. It's a fine trophy, but it's not the Cup. And there's an unwritten law that dictates you can't expect to win the Cup if you've held another meaningful trophy or put a finger on the Cup after another team won it.

Giguere said he has seen the Cup a couple of times, the first when it was paraded along Sherbrooke Street in Montreal after the Canadiens had defeated the Kings in 1993.

"I was maybe 20 feet away," he said. "I got to miss a school day. And on my draft day, it was at the rink in Edmonton."

But he didn't go near it or have anyone take his picture with it.

"It's a nice trophy and nice to win," he said, wistfully. "There are so many names on it."

Veteran winger Steve Thomas has seen the Cup many times but has kept his distance. His home is probably 10 minutes away from the downtown Toronto building that houses the Cup, the other major NHL trophies and the Hall of Fame.

"To tell you the honest truth, I've never touched it," he said. "I'd always think maybe I should. Maybe the fact I never touched it was why I didn't win it. I guess I didn't deserve to touch it."

But should that day come ...

"Then I'll be all over it," he said. "I don't know what I'm going to do with it.

"I've been in a bar in Toronto where the Detroit Red Wings had it. It felt weird being around someone else's party, seeing someone else celebrate and you're out in the first round."

Each player on the winning team is allowed to spend a day with the Cup, a personal touch unique to hockey. It has been to Russia, Sweden and remote regions of Canada; it has been at the bottom of a swimming pool, a racetrack and a strip club. A few players have taken it to their parents' graves, the ultimate thanks for all those mornings a father or mother laced up a child's skates and drove him to some chilly rink in the frigid darkness.

After 19 NHL seasons Thomas has had ample time to plan what he'd do on his day with the Cup.

"But I can't think about it right now," he said, lapsing into the Ducks' We-haven't-accomplished-anything-yet mantra. "We've got a long way to go. We've got a big hockey game [tonight], and the two teams over on the other side are very good.

"I've dreamt about winning the Cup my whole life and we're in position to do it, but we won't have that chance if we don't win the next game. We have to be mindful that there's one more game before we go into that portion of the season."

Kariya said he saw the Cup once, when his University of Maine team visited the Hall of Fame.

"I don't know if it was the real one," he said. "They have a duplicate."

He didn't touch it, a decision that now seems prescient.

He and the Ducks are tantalizingly close to becoming one of the last two teams allowed to think about fulfilling an ache they've had since they were old enough to know what the Cup was.

"I'm not superstitious," Kariya said. "But you know, when I've dreamt of touching it, it's been over my head."

Hoisted in victory, for all the world to see, not just the Ducks.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

A's for Defense

Goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere has received most of the attention with four playoff shutouts, but the Mighty Duck defensemen can take plenty of credit for the postseason success. A look at the defensemen:

*--* GP G A Pts +/- TOI SANDIS OZOLINSH 13 1 4 5 9 23:43 RUSLAN SALEI 13 1 3 4 5 27:18 KURT SAUER 13 1 1 2 7 22:06 KEITH CARNEY 13 0 2 2 4 28:26 NICLAS HAVELID 13 0 2 2 1 27:19 VITALY VISHNEVSKI 13 0 1 1 E 11:43

*--*

GP-Games played; TOI: Time on ice; E-Even

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