Who loves the Stanley Cup?

By Pia Toscano

The 25-year-old New York native and American Idol alum took a break from touring with Jennifer Lopez to explain how she became a talisman for the Kings -- and how she handles Twitter flak from Rangers fans back in her hometown.

Three years ago, I went to a regular-season game with my manager at the time, who's friends with [Kings executive] Luc Robitaille. I saw someone perform the national anthem and thought, "I want to do that." The Kings set it up, and I sang before a regular-season Dallas Stars-Kings game at the Staples Center in January 2012. Luc liked it and invited me back to sing during the playoffs.

The Kings started winning, so they kept bringing me back. Hockey people are very superstitious. They don't like to change anything. If I switch up my nail polish, the fans notice and freak out about it. So because the Kings went on to win the Stanley Cup that season, they continued to invite me back. Plus -- I hope -- they really like the way I sing.

I've become a diehard fan. If I'm not at the game or the Kings are out of town, I'll go to a bar or sit at home and text back and forth with my father about the game. My dad lives on the East Coast, so he has to stay up late to watch them. It's no longer about me singing, it's about whether they win or lose. It's kinda brought my family together because we're all such huge Kings fans now.

Hockey is such an exciting sport. There's constant action. I'm still learning things about the sport, so I ask a lot of questions. It's hard not to become addicted once you start watching it. And if you go to see a hockey game in person and don't love it, you're crazy.

Just being at the game when the Kings clinched the Cup in 2012 was incredible. They were the underdogs that season and to see them win, and be a small part of it, was so powerful and exciting. I didn't get to see the Stanley Cup up close in 2012. But when I performed at an event last year in Canada, I visited the Hockey Hall of Fame and got to see the Cup there. I got to see how the helmets and jerseys have changed. It was so cool to visit the Hall.

I'm from Howard Beach, Queens, so I respect the Rangers and the Islanders -- and I'm happy the Rangers are in the finals -- but the Kings gave me my first gig, so I'm very partial to them. I'm getting some flak from fans on Twitter. They keep telling me, "You better remember where you're from."

But the Kings have been so supportive and so good to me. There are no greater fans than the Kings fans. Last year, Tom Cruise came up to me at a game and said, "You're the team's good-luck charm" ... and complimented my singing. I couldn't believe he even knew who I was!

The feeling I get before I sing, when they announce my name and fans are chanting for me? It's overwhelming. It's an honor to be called the Kings' good-luck charm, but it's also a lot of pressure!

My record last season was awesome -- I was 17-0 at one point. But then I got sick during the playoffs. I came down with tracheobronchitis and lost my voice before Game 4 of the conference finals against the Blackhawks. It was the first time I couldn't sing. The Kings lost the game, and the fans were not happy with me.

I've had a good feeling about this year's team since the first playoff game. Toward the end of the series against San Jose, I said, "The Kings are going to win the Cup." Then I started to get nervous because I realized that I had some other opportunities -- like touring with J-Lo -- that might force me to miss a game.

I couldn't be there for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final because I was in New York -- of all places -- performing. But I had people giving me updates about what was happening. And I have a day off on Saturday, so I'm going to fly home to LA and sing the anthem. I can't wait!

Barry Melrose: Why I don't touch the Cup

Three Days Grace: Dream the Cup, hold the Cup

By Neil Sanderson

I grew up in Peterborough, Ontario, which is a hockey city if there ever was one.

We lived and breathed hockey. When it was summer, it was ball hockey. Birthday parties, we'd play mini-sticks in the basement (with the odd head injury from the concrete floor).

And when we weren't on the ice, we were playing a hell of a lot of road hockey. I can't count the number of Stanley Cup replicas I've made using Tupperware containers, aluminum foil and Scotch tape. It was the coveted trophy I'd battle over for hours with sticks and tennis balls on Risher Crescent with my buddies Hinzey and Kincaid.

A lot of the time, it was just the three of us. We had to get creative as to what game we were playing. Sometimes it was a straight-up one-on-one tournament, no goalies ... winner of the coin toss gets a bye to the finals (we'd knock the nets down so only the short part was exposed and it was harder to score), sometimes it was a straight-up skills competition between two of us, with the third kid as the judge.

We'd go neck-and-neck on shot accuracy, number of saves (usually without goalie equipment) and stick control around pylons, pop cans, or piles of snow, depending on what time of year it was. Anything to be able to hoist the crumpled foil prize before we had to get the kitchenware back to the kitchen.

We met NHL veteran Brad Lukowich years ago and became great friends. I think Luke always wanted to be in a band, just like we all wanted to be pro hockey players.

When he won the Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004, we got to hoist the real thing. He was having a cup party in Cranbrook, British Columbia, and we had just played a rock show in San Jose, California, so we figured, "Hey, 16 hours on a bus shouldn't be a big deal." Anything to be able to be part of a Stanley Cup party.

Twenty-two hours later, when we got there, Cranbrook was pretty much partied-out. But it became the perfect opportunity to snatch the Cup and take it to the bus for a minute, so we could check out all its details. (I paid special attention to the names listed for the 1966-67 season; yes, we will always be lifelong Toronto Maple Leaf fans.) So much nostalgia in one place. A few dings in it here and there; a lot of miles and a lot more kilometers on that trophy.

We couldn't believe that we had this piece of history sitting in the front lounge of our bus. A big moment for any hockey-loving rock band.

Even though our hearts are in Toronto when it comes to fan allegiance, 3DG goes to a lot of NHL of games when we're on the road. There's nothing like 20,000 people all in one place for one reason! One of my favorite things in life is when the whistle blows at a game we're at and one of our songs, like "Painkiller" or "I Hate Everything About You," comes on and fires up the players and the fans. That is the kind of thing that fires us up too!

Neil Sanderson is the drummer for and a co-founder of Three Days Grace

The Stanley Cup means long beards and long nights

By Dave Bidini

See, this "first sign of spring" thing is all fine and well and baseball and "Yer out!" and the ghost of Miller Huggins (curiously, Huggins loved roller skating, or rather, and more curiously, to watch people roller skate; you could look it up), but the truth is, this year Major League Baseball symbolized the mythic change of seasons by playing in the Australian torpor while my team -- the Toronto Blue Jays -- rolled out their season in a climate-controlled dome, like the kind ELO emerged from to start their ill-fated "Out of the Blue" tour (they were sued for using backing tapes. You could look that up, too). While the rest of you are out buying peanuts and Cracker Jacks, you might want to pick up a snuggly and some hot chocolate. If baseball once represented the coming of spring, it now represents the stubbornness of winter.

"While hockey players practice throwing themselves in front of pucks and driving each other's heads through the boards in the regular season, they throw and drive -- and shoot and skate -- in the postseason the way an actor -- or, maybe, a dancer -- does in the klieg lights: with a heightened intensity and desperation."

Dave Bidini

For me, both spring and winter -- and, ultimately, summer -- are more reliably mirrored by an event that plays no seasonal favorites: the Stanley Cup playoffs, the hardest tournament in sport to win (if many experts are to be believed). One of the reasons it's hard to win is because the playoffs are long -- two months -- but that's also the reason they are great. Regular-season hockey is whatever it is -- too long with too many insignificant games (something else the experts say) -- but playoff hockey differs the way a dress rehearsal differs from opening night. While hockey players practice throwing themselves in front of pucks and driving each other's heads through the boards in the regular season, they throw and drive -- and shoot and skate -- in the postseason the way an actor -- or, maybe, a dancer -- does in the klieg lights: with a heightened intensity and desperation. You might ask yourself, or you might ask me, "Sure, Dave. But they do this for two months?" I'd tell you that they do, and then you'd ask me how they do it. I would tell you that I don't know, which is exactly what makes the Stanley Cup playoffs what they are: a crazy marathon of athletic impossibility. On knives attached to boots. With sticks. One team's captain hoists the silver mug, grinning and missing teeth. Summer can begin.

What the playoffs also have that the regular season does not is potentially endless overtime. Overtime is the greatest novelty in the greatest tournament. Overtime can last as long as it has to last; sometimes hours upon hours. Often playoff crowds show up to see two games played back to back, all within a single game. A few springs ago, I was in St. John's, Newfoundland, where it is always an hour and a half later than in Toronto (or New York), and four and a half hours later than Vancouver (or Los Angeles). Because games that start at 7 p.m. PT start at 11:30 in Newfoundland, I remember coming home after a long night of drinking beers with a Labrador retriever on the label (although I did not drink with the Labrador itself; at least not that I could remember), only to find that it was 3 a.m. and the Anaheim Ducks and Phoenix Coyotes were still playing hockey. Playoff hockey. Someone finally scored and then all of us, everywhere, went to bed, although some went to work. But this is the price you pay for great hockey.

A lot was made of the 2013 Boston Red Sox's beardedness, but hockey players competing in the playoffs have been growing good-luck beards since forever. Being hairy, scarred and bent-faced is a badge for the surviving player; the uglier you are, the more successful you are, a charming throwback to rebel days when the "Unlike" button meant wild popularity, rather than the opposite. Stories of damaged champions are legion: Bobby Baun scoring on a broken leg; Peter Forsberg winning the Cup with a bleeding spleen; Patrice Bergeron fighting torn rib cartilage in the Bruins' 2013 Cup appearance (in that same series, ravaged Cup winner Michael Handzus played with a sprained knee and a sprained hand, but his injury was considered an afterthought). While this kind of torn-apart glory is a function of Cup survivors and winners, it's no easier for the devoted fan (minus the skating and shooting parts, of course). Guts get twisted and are disentangled later. Fingernails disappear and lips are bled. Imagine the intensity of a seven-game World Series final played out over May and June; the drama of a World Cup final stretched over countless weeks. True, an NBA championship requires similar time commitment, if with a best-of-five opening series and in a sport where contact is discouraged, rather than the opposite. If NHL hockey wasn't hard-nosed enough, referees, generally, change their habits in the playoffs, calling only the most egregious fouls and letting rough-hewn spirit carry the day.

The Stanley Cup playoffs hold your attention hand-to-shoulder and only let go once the shaking has stopped. The first round -- its mutiple of overtimes and myriad of Game 7s -- is a frenetic spinning carousel of games (7 p.m. ET to 1 a.m. every night for two weeks) that build to a crescendo of a final. In a way, the last few games of the playoffs are a northern hockey fan's reward. Having weathered a long, tortuous winter -- more long and tortuous this year -- we are afforded the privilege of watching in the warmth of a June evening; shorted, in T-shirts and flip-flops; a celebration of getting through it; of getting to here. Even when your team doesn't make it -- being Torontonian, we almost never make it -- there's still a sense of achievement. The paste is warm and you close the envelope. Another year, another season. It was all plenty and just enough.

Dave Bidini is a best-selling author, TV documentarian and musician. His new Bidiniband album, "The Motherland," will be released May 29.

Chevelle: The Cup means shed blood and F-bombs

By Dean Bernardini

When I think about the Stanley Cup, I think of the image of Andrew Shaw in the 2013 finals win against the Boston Bruins, bloodied up, hoisting the Cup high, full of excitement, dropping F-bombs and not caring who hears it!

To me, that image encompasses what it takes to be a champion. Shaw, being a smaller guy in the size spectrum of the NHL, has made his mark by being a hard-working, physical forward. He had taken a puck to the face in that game and fought through the pain to stay out on the ice and be part of one of the most incredible wins in NHL history.

Being a touring musician for the past decade and in a declining music industry, I have learned that stubborn tenacity is what it takes to be successful in any venture I have attempted.


Dean Bernardini is the bass guitarist for Chicago band Chevelle.

First round is the best round

By Roy MacGregor

And then there was the day we found the Stanley Cup ...

Yes, this sounds like a made-up story or a kid's fantasy -- and I suppose in the case of my then-11-year-old son Gord, it was -- but it's absolutely true and happened in the late winter of 1993.

We have the pictures to prove it.

It was the inaugural year of the reborn Ottawa Senators. After 58 years in limbo -- the team gave up on Ottawa and moved to St. Louis for the 1934-35 season -- the Senators were back in the NHL, a new franchise, a new beginning, and soon a new building.

For the time being, however, they would play out of the little Civic Centre downtown, where the Ottawa 67's junior club played their games. Since the first-year Senators were, well, terrible, and given that NHL teams weren't then running matters like the Secret Service, those of us who followed the team that first season used to take along our own equipment and play, whenever we could, on the road. Back home, we often played Wednesdays after the Senators practiced. Sometimes the coaches even joined us. It kept everyone sane.

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Roy MacGregor is an award-winning columnist for the Globe and Mail and a published author of several acclaimed books.