BOSTON -- Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews ran the play just the way he wanted to late Monday night.
After receiving the Stanley Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman not long after Chicago's historic come-from-behind 3-2 win against the Boston Bruins in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, Toews raised it, kissed it then handed it off to 36-year-old center Michal Handzus for his first touch of the silver trophy. Handzus hoisted the Cup and eventually gave it to 38-year-old Jamal Mayers, a healthy scratch during the playoffs, who then delivered the 35-pound trophy to 34-year-old defenseman Michal Rozsival.
It's something the three veterans with a combined 2,883 games of NHL experience (regular season and playoffs) will never forget. It was the first time each experienced handling the Stanley Cup.
"Oh, you've gotta give it to the old guys," Toews said on the ice, not long after he started the procession for the second time in 36 months. "You want to win for yourself, but for those guys especially. That's the best feeling, I think. Watching those guys, what they've been through in their career and to be part of this special group to win here in Chicago, it's awesome."
Mayers, the oldest player on the Blackhawks roster, was an inspirational leader in the dressing room. Rozsival and Handzus were key players on the ice throughout Chicago's 23-game run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"Some of the guys that have raised the Cup before. I guess they felt like there are a few guys on this team at the end of their careers and they might want to be in the front of this celebration," Rozsival said. "Toews is a great captain and he knows. Right away he called for [Handzus], the oldest guy on the team. Then it was [Mayers] and me. I guess the old dinosaurs got it first and then the rest of the team."
The "old dinosaurs" finally got their due Monday night in part because they never lost faith, never lost the hope that one day they could be champions in the NHL.
Mayers signed with the Blackhawks in the summer of 2011. Rozsival jumped on board last September. Handzus was acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline in April.
Prior to this season, the closest any of them had come to winning the Stanley Cup was Handzus, who lost in Game 7 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Final as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Rozsival reached the third round for the first time in his career in 2012, but his Phoenix Coyotes lost to the eventual champion Los Angeles Kings in five games. Mayers had twice gotten to the Western Conference Final, in 2001 and 2011, but his teams never won more than a game.
"Last year when I lost in the conference final, I could feel I was so close, getting so close. I had this good feeling," Rozsival said. "I guess when you get a little bit of this feeling of being so close you want to experience it again."
He felt signing a one-year deal with the Blackhawks on Sept. 11, 2012, would give him his best chance.
"My agent and I talked about the best options and he came out with this team," said Rozsival, who played in all 23 playoff games, averaging 19:15 of ice time with four assists and a plus-9 rating. "It worked. I couldn't be happier right now."
Handzus was looking lost with the San Jose Sharks earlier this season. He was occasionally a healthy scratch and had two points and minus-9 rating in the 28 games he did play before Chicago general manager Stan Bowman acquired him on April 1 for a fourth-round draft pick.
He turned into the Blackhawks' second-line center and had 11 points in 23 playoff games despite playing through injuries to his hand and knee.
"I thought I would have a hard time to draw into the lineup because they've been playing great, they've been on top since the beginning of the season," Handzus said. "I just tried to fill in and help as much as I could, if it was fourth line or faceoffs, whatever. But I got a chance to play second line with the great players. They trust me, coaches trust me, the players trust me and I tried to do as much as I could."
He wouldn't discuss what he meant for the team.
"Other people can say what I meant," Handzus said. "I tried to just play as best I could. I think we were a team. We weren't individuals. We were a team and we battled for each other. That's why we won."
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