By Paul Osborne, Guelph Tribune
One of the joys of being the fan of a junior hockey team is watching the scrawny, pimple-faced teenagers grow into men. Following them through the NHL draft, their first professional goal and for some, a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
Guelph Storm fans have two former players to follow in this Stanley Cup Final, Manny Malhotra of the Vancouver Canucks and Dan Paille of the Boston Bruins. Two players forever tied with the city of Guelph but now fighting tooth and nail against each other for the right to hoist the best trophy in professional sports high above their heads.
Malhotra played his first game of the playoffs Saturday night, returning from a devastating eye injury, to be serenaded by delirious Vancouver fans in their clubs 3-2 overtime win which gave them a 2-0 series lead.
In the other dressing room sat a frustrated, yet still optimistic Paille.
“We were very disappointed we didn’t get the win” said Paille from his hotel room in Boston Sunday night (all Bruin players say in a hotel the night before a game – even at home). “Both games could have gone either way and I don’t think people are giving us enough credit. We made it to the final for a reason – we work hard.”
I played in the Stanley Cup final on many occasions. The fact it was in the driveway of Doug Pickell’s farmhouse or on a couple of occasions it was played in his barn. I scored the game seven overtime-winning goal several times. Didn’t we all? But Paille, a native of Welland, is dreaming no longer. He is in it up to his elbows.
“We are all a little worn down after games” he says, “but you get such a high feeling when you play it just takes over. Before game one in Vancouver I skated around before the game and got a sense of the crowd and then during the anthem when the people were singing I just closed my eyes and listened to them. And even though we were in Vancouver its like they are cheering (and singing) for you. I know when the playoffs are done I’ll be exhausted but it has been amazing.”
The Bruins were almost out of the playoffs before they started losing their first two games at home to Montreal back in round one. But they stormed back to win that series in seven, they knocked off Philadelphia in four straight and then played Tampa in the semi-final.
“My best moment so far was game seven against Tampa” said the former Storm favourite who played in two Memorial Cups while in Guelph. “Having that feeling of relief in winning and knowing that we were going to the Stanley Cup final with the chance to win it is my best moment – so far.”
Paille has embraced his support role with the Bruins while picking up two goals and two assists along the way and eating up important minutes on the penalty kill.
What has surprised him the most?
“I’m not sure if its because we are playing a Canadian team but it seems like for the big names anyway, they spend more time talking to the media than we do playing games.”
He and teammate Rich Peverly, a Guelph native, often chat about the Royal City. Dan’s wife Dana is a Guelph girl and Peverly talks about returning home in the summer. As for Malhotra, the first time Paille saw him was when he skated on the ice for the pre-game warm-up Saturday night admitting “they keep us pretty separated”.
Storm fans that watched Paille score 116 goals and 247 points while in the Royal City watch the games with a little extra pride when he is on the ice. They remember him as a golly, gee whiz 16-year-old who was always quick to flash a smile. Now he is gunning for the dream I lived many times over on the Pickell farm, only the cup he hopes to hold is made of metal and not tin foil.