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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2007-12-17

Following The Cup
By Rob Gauthier, Los Angeles Times

Photo by

Hockey Hall of Fame keepers of the Cup, Walt Neubrand, left and Phil Pritchard, right, join Rob Gauthier on stage following a rally for the Finnish Flash, Teemu Selanne in downtown Helsinki, Finland, August 4, 2007.
The journey is the reward. - ancient Chinese proverb

Any way you want it, that's the way you need it. - Journey

If, in fact, "the journey is the reward," then I am now, thanks to the Stanley Cup, and the Anaheim Ducks, a very rich man.

The assignment, follow the Stanley Cup as it travels from city to city, country to country at the behest of hockey players who have won the right to possess it for a day. Soon after the Ducks beat the Ottawa Senators to win the NHL Championship, I was given a list of players willing to have us document their days with the Cup. Working closely with Times sports photo editor George Wilhelm and Ducks PR man Alex Gilchrest, I set out for Montreal and the home of goalie J.S. Giguere.

Armed only with a French-Canadian name and a limited French vocabulary, I soon found myself crouching in Giguere's living room, photographing his young nephew as he snuggled with the cup. It was then, that I realized that this was not only going to be pure fun, but that it was something way bigger than a summer of parties. Claude Giguere, J.S.'s father greeted me warmly, handed me a champagne glass and spoke a type of French I never heard before, nor could come close to understanding.

With a name like Gauthier, I was a natural for all this. Unfortunately, until only recently, I knew nothing about my French-Canadian roots. I grew up without my biological father, so I didn't know what it meant to be a Canuck.

The only other gringo in the room was Walt Neubrand, the Hockey Hall of Fame keeper of the cup. He is Canadian. Not like the others in the room. More like the Bob and Doug, Strange Brew, take off you hoser, kind of Canadian. All he did when I introduced myself was show a look of disbelief as he spat out "your name is Gauthier and you don't speak French?" The rest of the weekend he'd introduce me to anyone nearby as "LA Times photographer Robert Gauthier. Can you believe he doesn't speak French?!"

Turns out, Walt is one of the coolest guys around, and would become a source of great comic relief over the summer.

One thing about French-Canadians - they know how to party. Champagne at the house, limo to a restaurant, lots of beer with hundreds of friends, off to a nightclub with dozens of close friends for non-stop champagne and beer. Twice, I had to empty champagne from my lens bags. 4 a.m. and Neubrand takes the cup to his hotel room for a few hours before delivering it to Francois Beauchemin who lives in another suburb of Montreal.

At Beauchemin's party, I met numerous people who are most likely related to me. I met Robert Gauthier and his family. Yes, he looked like he could be my brother. I met a man who looked amazingly similar to my uncle Charlie Gauthier and another man who looked like my father. Growing up in Southern California I can't remember meeting someone with the same last name as mine.

As I was preparing to check out of my hotel room, I grabbed the phone book and couldn't believe my eyes. Nearly 5 full pages of Gauthiers. Zut Alors!!

Part Two - Prairie Boys

Part two of my summer turned out to be a real grind. I met up with Chris Kunitz at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. That's where he played college hockey and was being honored there with an extensive autograph session for locals. To make his cup time more special, he rented a private jet to fly him, his fiancée, Maureen Pfieffer, a couple close friends, the Stanley Cup and the cup keeper more than a thousand miles to Regina, Saskatchewan. No room for the photographer.

Photo by

Badly in need of a haircut, Gauthier receive the blessed sacrament of champagne from the Stanley Cup with the help of Jean Sebastien Giguere at his Montreal, Canada home.
I drove an hour from Big Rapids to Grand Rapids. Flew to Minneapolis and connected to Regina, landing at 11 pm. They were playing the night by ear, so I had no clue where they were. I only got voice mail on Chris's cell phone and no answer on cup keeper Mike Bolt's cell. I was screwed. So I checked into a dive motel and kept calling. One last try at 1:30 a.m. and finally Bolt answers his phone. I can hear the partying in the background. He tells me he's at the Press Box Bar, but he doesn't know where it's at. I pull on my clothes, grab my camera and ask at the front desk. The clerk points to my right and says, "it's next door."

A few hours later, still in Regina, Mike Bolt and I are waiting for Ryan Getzlaf in a McDonalds parking lot.

Bolt alternates with Neubrand escorting the cup. He is a walking encyclopedia of Stanley Cup knowledge and has a great way of relating to the players. It was at the end of two days, neither of us had more than two hours of sleep and we were facing a three-hour drive from Regina to Swift Current where Travis Moen was waiting for his turn with the cup. It's after 1 a.m., Getzlaf, spent after a long day of family, partying and pictures with the cup, says goodbye. I remember I need to get some sound for our Internet presentation so I stick the recorder in front of Bolt and tell him to give me everything he knows about the cup in less than two minutes. He fires off fact after fact perfectly. You can hear him on the first web gallery at latimes.com/stanleycup.

It's a straight, pitch-dark drive from Regina to Swift Current. I would follow Bolt and listen to local talk radio talk about the Stanley Cup coming to town. We stopped at the huge moose, grabbed a coffee and continued to Swift Current. In less than three hours he needed to deliver the cup to Moen. One problem, he didn't have a room reserved. I had a suite with an extra bed. BIG MISTAKE! We hit the rack and he was asleep in less than a minute. I don't think there could possibly be anyone in the world that snores louder than he does. Two hours later, he's waking up and I'm still waiting to fall asleep.

By mid-afternoon, I'm beginning to hallucinate as Travis Moen stands next to the cup, posing for pictures four hours straight, satisfying just about every resident of this small Saskatchewan prairie town. I grab 45 minutes of sleep in my rental car.

Hours later, Moen finishes a private party at a local restaurant at 2 a.m. They're taking the cup home to squeeze the last few hours of fun out of it. Luckily, I stuck with them, because on their way home, a Mountie noticed their van, driven by Mike Bolt, ran a red light. Thanks to Bolt, I was able to make a picture of Moen trying to convince the Mountie not to give him a ticket by showing him the Stanley Cup.

Photo by Rob Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Photo by Rob Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

As the clock approaches midnight, the sun begins to set during Sam Pahlsson's Stanley Cup party at his Ornskoldsvik, Sweden home.
Part 3 - Europe

I fly into Sundsvall, Sweden via Stockholm, jump in a rental car and head to a nearby hotel. It's late evening and I'm anxious to reset my body clock because I know there will be no more sleep until next week. On my way to the hotel I notice a great big blue and yellow store near the freeway. Hey, they have Ikea stores in Sweden! It's late and I can't sleep, so I do what I do in strange cities. I go on a walkabout. One problem - it's 4 a.m. and its as light as day. I walk the deserted, picturesque streets of Sundsvall wondering what Sam Pahlsson and Teemu Selanne will give to me?

Pahlsson, his father and I greet the Cup as it arrives in Sundsvall. Also there are Ducks TV guys. The Ducks TV team hitches a ride with me and we convoy to Ange, Sam Pahlsson's hometown. By the end of the day, we are hundreds of miles away in Ornskoldsvik setting up for a family party in a house nearly one hundred years old without a flushing toilet. Pahlsson wants to surprise guests with the cup so he shoves it into a side window and instructs the cup keepers, Neubrand and Phil Pritchard (vice president of operations of the Hockey Hall of Fame) to put on their white gloves and blazers.

It turns out Pritchard and Neubrand are the Abbott and Costello of the HHoF. They are great guys who, even in the latest hours of a super long day, would be bantering back and forth about anything, sometimes even wrestling like two ten-year-old brothers. As crowds gather around the cup, Neubrand would mix in and chirp up as if a spectator asking the same question each cup keeper will answer dozens of times a day. "How many rings are there? Will it get bigger? Is this the real cup?" Almost always, Pritchard would smile and politely answer and realize, mid-sentence he'd been had again.

The highlight of the summer comes in Helsinki, Finland as Teemu Selanne hosts the cup for three days. He shipped his stretch limousine from California. It toted the cup, cup keepers, Ducks TV and me all over, going from one event to another. As the first day turns to evening, we pull into the town square and it becomes obvious how big a hero Teemu is in his home country.

More than 10,000 people fill the town square to cheer him on and get a look at the cup. Back at his house, the party continues the next day. A hundred of his closest friends party all day then witness a spectacular fireworks show (as good as Disneyland's) from his backyard.

Meanwhile, Pritchard had been jonesing for a sauna since he hit Europe. Finally, Selanne's buddies sneak the cup away from Teemu and carry it into the steam room. Pritchard and Neubrand flip their clothes off and join in the fun. Teemu leads cheers as men, some butt naked, pass the cup around and savor their inebriated steamy haze.

Photo by Rob Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Photo by Rob Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Cup Keeper Walt Neubrand rides in style with the Stanley Cup as he escorts the trophy around Helsinki, Finland in the back of Teemu Selanne's limousine.
As is tradition, they trot straight to the bay and take a cleansing dip with the cup. Neubrand, who doesn't know how to swim, gamely joins in and struggles to make it back to the dock. The crowd of spectators, including me, almost submerges the floating dock watching as grown men giddily pass the trophy just above the water line.

Part 4 - Disappointment in Cranbrook

The original plan was to call it quits after Finland. I wish we did. Times sports photo editor George Wilhelm, who dreamed up this whole project, came to me and said. Why don't you go to Canada and shoot Rob and Scott Niedermeyer. "The last time Scott had it he took the cup to a mountain top, I think he's going to do it again," said George. Visions of the perfect ending photo danced in my brain. I should have known this one would be difficult as days passed by without solid confirmation from Ducks PR that we were cleared to hang with the brothers and that they, in fact, were taking it to the mountain.

I started hearing murmurs that Scott is very difficult to work with and I'd be lucky to get anything. It was too late. I was booked for Calgary and a long drive to Cranbrook. Another bad sign, I was instructed to deal only with the Ducks TV guys regarding access and schedule. Other Canadian media joined in, creating an even worse sense of a pack. The first few hours with Rob Niedermeyer went fine, then we got the first knowing nod of, you must leave now, while we have our real time with the Cup. Despite numerous promises from the Ducks that I'd get special consideration, it was obvious, I was considered one of the crowd.

As the hours passed, I kept on the Ducks rep about getting access to the mountain event. The Neidermeyer's were taking two helicopters to the peak of a nearby glacier and I could sense they were going to do it without much notice. I tried to scout the location. I bought a topo map from a local sporting goods store and tried to map out a plan B where I could possibly see it from a distance. I kept on the Ducks rep, finally offering to hire my own helicopter and promising to stay a good distance away. I visualized a picturesque long shot of clouds, snow covered hills and a tiny Stanley cup glowing somewhere in the frame. My motel was near the base for local helo tour company and I watched as they took off for the Niedermeyer ranch. I knew it was on, and there was nothing I could do.

I was tired from a long, rewarding summer. As I watched the helicopters disappear into the mountain range, I let my anger pass and turned reflective. I realized that until this moment, I was allowed a close-up view of men celebrating what could be considered the absolute finest moments of their lives. I began to understand what a gift that was and remembered all the people who gave me so much of their time and assistance. Players wives, girlfriends, mothers, fathers, brothers, buddies, coaches. The cup keepers, Walt Neubrand, Mike Bolt and Phil Pritchard. Alex Gilchrest and Aaron Teats of the Ducks.

To see more of Gauthier's photographs from this story please visit his audio galleries on latimes.com: http://tinyurl.com/2b442m


(Rob Gauthier is a staff photographer with the Los Angeles Times and Fresno State alum.)

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