Jonathan Toews remembers the celebrations, the parades and the parties.
Hoisting the Stanley Cup meant cherished moments with teammates, family and friends — memories that will never fade.
The only downside? Short summers that had the captain of the Chicago Blackhawks right into another season before he could blink.
“At some point, you’ve got to turn the page,” Toews said. “That was the biggest thing that we learned when we had to defend our Stanley Cup titles … it’s back to reality pretty quick.”
That will be true in 2019-20 for the St. Louis Blues, who are coming off an improbable run that saw them go from the bottom of the NHL standings in January to winning the franchise’s first-ever Cup after four gruelling playoff rounds.
Apart from the draining physical and emotional tolls of that grind, players suddenly find themselves getting pulled in a dozen different directions. There’s also less time to recuperate, unwind and get ready for training camp.
And the rest of the league never waits for the champs to rediscover their groove.
“Everyone comes in hot and prepared and ready to go,” Toews said at the recent NHL/NHLPA media tour. “There’s a reason why they call it the Stanley Cup hangover. You’re gonna have some moments here and there where you’ve got to find that mental energy and motivation to be the best again.”
Only the Pittsburgh Penguins — back-to-back winners in 2016 and 2017 — have managed to secure consecutive titles in the last two decades.
The Blackhawks won the Cup three times (2010, 2013 and 2015), the Los Angeles Kings climbed the mountain twice (2012 and 2014), but repeating has been an exception instead of the rule.
It’s often called the toughest trophy to win in North American pro sports for a reason.
“You come from such a high, and from playing such a high level of hockey, sometimes it takes you back a little bit,” Chicago sniper Patrick Kane said. “You’re playing pre-season games, you’re playing regular-season games, and all of a sudden those games don’t seem as important as the ones you were playing.
“It’s a little bit of a transition.”
With a massive roster turnover for salary cap reasons following their 2010 win, the Blackhawks barely snuck into the playoffs the following season and were bounced in consecutive first rounds before getting back on top.
“We learned a lot from that first year when we won because we didn’t have a great season,” Kane said. “There’s a lot of different things that come with winning the Stanley Cup. Whether it’s the celebration after, dealing with being the Stanley Cup champions the next year.
“Everyone’s gunning for you.”
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has won the Cup three times — 2009 was the other victory — and he’d take having the championship bullseye on his back every October.
“It’s a good position to be in,” he said with a grin. “That’s what everyone wants to have going into the season. It’s a challenge, for sure. There’s high expectations. You’re going to get every team’s best, but I think especially early on your mindset is kind of where it left off in June.
“That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s good to have that, but it still takes some time to work into that form. They’ll be challenges.”
Captials Are Most Recent Example
Like the Blues, they won their first title in 2018, but were unable to recapture that magic and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in April.
“It’s always hard,” Washington captain Alex Ovechkin said. “I’ve never been in this position … but I hope this year we can come back as a group and (are) better.
“Nothing you can do. I’m not going to sit and cry and say, ‘What’s happening?’ It’s gone. It’s history, and you have to move on.”
The Blues, who are bringing back basically the same roster, will try to do the same. They also know it’s going to be a challenge.
“There’s so many things we learned from winning that we need to hold onto and find a way to channel,” said St. Louis centre Ryan O’Reilly, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. “But also we know we’re not going to surprise anyone. It’s going to be a whole different feel for us. ‘OK, how can we elevate our game?’
“We’re going to need to make changes and grow ourselves to be better this year to do it again.”
Easy to say. A lot harder to do.
“Teams are coming after you, trying to prove themselves against you,” Toews said. “At the same time, they don’t care. This year is this year.
“What happened last year is history.”
History that, other than sitting in the league’s basement three months into the season, the Blues are hoping to repeat.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2019
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press