Most of us have had dreams about winning the Cup. Slipping on a snow covered sidestreet, holding a hockey stick whose blade has been worn down to mere toothpick status and hoping that you don't fire that tennis ball wide because the neighbour's dog tends to pick up the ball and run off with it. But few of us have the ability to seriously consider that dream ever coming true.
|While taking the sports administration program at Laurentian University, Ryan Belec landed an internship with the
Tampa Bay Lightning.
But there is a native of Sudbury, Ontario who had those same dreams we all have shared. Except he did something about it.
Ryan Belec was attending Laurentian University in his hometown, taking the sports administration program. While looking for an internship during his fourth year, Belec stepped out in 1999 and decided he wanted to work in the National Hockey League more than anything, so cast his net wide and sent letters to each of the thirty National Hockey League franchises. Each day, the mail brought more rejection letters and the phone failed to ring. Then one day, the phone actually did ring. "I got a call from the Lightning's director of fan development," Ryan explains. "He was intrigued that someone as far away as Northern Ontario was willing to go to Florida to work in hockey." Ryan secured an internship in the public relations department with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
When the internship concluded eight months later, Belec was back in Sudbury finishing his final year, armed with a thousand stories and a stronger desire than ever to work in the NHL. During the summer of 2000, Tampa Bay hired Ryan as the assistant to the general manager, where he co-ordinates special events with the Lightning players. As the final buzzer sounded on June 7, Belec scaled the boards with the rest of the Lightning management staff and, on the ice in front of his parents Paul and Pauline, 18,000 fans and a television viewing audience in the millions, Ryan Belec stood on the ice surface at the St. Pete Times Forum and hoisted hockey's most prized trophy over his head as a member of the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
|Big silver meets Big Nickel as Belec hoisted the Stanley Cup in front of Sudbury's most famous land mark.
A dream had come true!
On Thursday, July 8, another dream was realized. Ryan Belec brought the Stanley Cup home to Sudbury.
Weather problems had cancelled a number of flights to Sudbury, so Mike Bolt of the Hockey Hall of Fame rented a car and, on two hours sleep, drove the Stanley Cup to Sudbury for a day of celebrations.
Arriving at eight that morning, the Stanley Cup was shuffled from the rented car to a limousine and taken to City Hall along with Ryan's parents Paul and Pauline Belec, his sister Renee and his best friend Joey. A civic ceremony took place with many local dignitaries, including NHL linesman Dan McCourt. During the speeches, Ryan was seated next to Sudbury Wolves' forward Mike Mills. "C.mon Ryan," Mills whispered, "Be a pal and get me drafted by the Lightning, okay? I think I'd look pretty good on a line with Vince Lecavalier and Brad Richards. Whaddya say?" Ryan laughed, "I'll try to put in a good word with Mr. Feaster!"
At nine that morning, the Stanley Cup was taken from City Hall to Belec's alma mater Laurentian University. The journey for Belec began there, in SPAD (sports administration program). Ryan posed by the gates, silently thanking the university for allowing him to create such an opportunity for himself.
|The City of Sudbury provided local boy makes great with a special city bus in order to frequent as many stops as possible through Ryan's special day.
Belec then took the Stanley Cup around to many of Sudbury's most recognizable landmarks. A huge crowd had gathered at Science North, Sudbury's extraordinary interactive museum. Ryan took the Cup into the crowd and let them experience the thrill of touching the Stanley Cup.
Like the Stanley Cup, Sudbury's Big Nickel is a Canadian icon, and Ryan and his group thought it appropriate to bring hockey's greatest ambassador to the site most closely identified with the outstanding Northern Ontario city. Afterwards, the Cup made quick stops at Northern Brewery and Tim Horton's, where they were greeted by a sign reading: 'TIM HORTON'S WELCOMES RYAN BELEC AND THE STANLEY CUP-A GREAT DOUBLE DOUBLE!' Ryan then took the Stanley Cup to his high school, LaSalle Secondary School, home of the mighty Lancers.
Eighty close personal friends and family were waiting for Ryan back at his parents' home by this point, overwhelmed that the Stanley Cup was right there amidst them. Ryan's Uncle Neil, a huge hockey fan, got quite emotional when he got the opportunity to hold the Stanley Cup. "I can't believe my nephew, little Ryan, is part of the championship Tampa Bay Lightning organization," Neil exclaimed, wiping away the tears that were running down his cheeks.
After each had spent some time with the Stanley Cup, Ryan took it over to Pat & Mario's restaurant, where he had worked while going through school. On the day that Ryan was hired by the Lightning, management at Pat & Mario's convinced Belec he had to work. Honouring his agreement, Ryan showed up and discovered, much to his embarrassment, that owners George and Leslie were throwing a surprise celebration party for him instead. It is inconceivable that anyone anywhere could be more proud of a former employee than Pat & Mario's is of Ryan Belec. As he drove up, Belec noted a sign that read:
R Realize your dreams.
Y Your goals can be reached.
A Anything is possible.
N Now and in your future.
PS Ryan, busboy shifts are still available!
After the special visit to Pat & Mario's, the City of Sudbury loaned Ryan a city bus, with the destination STANLEY CUP on the front. More than sixty friends rode with the Stanley Cup on the bus through the evening as Ryan stopped into as many places as humanly possible. Starting with the Falcon Hotel, where Ryan's Dad had spent many an interesting evening, the Cup went to the Peddler's Pub, then on to 100 Georges. As Ryan carried the Cup into the club, the band stopped mid-song. "Holy F&$k, is that the freakin' Stanley Cup?"
The Stanley Cup then made its way over to Coulson's Hotel, not realizing there was a terrific hockey connection. Coulson's was originally owned by Sudbury born D'Arcy Coulson, who played 28 games with the Philadelphia Quakers during the 1930-31 season. D'Arcy registered no goals or assists but collected 103 penalty minutes in his half NHL season. Over at the nightclub, Factor Five was just finishing their set of rock classics when they, too, noted, the Stanley Cup was in the club. Ryan took the Stanley Cup on stage and the crowd went berserk. Then, as the night drew to a close, the band began playing its final song of the night. From the first guitar riff, Ryan realized the song was dedicated to him and the Tampa Bay victory AC/DC's 'Thunderstruck.'
Back on the special city bus and the Stanley Cup was taken back to the Belec home, where after a good scrub, the Cup sat on the kitchen table and was examined as the assembled group re-lived the stories that comprised an amazing day in Sudbury.
Friday, mark your calendar to return to the Stanley Cup Journal when Jay Feaster, Tampa Bay's GM, returns to his hometown of Williamstown, Pennsylvania with hockey's most prized trophy.
Kevin Shea is the Hockey Hall of Fame's Manager of Special Projects and Publishing.