It is said the Stanley Cup is the toughest trophy to win in sports. And so when a club fights and claws and scratches to the summit of the National Hockey League it has rightfully earned a few of the accompanying privileges.
There is the ceremonial visit to the White House where the U.S. president tries not to butcher the captain's name. (Bill Clinton introduced Detroit Red Wings' Steve Yzerman as 'EEE-ZER-mun', while George Bush, Sr. greeted Mario Lemieux with 'And you are...?' when the Pittsburgh Penguins visited years ago).
There is the raising of the Stanley Cup banner on opening night of the following season and the presentation of the championship rings at the end of the summer after the jeweller finally finishes stuffing a crate-load of diamonds into each piece.
Knowing all this, you'll have to excuse Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien if they don't feel a little cheated still from their days with the Chicago Blackhawks. Both played important roles in the Hawks' 2010 championship, a title that ended with a 4-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 on June 9.
But three weeks later they were both traded to Atlanta in a salary-cap move that meant they missed out on the banner raising and the White-House visit. And the rings? They received their hardware after the fact when a Hawks' official flew to Atlanta.
All of this no doubt helps explain why the two Winnipeg Jets are so eager to get back to the Windy City for the first time since that glorious June some 17 months ago.
"That's probably one of the things I'm most looking forward to, seeing the (banner) sitting up there," said Byfuglien Wednesday, just prior to the team boarding their charter to Chicago. "But we've got a job to do, too."
"Not having been back since we won, it's going to be pretty cool to see the banner and the training staff and a lot of the people in the office that were a big part of that 2010 Cup team," added Ladd. "There's so many great memories when you go through something like that. It'll be great to see everyone, but it'd be nice to get a win in there, too.
"To be honest, all that's part of winning a championship. Once that next season starts, it doesn't matter any more and you're back to square one. Everyone had that feeling, but not being able to a part of raising the banner, the ring ceremony and going to the White House and stuff like that... you miss out on that."
Ladd said he's still very close to a number of ex-teammates on the Hawks' roster and the plan is to go out for dinner with a handful of them prior to Thursday's game, then maybe a quick get-together after the fact.
Interestingly, while it was difficult to be yanked away from a championship team, the deal has benefitted both Ladd and Byfuglien. The two had increased roles in their first year in Atlanta and parlayed them into lucrative new long-term contracts that give them stability -- as much as there is in pro sports.
"I guess right away I was kind of disappointed, but the more I look at things it was obviously a good thing," Byfuglien said. "It's part of the job; you're never going to stick in one place for the whole time.
"I'm excited to move on and going to Atlanta... it was a young team and Chicago was young once. It's always fun being part of a team that builds up and be a part of everything."
"I had a lot of great memories there, it will always be a special place for me," said Ladd. "I had a great three years there, I met a lot of great people and lifelong friends. But it worked out better for me moving on and taking on a bigger role. If I was still there I might still be playing in a third-line checking role and wouldn't have all the opportunity I got in Atlanta last year and moving forward here. I'm happy to be here."
Things change, of course, once the puck drops Thursday. Byfuglien will be trying to paste Patrick Kane & Co. to the boards; Ladd will bust his hump to get to the front of the Hawks' net and score.
Asked what he expected the reaction from the fans to be, Byfuglien shrugged.
"I don't know," he said, with a grin. "Hopefully it will be good."
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