The sign held by a pair of Vegas Golden Knights fans at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas during Game Five of the Stanley Cup Finals read “We’ve waited six years for this”.
Needless to say, hockey fans in markets like Toronto, Vancouver and Buffalo let their feelings be known on social media about that statement as those three markets are looking at a Stanley Cup drought of over 150 years combined.
Waiting six years is a blip – not a lifetime.
Thus it’s understandable that with the Golden Knights winning the Stanley Cup in just their sixth year of existence that there is a large number of people who feel that Vegas and their fans haven’t really paid their dues.
It’s a solid argument.
When it comes to Vegas President of Hockey Operations George McPhee however, that argument is non-existent.
McPhee debuted in the National Hockey League as a player during the 1983 playoffs with the New York Rangers. His seven-year playing career would end with a short stint in the New Jersey Devils organization in 1989. From there it was off to Rutgers University to study law.
He would join the Vancouver Canucks organization under Pat Quinn in 1992 as Vice President of Hockey Operations. He left the Canucks for Washington in 1997 to start a 17-year run as the general manager of the Capitals. After being let go by Washington in 2014, he joined the New York Islanders in 2015 as a Vice President and Special Advisor to the General Manager. In 2016, Vegas owner Bill Foley hired McPhee to run his fledgling expansion team as the general manager before promoting him to President in 2019.
During that entire 40-year span, George McPhee had never won a Stanley Cup.
McPhee had come close.
He was with the Canucks in 1994 when they lost to the Rangers in seven games and was with the Capitals when they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in 1998. In 2016, McPhee was the general manager of the Golden Knights in their inaugural season which saw them reach the finals only to lose to the Capitals in five games.
On Tuesday, McPhee finally got to hoist the Cup over his head.
On Wednesday, he was down for the count with a nasty bug.
Always willing to accommodate, we did exchange a couple of texts.
When asked how it felt to finally lift hockey’s ultimate prize, McPhee’s response wasn’t much of a surprise.
“The emotion I felt lifting the Cup was humility. That I had much to be thankful for to be able to actually hold the Stanley Cup,” McPhee replied via text.
The instant reaction when a team wins a championship is to focus on the players and coaches – and rightfully so. But in reality, it is organizations that win championships – not teams – and McPhee focused on that in his post-game interview with Sportsnet’s Kyle Bukauskas
“We hired the best human talent we could find throughout the organization – low ego and hard working – and that’s what makes the difference. You know, the character of all these players on the ice is one thing but the character behind the bench, the character of the ownership, and management and scouts and equipment managers and trainers…it matters. It makes the difference and this was a heck of a group to work with,” said McPhee.
As for the journey that started as a player in the ’80s and transformed to the executive side in the 1990s, McPhee admitted that he was still in ‘playoff mode’ and hadn’t had a chance to look back at it all.
“There isn’t much time to reflect on the journey. This was an all “in the moment” experience. For 63 days, this team focused on getting the next win. So when you actually win the Cup, it takes time to reconcile the freedom and allow the tension to dissipate. There will be time to reflect in the slow days of August,” McPhee texted.
When that times does come, perhaps McPhee will then look back and get emotional about what has been accomplished.
It’s been a long-time coming.
Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.