Nearly 20 years later, he finally got his day with the Stanley Cup

Ryan Kennedy

Mike Folga still remembers Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup final. As the equipment manager for the New York Rangers, he had the ultimate insider’s experience to the madness and anticipation that ran through Madison Square Garden that night as the Blueshirts tried to win their first NHL title in more than 50 years.

“The noise was so thunderous, you had to shout to be heard,” he said. “And the vibrations in the building – it’s a wonder the ice didn’t crack.”

The series came down to one goal and the Rangers had to protect a 3-2 lead for one final faceoff in the defensive zone with Craig MacTavish taking the draw for the home team.

“I was thinking to myself,” Folga recalled, “thank God we’ve got someone out there that knows what they’re doing.”

As soon as the puck was dropped, MacTavish threw his body between the biscuit and Vancouver’s center, allowing time to expire without a final threat. Folga jumped up in jubilation, then sat back on the bench to reflect on all the hard work, all the late nights that had led to the championship.

One of the spoils of winning the Cup is getting the chance to spend a day with it. But back then, the process was unsupervised. Parties ran late, schedules got off kilter and despite making plans with family and friends, Folga’s day with the Cup never happened.

The Erie, Pa. native moved on and for the past 13 years, he has been the equipment manager and athletic trainer for his hometown Mercyhurst Lakers NCAA squad. One of those Lakers is defenseman Tyler Shiplo, who had a connection to Colin Campbell in the NHL’s head office. Shiplo got the ball rolling and the Mercyhurst student government raised the $5,000 needed to bring the Cup down to Erie over the weekend.

In front of the biggest crowd in Lakers history, Folga finally got to raise the Cup above his head, while other fans posed for pictures and raised money for the Wounded Warriors Project. To top it off, Mercyhurst beat the Bentley Falcons 4-1.

“Just to be able to share it with family and friends and everybody at Mercyhurst was great,” Folga said. “There is only one Stanley Cup and even if hockey isn’t the most popular sport in the United States, it’s the No. 1 trophy. Everybody knows the Stanley Cup.”

For a guy who did more blue-collar work for the Rangers than any grinder or enforcer could ever claim, Folga is humble about his role in New York’s victory and humbled by the memories his day with the Cup brought back.

“Maybe I did do my job,” he said. “Nobody lost an edge on their skate that night.”

Five things to watch: Capitals try to break slump without Alex Ovechkin

The Hockey News
Washington Capitals

By Brian O’Neill, Josh Elliott and Gareth Bush
From the Ovechkin-less Capitals trying to break a slump, to Jonas Gustavsson playing big in Detroit and two super-rookies taking to the ice, we get you prepared for the five games ahead on Friday night with our five things to watch.

Olympus Has Fallen
The pre-Olympic hype is picking up around Alex Ovechkin, but right now the Washington Capitals need him more than Team Russia. The Caps, who have plummeted to 13th in the East and are winless in their past six games, face the very real possibility of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07. They head into tonight’s tilt in New Jersey with the third-worst road record in the league (8-11-4), behind only Edmonton and Buffalo. Teams are galloping past them in the standings, but even if the Caps catch up, they lose any tiebreakers because they have the third-worst number of regulation or overtime wins (14). The only teams with fewer ROWs are, again, Edmonton and Buffalo. That’s bad company to be keeping, and with Ovechkin out of tonight’s game (his second in a row), things could get ugly if the Caps don’t figure it out soon. Read more

Five things to watch: Del Zotto begins anew with Nashville

The Hockey News
Michael Del Zotto

By Josh Elliott, Brian O’Neill and Gareth Bush
Michael Del Zotto plays his first game as a Preator, the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets look to keep separating from the other wild card contenders and more in today’s five things to watch, a preview of the 10 NHL games on tap Thursday.

A Fresh Face
Having been acquired from the New York Rangers in exchange for Kevin Klein yesterday, Michael Del Zotto will make his debut with the Nashville Predators tonight. MDZ has posted 11 points in 42 games this season, a sharp decline from the 21 he tallied over 46 games last season. He fell out of favor with coach Alain Vigneault and had long been the subject of trade rumors, before being dealt yesterday. This could be the fresh start that Del Zotto needs and if all goes well he could stabilize a Predators defense that ranks among the league’s best. The Preds head into Vancouver where the Canucks are beginning a four-game homestand.       Read more

Five things to watch: Are the Red Wings falling out of the playoff race?

The Hockey News
Detroit Red Wings

By Gareth Bush, Brian O’Neill and Josh Elliott
From the struggling Detroit Red Wings and Phoenix Coyotes to the incredibly hot Wayne Simmonds, we get you prepared for the four-game night ahead in the NHL with our five things to watch.

Howie Gonna Do It?
The whispers are starting. Is this the year? Is this the year the Red Wings miss the playoffs? Detroit has slipped to 11th in the Eastern Conference and sits two points back of the final wild card spot, with three teams to climb over in the standings. And goaltender Jimmy Howard is hurt again. Howard missed eight games in December with a lower body injury and, well, you probably saw what happened on HBO’s 24/7. The Red Wings struggled over that stretch, winning just three of eight games. Howard only has nine wins on the season through 29 appearances and while his loss will hurt, the hurt goes deeper than that. Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Alfredsson and Johan Franzen highlight a long list of injured Wings. Jonas Gustavsson will come off the IR to take the reins from Howard tonight against Chicago, but as injuries continue to plague this team, missing the post-season is starting to look like a very real possibility.

Simmply the Best
Sidney Crosby. John Tavares. Wayne Simmonds. Little-known fact: as of Tuesday, Wayne Simmonds was the league’s leading scorer since Dec. 17. He lost that title to the Tavares-Thomas Vanek-Kyle Okposo trio last night, but he might’ve held it if the Flyers’ game against the Carolina Hurricanes hadn’t been put off until today. Simmonds has 12 goals and 22 points in his past 17 games and leads the Flyers with 17 goals this season. Yes, that’s a lot of 17s for No. 17 in orange and white, who is also third on his team in penalty minutes (77) and first in shooting percentage (13.9 percent). Simmonds has 10 points in 11 career games against Carolina and he’ll look to add to that tonight. Read more

Five things to watch: Western Canada feeling the pain

The Hockey News

By Josh Elliott, Gareth Bush and Brian O’Neill
The NHL has 10 games on the schedule tonight and we get you prepared with our five things to watch. From the Western Canadian teams struggling, to a Subway Series showdown, we preview the night ahead.

Pacific Fallout
The Pacific Division is a wacky place these days. Its three California-based teams are among the league’s best, while the dunce cap has been getting passed around western Canada an awful lot this last week. Calgary and Vancouver shared it Saturday for their Hockey Day in Canada line brawl and Canucks coach John Tortorella’s ensuing why-I-oughta act outside the Flames dressing room. The Canucks were the dunces again Monday when the league handed Tortorella a six-game suspension, which starts tonight. Not to be outdone, Oilers owner Daryl Katz reminded everyone his team is the most moribund franchise in the west by writing an open letter to fans yesterday pleading with them to hang in there. Tonight, the Canucks will arrive in the “City of Champions” with just two wins in their past 10, minus their head coach and their leading scorer, the injured Henrik Sedin. And Edmonton? They’re still Edmonton. Read more

Five things to watch: Tired Flames rebound from brawl

The Hockey News

By Josh Elliott, Gareth Bush and Brian O’Neill
With two afternoon games already done (or almost done) today’s five things gets you prepared for the games ahead tonight. From the Flames looking to rebound to the Stars trying to get back on track in 2014, here is what to keep an eye on this evening.

Working Overtime
You’ve probably already heard about or watched the line brawl that broke out on Saturday night between the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks off the opening faceoff. What you might not have seen was the amount of minutes that some of the players had to take on because of the eight ejections that resulted from the fights. Flames defensemen Dennis Wideman (38:05), T.J. Brodie (35:42), Mark Giordano (33:32) and Shane O’Brien (21:26) all played a much heavier workload than they’re used to and haven’t had much time to recover. Calgary has flown down to San Jose to take on the Sharks and will understandably be exhausted despite getting their bottom defense pairing back for tonight’s matchup.

Force of Nature
That Sidney Crosby’s a pretty good player, right? Like, pretty amazingly good. With Crosby, there’s no more debate: he’s the best player in the world and that’s that. The recently named captain for Team Canada is a mile ahead in the scoring race, with 68 points and a 10-point lead over second place Ryan Getzlaf and John Tavares. He’s near the top of the charts in goals (third) and assists (second) and he collects points by the bucket load. Crosby has points in 39 of his 48 games this season and his longest pointless streak was a two-game dry spell back in November. Watch for this Captain Canada to flourish under the added pressure of leading his country. Florida Panthers beware: this force of nature is coming for you tonight.

‘D’ is for Desperate
The Dallas Stars are in a bad way. Since the calendar flipped over to 2014, Dallas has just three points in nine games. Even the struggling Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames have fared better than the Stars so far this year and while those teams are still way back in the standings, Dallas has slipped to 10th in the West and has Nashville and Winnipeg just a point back. The Stars will be dreaming of opening up some space tonight as they visit Nashville for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day game. After that, it’s back to Dallas for a five-game home stand. If the Stars don’t start stringing wins together in a hurry against beatable rivals like the Preds, the post-season will become nothing more than a pipedream in ‘Big D.’

Face of the Leafs
Leafs left winger James van Riemsdyk has been the face of the team since the turn of the New Year. Apart from his taunting of P.K. Subban on Saturday night, JVR has been a big reason why the team has won four straight after losing four in a row prior to this run. The Middletown, N.J., product has nine points in his past 10 games and 29 shots on goal in his past five. Anyone know what Luke Schenn is up to these days? The Leafs continue their drive for a wild card spot – or according to Nazem Kadri, the division title – tonight against the Coyotes, who have dropped six of their past nine.

Take These Broken Wings
Despite currently having a losing home record and what seems like an entire roster of injuries, the Detroit Red Wings are tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Detroit will be missing centers Pavel Datsyuk, Stephen Weiss, Darren Helm and Joakim Andersson, left winger Johan Franzen, right winger Daniel Alfredsson, defenseman Jonathan Ericsson and goaltender Jonas Gustavsson. With so many injuries, it’s not the best timing for their first game against former Central Division rival St. Louis. The bright spot for the Wings is that the Blues have lost three of their past four. With tough upcoming home games against the Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens, the Wings may need a couple more lucky bounces like the one they got against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.

Five things to watch: Bruins and Blackhawks Cup final rematch

Casey Ippolito

Just three games Sunday in the NHL, and I’ve managed to milk five storylines from them.

Blackhawks host Bruins in Cup final rematch
The last time the Blackhawks and Bruins met, this happened:

There have been key departures for both sides (Dave Bolland, Tyler Seguin, Andrew Ference) and notable new faces (Reilly Smith, Jarome Iginla), but the rosters for the most part remain as they were when the Cup was awarded last year. We know some animosity will carry over from the Cup final, but how much?

Caps and Rangers trending in opposite directions
On New Year’s Day, the Capitals were sitting second in the Metropolitan Division, but with just two wins in their past 10 games, they’re in jeopardy of missing the playoffs, hanging onto a wild card position by a point. They face off against the Rangers today, who’ve won seven of their past 10, thanks in part to steady goaltending. Henrik Lundqvist has played up to Henrik Lundqvist levels in eight of his past nine games, giving the Rangers a formidable No. 2 option behind Cam Talbot. (I kid, but Talbot does have the league’s best save percentage and goals-against average in his 15 outings this season.)

Can Ovechkin keep pace with 60?
With 34 goals in 46 games, Alex Ovechkin is on pace for 59 goals. It’s been 17 games since Ovi’s last multi-goal performance, and he’ll need one soon if he’s to reach the 60-goal plateau for the first time since his 65-goal 2007-08 campaign. With No. 8′s dip in production, Nicklas Backstrom’s output has also tapered. The Swedish Olympian has just four points in his past 10 games. Whether it’s Backstrom who needs to get Ovechkin going, or vice versa, the duo needs to step up.

Motivated Martin St-Louis
Martin St-Louis has played seven games since finding out he won’t be suiting up for Canada at the Olympics. He has a point in every one of those games, 11 points overall, and he’s coming off a four-goal game yesterday against the Sharks. He and Ben Bishop are carrying the Lightning right now, and it’s fun to watch. St-Louis will try to keep the points coming against the Hurricanes today.

Bruins have company atop the Atlantic
The Bruins are the most consistent and well-constructed team in the Atlantic Division, and they’ve held the top spot for much of the season. However, the Lightning are on nipping at their heels, just a point back. The Canadiens are just three points back, and even the Leafs are within striking distance at seven points shy of the B’s. With a 5-5 record over their past 10 games, Claude Julien’s group needs to string together a few W’s.