Mike Folga was the equipment manager for the champion New York Rangers, but due to a scheduling problem, he never got his day with the trophy. Until last weekend.
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."