PARIS/GRENOBLE – For the first time in its 117-year history, the Stanley Cup made its way to France. And there couldn’t be a better place for the country’s first NHL champion Cristobal Huet to present the Cup than at the Eiffel Tower.
It’s a tradition that each player on the winning team gets the cup for one day and for 24 hours it came to Cristobal Huet's native France .
Huet is the third French-trained NHL player after Philippe Bozon and Sébastien Bordeleau. But Huet is the first Frenchman to bring the Cup home.
After Tomas Kopecky and Marian Hossa hosted the Cup in Slovakia over the weekend, it was Huet’s turn on Sunday and Monday.
Before bringing the trophy to Paris, Huet presented the Cup 600 kilometres away in Grenoble and its suburb Saint-Martin-d’Hérès where he's from. 2,000 fans were at Grenoble’s Pôle Sud rink where Huet’s former team, Brûleurs de Loups, will soon hit the ice. And they celebrated their hero “Cristo”.
Bozon and other former teammates from Grenoble and the French national team as well as several coaches and representatives of the local club and the French Ice Hockey Federation made their way to congratulate Huet. They also saw Huet’s number 39 retired and the banner with the Stanley Cup logo pulled to the arena’s rafters.
Huet also handed over a check of €20,000 he donated to the children’s hospital of Grenoble.
“Being the first Frenchman to win the Stanley Cup is really special. It’s a dream come true. That’s why bringing the trophy to Grenoble, where it all started, was a touching moment,” Huet said.
“The crowd was fantastic and it was great that my family and friends could participate in the festivities. I prepared a whole speech in my head, but when I saw everybody, it was very emotional for me. It was very happy that I could share this moment with them after the huge celebration in Chicago.”
Winning the Stanley Cup was beyond his imagination comparedto his modest childhood dreams. “As a boy my dream was to play for the Grenoble Brûleurs de Loups, and then for the national team. Once I arrived in the NHL, I had to fight for a roster spot,” he said.
Huet enjoyed the moment and fulfilled hundreds of autograph requests before heading to a press conference and dinner that concluded the event.
More was to come. Huet wouldn’t let the Stanley Cup leave the country before bringing it to Paris the next morning. It was fitting to present the Stanley Cup at the Eiffel Tower and other major landmarks in Paris.
“It was symbolic to have the Cup in the capital of France. Many people could join in front of the Eiffel Tower. It really showed to me what impact it has for France to win the Stanley Cup. It’s just sensational to live this moment in such a fantastic city as Paris. It will create images into my memory I will never forget,” Huet said.
The 34-year-old had reason to enjoy the moment. After a difficult season it was maybe the last time fans could see him in a Blackhawks jersey despite two more years on this contract.
“It was definitely bizarre. As a backup goalie you don’t have the same satisfaction when winning the championship like the other players. It wasn’t my best season,” Huet admitted. “I had bad luck falling ill during the season. Once I was able to play, I didn’t play so well. After that it was impossible to take back the starting position from Antti (Niemi). I should have been stronger mentally.”
The Chicago Blackhawks will be without Huet and starter Niemi for the new season due to salary cap restrictions. Niemi was replaced by Marty Turco, and the Blackhawks are sitting on a contract with Huet with a salary of $5.625 million – too much to fit under the salary cap for a backup goalie.
If the Hawks cannot find a new club for the Frenchman, the last option will be to let him play in the AHL for the next two years. (Chicago would still have to pay the full salary in the AHL, but it wouldn’t count against the NHL cap).
His agent recommended that he go to Europe in that case, but cancelling the contract would make him lose millions of dollars.
“My future will surely not be in Chicago,” he told Sport Extra
. “The teams (in the NHL) don’t have much flexibility due to the salary cap and I can’t do anything to change the situation. The Blackhawks will have to make a decision. I’m getting ready for the camp and we will have to think about every possible option if nothing changes. We will ask for a trade. If they send me to the AHL, I’ll go. Europe could also be an option if everybody agrees on a loan spell.”
While Huet will have some weeks of uncertainty, the Stanley Cup continued its way to the North. Gothenburg was the next destination where the Cup was received by Niklas Hjalmarsson.
The 15.5-kilo heavy Cup almost couldn’t board the Air France plane due to size restrictions and overzealous officers. With some patience the representatives of the NHL and the Hockey Hall of Fame finally overcame the bureaucratic hurdle.
But at least French hockey fans couldn’t complain about the media coverage for hockey these days. Ask Huet.
MARTIN MERKCristobal Huet on the foot of the Eiffel Tower with fans. Photo: Catherine SteenkesteOn top of Paris: Huet poses with the Stanley Cup far above River Seine. Photo: Catherine Steenkeste