Perrin returns to Hershey as a Cup champion
By DAVE SOTTILE
Eric Perrin’s phone rang and the voice on the other end of the line told him something he only dreamed about.
Tampa Bay Lightning forward Dmitri Afanasenkov had a slight concussion, and all signs pointed to Perrin being recalled from the Hershey Bears to fill the roster spot.
It was late March and Perrin would finally make his NHL debut, a 28-year-old rookie center.
At least, that’s what he thought would happen.
“It was a Wednesday night and I could barely sleep,” Perrin said. “When I got to the rink the next day, things had changed. They said I wasn’t going up after all.
“(Afanasenkov) was OK and could play, so I figured that if I hadn’t gotten called up in that circumstance, I wasn’t going to get called up at all. I was ready to accept that and finish the year with the Bears and try to get to the playoffs.”
Less than 48 hours later, while riding the team bus back from a road loss to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on March 26, Perrin got another call. This time there was no doubt.
The Lightning had summoned the AHL’s leading scorer and Perrin’s magic carpet ride never stopped flying — all the way to a Stanley Cup championship.
On July 13, Perrin found himself standing in the backyard of his parents’ home in Laval, Quebec, surrounded by family, friends, former teammates — and Lord Stanley of Preston’s glimmering silver trophy.
He still gets shivers recalling the moment.
“I started thinking about how many great players played this game without winning a Stanley Cup,” Perrin said. “It made me stop for a second. You almost feel bad for those guys, but it’s the luck of the draw and all about the timing.
“I count my blessings that Tampa Bay gave me the chance and let me be part of something so special like that and I made the most of it.”
Perrin played just four regular-season games for the Lightning and then added 12 more in the playoffs. His “day” with the Cup turned out to be just four hours as it made its way from Montreal to Ottawa, where Dan Boyle awaited his chance.
“Four hours is more than a lot of people can say,” Perrin said. “It was a fun time having it. I got to share it with a lot of special people, which was cool.”
Among those in attendance were two of Perrin’s old teammates: former Hershey right wing Steve Brule and former University of Vermont goaltender Tim Thomas.
Bears coach Paul Fixter knows all about such celebrations. He had two after winning championships with the Colorado Avalanche in 1996 and 2001.
“It was quite a storybook ending for Eric,” Fixter said. “The bonus money is nice, but you spend it. The ring is beautiful, you cherish it and you wear it on special occasions, but your name on the Cup is the be-all and end-all.
“The day you go to the Hall of Fame with your dad, grandpa or your son and you see it there, it’s unbelievable. Not a lot of people get to do that.”
A player must see action in a minimum of 40 regular-season NHL games or play in one game of the Stanley Cup finals to ensure his name will be engraved on the trophy. Perrin didn’t meet either requirement, but Tampa Bay officials requested that Perrin and former Hershey defenseman Darren Rumble be included anyway and the NHL agreed.
It was all part of Perrin’s amazing run of good fortune that he believes began when he signed as a free agent with Tampa Bay during the summer of 2003. His assignment to Hershey, followed by 75 points in 71 AHL games set the stage for his unforgettable spring and summer.
“I lived through so much in those 21⁄2 months,” Perrin said. “I played my first NHL game, which I had dreamed about for so long. At my age, you don’t think it will ever happen. I thought I’d be there for a few games then come back to Hershey, but I guess they liked what they saw, because they decided to keep me.”
When the summer celebrations finally subsided, stark reality awaited in the fall when NHL players and management couldn’t agree on a new collective bargaining agreement. The old contract expired on Sept. 15 and the owners locked out the players.
Perrin worried about what would happen to him, his wife Karen, and their young daughter Alyssa.
“You’re working out and want to concentrate on getting ready for NHL training camp, but all of a sudden, you need to think about having a Plan B, because the season was getting closer and closer,” Perrin said. “At first, I thought I was going to Springfield as part of Tampa Bay’s new AHL affiliation.
“I think (Tampa general manager) Jay Feaster wanted me to play there, but he wanted the same thing for a lot of players. He signed a lot of veterans, which became a problem. There were no more veteran spots.”
That’s when the door opened for Perrin’s return to the Bears.
“What could have been a loss turned into a gain because my heart was in Hershey,” Perrin said. “This is where I wanted to come, where my family wanted to come. I saw this as an opportunity.”
Perrin signed an AHL contract with the Bears just prior to training camp. The Lightning retain his NHL rights, although no one knows when the lockout might end.
Because of the work stoppage, none of the Tampa Bay players have received Stanley Cup rings yet.
Perrin knows the time will eventually come when he slips that band of gold and diamonds around his finger. He’ll think back to his team’s amazing run against the New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers and Calgary Flames.
Playing alongside childhood friend and college teammate Martin St. Louis, Perrin experienced something unique. He knows it may never come along again.
“There was so much hype during the summer about all that, so much going on,” Perrin said. “Right now, I just want to focus on playing for the Bears, especially with the slow start we’ve had as a team.
“Getting the NHL playing again and getting that ring is in the back of your mind. You can’t help it. It’s human nature. But you’ve got to separate that stuff from when you come to the rink every day. This is where I’m at right now and this is where I need to focus.”