Ben Eager’s last day as a Chicago Blackhawk officially started around 9 a.m., when the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Walter Neubrand brought the Stanley Cup to his condo at the end of Bronson Ave.
From there, the small party moved toward Kemptville, where he did part of his growing up, then to Eager Road for a photo-op, then to his dad’s family farm, then to Bayfield Manor, the retirement home where his 88-year-old Grampa Raymond resides.
“Grampa Raymond was a funny guy,” said Neubrand, one of Stanley’s babysitters for the past 14 years. “He’s just full of life. He had his Blackhawks jersey on, with the Eager name on the back. He was pretty happy. He was very proud.”
From Grampa Raymond’s place, the gathering headed to Brantwood Park, where he played on the ODR (outdoor rink) as a kid. It grew considerably in size, with at least 300 people still in line when his two-hour autograph and picture-taking session had to end.
“Ben Eager, I don’t think, cries for too much. Did you cry when you first held it?” a TV guy asked him, leading up to what would be one of the most embarrassing moments in media history.
“I haven’t yet,” replied Eager. “But we’ll see how the night goes.”
Said TV guy: “I’m starting to cry now myself. Congratulations.”
From the old neighbourhood, Stanley was brought to an Eager family barbecue. He would later also be the guest of honour at Patty’s Pub on Bank St., where Big Ben’s last day as a Blackhawk wound down with a private party.
When the clock struck 12, Stanley and Neubrand left. Their next destination is Strathroy, for a day with former 67’s defenceman Brian Campbell.
“Ever since we got a curfew two years ago, it’s a lot more manageable,” Neubrand said of his days with Stanley. “It’s a godsend. At midnight, we’re gone. My flight is at 6 a.m. Before, there was no curfew, and if (whoever had the Cup that day) wanted it until 4, I’d have to get my butt to the airport in a hurry. I don’t even know how we did it.
“I guess the NHL just figured that nothing good ever happens after midnight. And it doesn’t. You know what, if you can’t get your day done before midnight, all the things? Because after, it’s just drinking ... and debauchery.
“Now it’s great. I actually get some sleep.”
Whether Big Ben stayed at Patty’s much into his first official day as an Atlanta Thrasher is unknown. If he did, he wouldn’t have been crying into his beer over the fate that saw him traded from the Blackhawks just 14 days after winning the Cup. Others might have shed a tear over going from a strong team, a team that has a chance to repeat, if not rattle off a few more championships, to a team that should still be years from challenging. But not Eager. He’s a big boy.
“It’s always tough when you get traded,” said Eager. “Especially leaving Chicago. It’s a great city, great team. Lot of good memories there, lot of good friendships made. But it’s part of the business.
“I’m just enjoying the day with the Cup. We’ll get focused on next year when it’s time.”
Yes, Eager’s final day as a Blackhawk was a proud one. He smiled when asked about bringing Stanley to meet Grampa Raymond.
“He was excited,” said Eager. “He loves the place out there, the retirement home. He was happy to be able to share it with his friends there.”
The best part of the day?
“Being able to show the Cup to the kids,” said Eager. “I remember I was young, I always loved seeing the Stanley Cup. Being able to get up close to it, in this park, was special to me. I was happy I was able to share it with a lot of people.”
He was asked about playing on the ODR at Brantwood Park, and if those games at all resembled the best-of-seven final he was most recently involved in against Chris Pronger and the Flyers.
“Some games we played out there were pretty intense,” he said, nodding to where the rink is set up at Brantwood in the winter. “There’s a lot of good memories, playing outdoor hockey with your buddies. But winning the Stanley Cup is something I’ll never forget.”
He was also asked if he knew the whereabouts of the end- of-game pucks Pronger didn’t walk away with during the final.
“There’s still a few missing,” Eager said, smiling. “I think they’re still trying to track down the last puck, the Game 6-winning puck. Maybe it will show up somewhere.”
Maybe in a trophy case in Atlanta.