Ending the jinx

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 3:46 PM ET


 In the days of the Original Six, 'twas said that just putting on a Maple Leafs sweater made a player's shoulders feel wider.

 But today, after 37 years without a Stanley Cup, the famous blue and white jersey is getting tight around the collar. The Detroit Red Wings and the New York Rangers each ended long Cup jinxes during the past 10 years, and though the Boston Bruins' drought is now over 30 years, they still can claim two titles since Toronto's most recent parade in 1967.

 True the Chicago Blackhawks' Cup quest is six years longer than Toronto's, but at least they've played in June, having made two more appearances in the final than the Leafs.

 "The pressure's mounting for the Leafs, no doubt about that," said Sportsnet analyst Nick Kypreos, who helped end 54 years of yearning for the Rangers in 1994. "It's the toughest for guys such as Tie (Domi) and Mats (Sundin). They've been there the longest.

 "I felt that pressure right from the moment I was traded from New York to Toronto (in 1996). You put that sweater on for the first time and you feel it instantly. But if you're fortunate enough to be there when it ends, it's a sweet, sweet feeling."

 Kypreos discovered that while in Manhattan in the spring of '94. But with each round the Rangers advanced, the blather about the 1940 curse seemed to grow.

 "You couldn't avoid it," Kypreos said. "It was everywhere -- in the newspapers, on TV, from the fans. You couldn't buy pack a gum anywhere (around Madison Square Garden) without someone mentioning it."

 As the Vancouver Canucks forced a Game 7 in the final, Kypreos said he started believing a bit in ghosts, too. But the Rangers prevailed with a one-goal victory. The Cup went everywhere in New York that summer, from a ticker-tape parade, to Yankee Stadium to David Letterman's show.

 "To this day, 10 years after we won, people thank you for winning a championship in their lifetime," Kypreos said. "For guys such as Mike Richter, Brian Leetch and Mark Messier, who truly carried that burden, winning was unbelievable."

 Don Awrey recalls that winning in 1970 in Boston wasn't as much about a 29-year Cup void as much as finally getting a new banner in the Garden to hang with the NBA Celtics' big collection.

 "The Celtics were so successful at that time that we were considered just another tenant," Awrey said. "But we knew we had a chance to do something big that year, and we did."

 Joey Kocur has a unique perspective on ghost-busting, having his name on the Cup with the Rangers in 1994 and again with the 1997 Detroit Red Wings, who ended 42 bleak years with back-to-back titles.

 "The thing about winning it in New York was that it came out of nowhere," said Kocur, now an assistant coach with the Wings. "When Messier made that speech (guaranteeing a win against the New Jersey Devils in Game 6 of the Eastern final), he'd actually just said it to me and a couple of people around him. It wasn't supposed to get out in the press and, when it did, it took on a life of its own.

 "But it was the kind of thing that leaders and superstars do. He had a hat trick in that game.

 "Winning in Detroit wasn't really the same thing. They had been knocking on the door (losing the 1995 final to the Devils). They hadn't won in a while, but they had a good team and people were expecting it."


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