ANAHEIM, Calif. – Longtime former Sabres winger Brad May was in his usual spot next to Brian Duff on the team's television broadcast Friday night but it's never just another game for May when he visits Honda Center, home of the Anaheim Ducks.
May was here last weekend as well, missing the Sabres' home-and-home series against Columbus so he could attend ceremonies honoring the 10th anniversary of the Ducks' 2007 Stanley Cup championship team. May was in his 16th year in the NHL and had played more than 800 career games when he was traded from Colorado to Anaheim at the deadline in 2007. That spring, he finally won a Cup.
The players spent the weekend reminiscing about their triumph, which culminated in a five-game pounding of Ottawa in the Stanley Cup final. They did multiple appearances, including a fashion show, and were feted with their trophies during a pregame ceremony prior to the Ducks' win over Washington.
"What was amazing was that I hadn't seen a lot of these guys and time stood still," May said. "You walked in the building and it was like walking in the locker room again even though it was just going inside. All the hugs and how-ya-doings. It was like we had still been together."
May said the players have kept in touch over the years through social media, especially with updates from wives and such. But the weekend crystallized his memory of a team that featured 21-year-olds like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry as well as legends like Teemu Selanne, Scott and Rob Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and workhorse goalie J.S. Giguere. Williamsville native Todd Marchant was also a key contributor and brought the Cup back to the then-Pepsi Center in Amherst that summer.
"Brian Burke traded for me four times and he's my biggest ally in hockey and he built that team," May said. "I can say this with the utmost confidence that we were maybe the toughest team ever built that was good too, if that makes sense.
"We weren't going to be beat up or knocked around but then we had firepower. Young stars who weren't stars yet. Selanne. Andy McDonald was our best forward if you looked at analytics. We had Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, a young Francois Beauchemin who played more minutes than anybody in the playoffs. It was an incredible group."
The Senators, of course, made the final by beating the Sabres in five games in the Eastern Conference final after Buffalo won the Presidents' Trophy during the regular season. May, Buffalo's first-round pick in 1990, said he was openly rooting to play the team he spent the first seven years of his career with, for the right to win the Cup.
"It was absolutely everything I was wishing for," said May, whose 1993 overtime goal against Boston remains one of the most iconic in franchise history. "It was kind of a crazy wish at the time because Buffalo had all the firepower they did at the time. I actually was thinking, 'Oh my God this could happen.' ... But their series was over quickly and that was a shame."
The Ducks, coached by Randy Carlyle, finished with 110 points and won the Pacific Division in 2007. May said the genesis of their playoff run was started in a hotel ballroom the night before the first round started when Carlyle went around the room asked each player to say what they were playing for.
"Randy started it and we went around and it was the coolest thing ever," he said. "Scott Niedermayer said he was playing to get a Cup for his brother. Travis Moen's father had died a couple years earlier and he said he wanted to make him proud because he knew he was watching.
"You were getting goosebumps. I said that I had played 16 years in the NHL and this was my only crack. I got traded here. I was the only one and I don't want to mess it up. My wife and my kids and I moved like five times and it was all about their sacrifice. You really learned you were not just doing it for you. That exercise was really powerful."
The Ducks went 16-5 in the playoffs, beating Minnesota and Vancouver in five games before dispatching Detroit in six in the Western Conference final. They built a 3-1 lead in the Cup final over Ottawa and Game Five at Honda Center proved to be the clincher they hoped for.
"It was like Christmas morning as a kid but you couldn't get out of your bed until Mom came down. You couldn't go to the tree and shake the presents," May said. "You knew it was there but it was still elusive. It was so nerve-wracking but the great thing for us was that it was a 5 p.m. start. It helped not to wait around.
"Dave Farrish, the assistant coach, gave us bracelets with the slogan '1' on them. Didn't matter where you were, the grocery story or wherever. You looked down and saw it. I wore it all day every day. One opportunity, one chance. Anytime you felt yourself being distracted, you would look down at your wrist when you're starting to wander and get back on track. That might sound corny but that bracelet was so important to us."
May was one of several Anaheim forwards to bounce around during the playoffs. During the final, Carlyle entrusted him to play with Selanne and MacDonald. May had one assist in 14 regular season games for the Ducks and one assist in 18 playoff games but was serving as a physical presence and an energy player on a team that had plenty of other offense elsewhere.
"Todd Marchant, Chris Kunitz, Dustin Penner and myself bounced around in tandems," May said. "You'd get spotted in. It was an incredible group to be a part of."
The Ducks' Cup clincher was a 6-2 rout of the Senators that allowed the players to whoop it up on the bench for the final few minutes of Game Five.
"The whole bench was giddy. It was a real celebration," May said. "You were taking it in. I remember standing on the bench going, 'Take it in boys. Take it in." You knew it was happening. I can feel it again telling the story right now. You could survey everything. I remember during the last couple minutes being able to look around to see my wife smiling, to find my kids."
May, then 35, got the Cup from veteran defenseman Sean O'Donnell and passed it to Giguere. When he got it back for two days in August, he shared it with family and friends, was feted in a parade in Stouffville, Ont., and even flew around with it in a specially designed helicopter with "May Day" emblazoned on the side. He took it to a youth Christian camp and a camp for children battling cancer. A few months later, May even rode on a float with the Cup during the Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena.
The oddest Cup day itinerary: A party with Muskoka neighbor Michael Andlauer, then owner of the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs and now part owner of the Montreal Canadiens. With May injured and not playing for Colorado and Andlauer's Hamilton team struggling, the pair made a joking bet on a golf course in Naples, Fla., to stage a joint party the following summer with both the Stanley Cup and Calder Cup.
"He goes, 'You're on,' May said. "We shook on the fifth hole right there. It was the most unreasonable bet ever and it happened. There we were on Aug. 16 with so many friends from hockey with both cups."