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2024 Stanley Cup Champions

Panthers Passing the Stanley Cup Followed a Rich Hockey Tradition



Stanley cup
Vladimir Tarasenko plants a kiss on the Stanley Cup on Monday night in Sunrise. // Photo courtesy @FlaPanthers

SUNRISE — Hockey at the NHL level is chock full of traditions, unwritten codes, and protocols. This is especially true in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Playoff beards, the handshake line, and playing injured are all part of hockey’s rich culture.

One of the best “feel-good” traditions is the protocol for passing the Cup around once commissioner Gary Bettman presents it.

The team captain takes the obligatory skate around the ice to display the prize to the fans. 

Then, the unwritten script begins. 

The first handoff is not necessarily to any of the stars but to a veteran who has toiled many years before earning the Cup.

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On Monday night, Sasha Barkov’s handoff went to Sergei Bobrovsky, who qualifies as a team star and a grizzled veteran.

“It’s an amazing feeling. It’s a dream come true,” Bobrovsky said about the honor during the post-game on-ice media frenzy.

He passed it off to 36-year-old Kyle Okposo, a newcomer to the team who had limited playing time but made an impact with his veteran presence and hustling style.

Okposo only had three prior playoff appearances in his 17-year NHL career and never came close to the final round.

He paid his dues.

Okposo played in 1091 games, both in the regular season and the playoffs. The clinching game may have been his finale in the NHL.

“It’s nice that the guys recognize that I’ve been around, paid some dues in order to get that,” he said. “But we’re all touching it. We all had a hand in it. It’s just an honor to be part of it.”

Okposo dutifully handed the Cup to Oliver Ekman-Larsson, another veteran who never thought he would touch the Stanley Cup.

OEL spent most of his 14 NHL years with an inferior Arizona team. He was later bought out by Vancouver and signed by Bill Zito as a reclamation project. 

He exceeded all expectations in Florida, playing in 80 games and having his best offensive production since 2018-19.

Ekman-Larssen passed it along to Dmitry Kulikov, who defines “hockey journeyman.”

Kulikov was drafted by Florida in 2009, spent seven seasons with the team, and played for seven teams in his 15-year career.

When Zito brought him in for depth, his career was on the decline. He became a regular and played 76 games.

“I’m one of the guys with more games,” Kulikov said. “I played in the league for 15 years, so it feels great to finally do it.”

Kulikov was a hero Monday night. 

Just seconds after he cleared a loose puck in front of the Panthers net, Sam Reinhart scored the game-winning goal.

After Kulikov, the Cup was passed to the team’s veteran stars. 

Aaron Ekblad was the top pick in the 2014 draft pick and spent all 10 seasons with the Panthers.

After Ekblad came more veterans. Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett, and Matthew Tkachuk.

Tkachuk skated with the Cup and later took photos with his dad, Keith, and brother, Brady. 

Keith Tkachuk spent 18 years as a star player but never won a Stanley Cup.

During the offseason, the custom is that the Cup travels to the hometown of every player, and each gets to spend a day with it and share it with friends and neighbors.

The offseason is very short. 

We will be seeing a lot of Cup photos from around the world.

For More FHN Coverage of the Stanley Cup Champion Florida Panthers:

  • Stanley Cup Championship Parade, Fort Lauderdale: Sunday, 11 a.m.
  • NHL Draft, Las Vegas: Friday-Saturday
  • NHL Free Agency: Monday
  • Florida Panthers Development Camp, Fort Lauderdale: Early July
  • Florida Panthers Training Camp, Fort Lauderdale: Mid-September
  • Florida Panthers Preseason: Sept. 22-Oct. 5
  • Florida Panthers Opening Night/Banner Unveiling: TBA

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