For the last 10 days, Brendan Millhouser has been questioning his sanity.
The Chicago Blackhawks fan attended the team's annual fan convention on July 31 at the Hilton Chicago, which featured a display of trophies courtesy of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Among the hardware was the Prince of Wales Trophy, given to the winner of the NHL's Eastern Conference each season.
Last season, that champion was the Philadelphia Flyers; so Millhouser was stunned and baffled to see the Washington Capitals' name etched on the trophy -- taking a photo with his Verizon Droid camera and Tweeting his reaction to his followers:
He posted several images to his online gallery and sent them around to Chicago media. But it failed to garner any reaction; perhaps an alleged mistake that egregious, in this electronic media age, felt as if it could have been a hoax or a practical joke created by Photoshop. Professional journalists, bloggers, fans ... none were willing to accept the images' validity, especially with one random fan in Chicago as the only person writing about it.
"I was getting frustrated as a fan, but I'm a cynical guy myself. I had my family look at the pictures for me, [saying] 'Can you guys tell me I'm not crazy?'" said Millhouser. "But it's not like I thought someone put the Capitals on there on purpose."
RockTheRed.net, a Capitals blog, finally gave a spotlight to the engraving faux pas last week. But it didn't make headlines until Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia became suspicious of the photos. It contacted the Hockey Hall of Fame, and a spokesperson "confirmed" that they were a fabrication. CSN Philly labeled them a hoax, and closed the case.
One problem: The images were completely accurate.
Hockey Hall of Fame spokesperson Kelly Masse told Puck Daddy on Wednesday that for a brief moment this summer, and at the Blackhawks Convention, the Washington Capitals were listed as 2009-10 Eastern Conference champions on the actual Prince of Wales Trophy.
"It was not Photoshopped. It was a real picture," she said. "What happened was that it was incorrectly engraved, and the Hall of Fame people with the trophy realized it in Chicago. When they got back from Chicago, they got it properly engraved."
When his photos were labeled a hoax, and a probable Photoshop manipulation, Millhouser went on the offensive, starting and writing a blog that offered evidence and justification for their validity. From the blog:
It took the word of the Hockey Hall of Fame, who couldn't just take a current photo to end all of the speculation right there and then. It went on to say decisively that it wasn't real and the photos were somehow altered. Despite the fact, that I reported it right away, took shots from many angles, and then immediately uploaded them from my phone, they had to be altered, right? Not to mention that I don't own a computer, and rely on my droid for all my internet connections. (I had to go to my parents' house 30 miles away to finally reach a computer and write this.)
Why did the Hockey Hall of Fame label the images a hoax, only to reverse its position?
"The person that was speaking with the media thought they meant the trophy at the Hall of Fame at that day," said Masse. "When the Prince of Wales Trophy is traveling, there's a secondary trophy here for the fans to see at the Hall. That one has not been engraved yet. The one that was in Chicago was engraved."
Engraved, it turns out, incorrectly. So how did that happen? How did the Washington Capitals, eliminated in the first round of the 2009-10 playoffs, end up where the Stanley Cup runners-up Flyers were supposed to be?
[Rewind photos: Blackhawks celebrate the Stanley Cup]
"My guess is that not all trophies were engraved at one time. I think that they wanted to engrave the trophies that were going to Chicago as fast as they could," she said.
"The Washington Capitals won the President's Trophy [for the league's top regular-season point total]. I think the engraver made a mistake and [mixed up] Prince of Wales and President's Trophy."
Alphabetically close ... a hurried process ... a wandering eye ... it's not all that outlandish to believe that's the source of the error.
Millhouser said Wednesday night that he's glad to finally have vindication.
"It feels good, man. I can feel like I'm sane again. It was a surreal experience."