In Moose Factory, Ontario (yes, Moose Factory. There is such a place. Seriously. Right there on Moose Factory Island which, naturally, sits in the middle of the Moose River), they may hold a parade for the Stanley Cup even though they don't have any paved roads.
In the fishing village of Murray Harbor on Prince Edward Island (what, you never heard of Murray Harbor either? It's home to 356 citizens and one restaurant – at least during the six months the restaurant is open), a Cup visit would be the "biggest thing to ever happen here."
And way up in Grand Cache, Alberta (who among us hasn't driven through there on the way to the Yukon?), a Cup appearance might just soften the sting of the mine and sawmill closings that have hammered the local economy.
This is the (way) off the beaten path story of the NHL playoffs.
Hockey has a couple of wonderful traditions. One is the large number of players who hail from these impossibly remote and colorfully named towns throughout Canada. The other is that if said player wins the Stanley Cup, he gets to bring the actual trophy to said remote and colorful town for at least a day.
Which is why, in little hamlets across the Great White North, locals are beaming with pride that a favorite son keeps causing the TV announcers to mention their obscure towns (even if it is just for laughs) as well as salivating over a possible visit from Lord Stanley.
Because if you live in Moose Factory (located in "Northern Ontario," which sounds more than a bit redundant) what else are you doing? Making moose?
"One time a few Montreal players visited," says John Small, who like many in Moose Factory (including San Jose Sharks winger Jonathan Cheechoo) is a member of the native Moose Cree First Nation. "That was exciting. Everyone went to get autographs.
"This, obviously, would be even bigger."
Even the proudest American has to admit Canada is superior to us in at least a few categories. Their Niagara Falls is way better than our Niagara Falls. When if comes to Clubs, they really know how to treat Gentlemen.
And we have no match for whomever is dreaming up these ridiculous, hysterical names for small towns.
Which is why you shouldn't confuse Moose Factory with Moose Jaw or Moose Lake. (For the record, there is no actual factory in Moose Factory making moose.)
Suffice to say there isn't much going on in these towns, so the focus is on the local kid who now is in the conference finals and thus achingly close to getting his name etched on that famous silver cup and then bringing it home for all to read.
"Every morning it is the same," says Darlene Cuddy, a waitress at Brehauts, the only restaurant in Murray Harbor (Tampa Bay Lightning center Brad Richards' hometown). "'Did you see what happened last night? Did you see what Brad did?' It's exciting. Everyone is so proud."
We have this in America too of course. You don't think the good folks in Mauldin, S.C., aren't buzzing about native Kevin Garnett? But it isn't as much fun.
First off, Mauldin isn't as funny as Medicine Hat, Yellow Grass or Osoyoos ("you're lost" in native tongue, I think) – the hometowns of NHL players Trevor Linden, Peter Schaefer and Chuck Kobasew, respectively.
Though Mauldin is, by U.S. standards, in the sticks, it's only about a 100-mile drive to Charlotte via mostly interstate. The drive to Moose Factory?
"There is no road that leads here," Small says. "The only way is by boat or helicopter."
In the winter you can drive across the frozen Moose River, but only if you've gotten your car to nearby Moosonee. But no roads lead there either.
The idea that someone could grow up in a place like Moose Factory and even make the NHL is amazing. The appreciation for them bringing any kind of positive attention to a community that isn't on most maps is indescribable.
"I am so proud when I watch TSN (Canada's ESPN) and see them do a profile on Jon and hear them talk about the town," Small says.
It is no coincidence that these places produce hockey players. They are tough, hard-nosed towns full of tough, hard-nosed people. Their kids are the backbone of the NHL.
You think nothing of getting 18 stitches and returning to the game because the oil workers and fishermen back home don't take shifts off, either.
And right now those humble, blue-collar people who raised you are dreaming of a magical day with the Stanley Cup, clearing space at the corner bar, proudly planning the parade.
The Cup in the Grand Cache Hotel? Overlooking lobster boats in Murray Harbor? Taking a helicopter into Moose Factory?
Now that's hockey.
- Moose Factory