Today, we have an extremely special and timely treat for you readers. Recently, the ECHL’s Kelly Cup has gained national fame, not because of the current series being played out, but because a story broke over the past few days that the Colorado Eagles, the winner of last season’s Kelly Cup, had no yet returned the trophy to the league after moving up to the AHL.
Well, have another story of the time the Kelly Cup was almost stolen, by a hockey photographer no less!
We let Sarah Hobday, who some of our readers may know from her work with ECHL and SPHL teams, tell the story in her own words of how she ended up with the Kelly Cup and almost bolted with it.
During the 2002-03 ECHL season I lived in Fairfax, VA. I had a full-time job during the week and on weekends I would travel to ECHL games to take pictures. Atlantic City was only a 3 ½ hour drive away and was the third closest team to me. I went to Atlantic City often throughout the season and would see the Boardwalk Bullies on the road as well. Several players and a coach with the team liked getting game pictures from me. It was a team I enjoyed watching play and a good team to be around. When the playoffs started Atlantic City was the team I stuck with most for games.
I remember the conference final battle with the Cincinnati Cyclones well and making the late-night drives between the two cities. I was in Atlantic City the night they won that series. As the playoffs progressed with Atlantic City, I even became part of the pre-game superstitions of one member of the team. I had to give him pictures before a game so they could win. He even said I would get a Kelly Cup ring if they won since I was part of his superstitions. I am still waiting on that ring…
During the Kelly Cup Finals I only missed the games in Columbia. I took time off from work on Wednesday, May 14 so I could be in Atlantic City for Game 5 as it was their first chance to clinch the Cup. Trips to Atlantic City were always enjoyable, especially since they were one of the first teams to give me media credentials for taking pictures. The Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies beat the Columbia Inferno 3-1 that night for the 4-1 series win. I had seen the Kelly Cup awarded in 1999, 2001, and 2002 as a ticketed fan. This night in Atlantic City was my first time to see the Cup awarded as a media member so I had full access to the ice and locker room.
I was on the ice to take pictures of the initial celebrations with the Cup. Then everyone moved to the locker room. I was asked by several players to join them in the locker room for taking pictures. I was pulled around the room so players could pose for the kind of pictures they wanted. This was before everyone had cell phones with cameras. I luckily managed keep myself and cameras dry in the locker room and not be hit with any beer or champagne.
Celebrations next moved up to the concourse where some fans were waiting to see the Kelly Cup. I continued to follow the Cup around to get lots of pictures to chronicle the evening. The party next moved to a bar in town. I was asked to follow the team there. With persistence from the equipment manager I had my first ever drink from the Kelly Cup. That sip from the Cup was my only drinking of the night. Celebrations continued at the bar with players, families, and some fans until closing time. The team was next going to one player’s house to continue the party. In Atlantic City, the players all lived in rented houses instead of apartments.
One player walked behind me out of the bar while carrying the Kelly Cup. He then put the Cup in the backseat of my car and asked me to take it to that house. I said that of course I would transport the Cup. I then expected him to jump in my car but instead he walked away.
So here I was with the Kelly Cup alone in my car.
I stood there for several minutes watching players leave the bar and get in various cars to leave. No players walked to my car to ride with the Cup. In that moment I considered just driving home. I was thinking about how long it would take the players to remember who had the Cup and then how to get in touch with me. My mind was spinning with the thought of stealing the Kelly Cup since I had this perfect opportunity. I probably sat in my car for about 15 minutes thinking all this through. Then I thought about what Pat Kelly would think if I stole the Cup. That was ultimately why I did not steal it. I did not want to upset Mr. Kelly and have him disappointed in me. Over previous seasons around the ECHL I always enjoyed running into Mr. Kelly and hearing him tell stories. I never wanted to do something that would upset him.
So, I started my car and drove to the party house. When I pulled up on the curb to park the same player that put the Kelly Cup in my car was waiting in the yard to take the Cup into the house. I stayed at the after party for about an hour or so before I had to drive home. Instead of stealing the Kelly Cup I drove home with no additional hardware.
I am definitely glad that I decided not to steal the Kelly Cup that night. Many years later I built up the strength to tell my story to Mr. Kelly. He thanked me for not stealing the cup. At least I have those memories and a fun story of it all…
And a very special thank you to Sarah for this great story and for sharing some amazing pictures of the experience. If you would like to see more of Sarah’s work, please give her a follow on Twitter, @Sarah_Hobday.