Mike Greenlay was a Canadian citizen born in Brazil playing for a U.S. college under a visa, yet there the young goaltender was in the Oval Office stealing stationery off President Ronald Reagan’s desk.
The Wild’s Fox Sports North color analyst had just won an NCAA championship in 1988 when Lake Superior State was invited to the White House.
The tradition of sports teams being invited to the White House dates to 1865, but back in those pre-9/11 days, Reagan invited players and coaches into the storied office.
“We were shuffled through hallways, and then all of a sudden, boom, you’re like holy smokes, you’re in this room with some pretty big history to it,” Greenlay said. “Until they brought the president in, you kind of had the run of the whole Oval Office.”
Finally, President Reagan emerged, and after the 40th president took a picture with the Lakers around his desk, Greenlay chimed in.
“I asked him if he skated as a kid, and he goes in that voice that he had, ‘Well, we used to have a pond out back,’ ” said Greenlay, impersonating Reagan.
Greenlay looked at Reagan’s desk, saw stationery with his name on it and swiped it.
“I asked him to sign it, and he didn’t bat an eyelash,” said Greenlay, who has the souvenir framed in his home. “It could have been the nuclear codes for all I knew, but I just picked it up. He was gracious about everything. It was amazing to see this iconic figure and now you’re standing there talking to him.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins were the first Stanley Cup champions to visit the White House in 1991 when invited by George H.W. Bush. The 2009 and 2016 Cup champion Penguins bookended Barack Obama’s presidency by being the first and last NHL teams to visit. The next champ will be welcomed by a New York Rangers fan, President-elect Donald Trump.
Obama had fun at the final Oct. 6 ceremony. He reminded Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that all eight Cup winners during his two terms were based in the United States. He joked: “We are here to celebrate an extraordinary achievement. Phil Kessel is a Stanley Cup champion.”
Obama also cracked that back in 2009, the color of his hair looked more like a hockey puck, not the ice, and that “Sid the Kid” Crosby was actually a kid.
Obama praised Crosby for exemplifying leadership when he handed teammate Trevor Daley, out with a broken ankle, the Stanley Cup first. Daley’s mother, Trudy, was fighting cancer. She died a week later.
“For him to mention your name and talk about your situation, it was really special,” Daley said.
It’s a unique experience no matter your politics.
“It’s really cool when the president walks in,” said Matt Cullen, who visited the White House in 2006 with Carolina when President George W. Bush lived there and most recently when the Penguins were honored last month. “He shakes your hand, and you’re thinking, ‘What’s he going to do after?’ Rule the world.”
Added the Wild’s Eric Staal, who also visited with Carolina in 2006: “I’m a Canadian, but the White House is the White House. When you get to shake the president’s hand and feel someone of that stature, the whole thing is pretty special.”
Cullen’s latest experience included a second stop.
“They asked me if I’d mind doing a media scrum, so I said, ‘Yeah,’ figuring it’d be three or four of our beat writers,” Cullen said. “Next thing I know, they’re winding us through the White House to the back lawn, open the door and there’s a humongous, massive amount of reporters.
“It’s [NHL Commissioner] Gary Bettman, Sidney Crosby — the best player in the world — Mike Sullivan, who just coached us to a Cup … and me!
“I’m like, ‘Who’s the idiot that doesn’t belong?’ I got asked one question: ‘How impressed were the boys going to the White House?’ Uh, pretty impressed.”
• Jacob Trouba’s stubborn negotiating decision failed spectacularly.
Not only did the Winnipeg Jets decline to honor the defenseman’s trade request, he missed more than a month of the season before finally caving and agreeing to a prorated two-year, $6 million deal. Players of his ilk had been signing in at least the $5 million range and for a long-term deal.
“I guess I took a stand in a way,” Trouba told reporters. “Sit out for how I felt. You can go with the flow and do whatever everybody else does and just be a part of everything, or you can try to stand up for what you believe in and what I felt was best for my future.”
GM Kevin Cheveldayoff says Trouba will remain a Jet. For how long? We’ll see.
• Speaking of the Jets, how about the dynamic duo of Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele? Laine leads the NHL with 11 goals, Scheifele leads the NHL with 19 points (nine goals).
Laine, the second player taken in June’s draft, is the fourth player in the NHL’s modern era to post multiple hat tricks in his first 14 games and the fourth player in NHL history to have multiple hat tricks before his 19th birthday.
• The night before Lake Superior State’s 1988 White House visit, Lakers coach Frank Anzalone told his players that “if anyone goes out past curfew, you lose your scholarship next year.” “So the only ones who went out were the seniors,” Wild color analyst Mike Greenlay, a goalie on the team, said, laughing. “They weren’t afraid of losing anything.”
WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
Sunday: 4 p.m. at Ottawa
Tuesday: 7 p.m. vs. Calgary
Thursday: 7 p.m. vs. Boston
Saturday: 7 p.m. vs. Colorado
Sun., Tue., Thu. on FSN; Sat. on FSN+
Player to watch: David Backes, Bruins
The former Spring Lake Park High and Minnesota State Mankato standout has played 19 regular-season games in St. Paul, but this will be his first with Boston.
“He’s the kind of guy that’s probably a little streaky. You get him one, I think he’ll have a good game, and then a good week.”
— Wild coach Bruce Boudreau on Charlie Coyle