Mike Guentzel thought he had a handle on his son Jake’s surreal, dream NHL season that culminated last month with the Pittsburgh Penguins winning the Stanley Cup while the 22-year-old Guentzel tied an NHL playoff record for most points (21) by a rookie in the postseason.
But then the family brought the Stanley Cup, hockey’s hallowed trophy, on Thursday to Woodbury — the eastern suburb where Jake Guentzel grew up and grew his game. Walking into the HealthEast Sports Center, where hundreds of fans waited to get pictures, added another layer on the magical run.
“I was starting to think it was sinking in until we walked in today,” said Mike Guentzel, also a Gophers men’s hockey associate head coach. “With the amount of people here … it’s emotional. We’re so proud.”
Jake Guentzel was slated to appear with the Cup from 1-3 p.m., but the festivities began much earlier. The earliest-arriving fan drove from Duluth and got there at midnight — 13 hours early — and camped out to be first in line to get a picture with Guentzel and the nearly three-foot tall, 34.5-pound trophy.
Mike Sprunger, a longtime Penguins fan now living in Woodbury, was “only” sixth in line, and he arrived at 7:45 a.m., more than five hours early. Sprunger, 40, popped open his laptop, found a wi-fi connection and worked while ensuring he and his 8-year-old son Foster wouldn’t be left out.
“It got a little crazy around 11, when the line started to grow,” Sprunger said. “It couldn’t have worked out better for me.”
Fans waited with anticipation until shortly after 1, when Guentzel emerged wearing a “Steel City” t-shirt and carrying the cup by himself.
He spoke briefly with reporters, using many of the same words like “special” and “crazy” that he’s used several times to describe his journey from youth hockey to high school hockey at Hill-Murray to barely a year ago deciding to forego his senior college season at Nebraska-Omaha to starring with the Penguins.
The only stressful part, really, was trying to figure out where to bring the Stanley Cup during his day with it.
“It’s hard to (fit) into a day,” he said. “You don’t realize how many things you want to do, but definitely this is one of the things I wanted to do.”
Guentzel won a state championship as a bantam in Woodbury’s youth hockey system and was presented with a replica jersey from the team Thursday. Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens read a proclamation in his honor.
Guentzel quickly hoisted the Cup over his head and carried it towards a mass of fans, and then the pictures began in assembly line fashion to ensure as many people as possible were included.
As his son posed with fan after fan, Mike Guentzel again tried to put everything into perspective.
“It’s just remarkable. It’s a proud moment for our family,” he said. “I don’t think it will ever get old.”