The Stanley Cup could come to Waterdown, Ontario, thanks to Florida Panthers center Carter Verhaeghe.
On Wednesday night, the Panthers swept the Carolina Hurricanes and won the Eastern Conference finals with a score of 4-3.
It was not a dream.
Your cats are the STANLEY CUP FINAL.
Verhaeghe and his team now move on to the Stanley Cup final in early June, playing either Las Vegas or Dallas.
If the Panthers win, the cup could tour Verhaeghe’s hometown, as it did in 2021, after he won it as part of the 2019-20 Tampa Bay Lightning.
Not all ‘roses and sunshine’
A lifelong hockey player, Verhaeghe started on the road to his second Stanley Cup final years ago with the Flamborough Hockey Association, before joining the Junior Hamilton Bulldogs.
Verhaeghe entered the Ontario Hockey League with the Niagara Ice Dogs as a teenager. His former coach, Marty Williamson, told CBC that Hamilton Verhaeghe was “quiet” the first of his four years with the Ice Dogs.
But when he left the team aged 17, Williamson said Verhaeghe was “our number one center, our captain, a very, very great leader.”
Ken Koroff housed Verhaeghe during the four years he played with the Ice Dogs, meaning Verhaeghe lived with the Koroff family, “like one of the kids.”
“He was focused 24/7, hockey, hockey, hockey, which probably gave him the edge over a lot of guys,” Koroff said.
Verhaeghe was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs late in his career with the Niagara Ice Dogs, but Williamson said Verhaeghe’s path to the NHL was not an easy one.
Verhaeghe was cut by the Toronto Maple Leafs and played in the American Hockey League for a few years before he was picked up by the Tampa Bay Lightning, who later went on to win the Stanley Cup in 2020.
When Verhaeghe brought the cup home in August 2021, the then county 15th district. Judi Partridge met Verhaeghe.
“I always knew that the people of our community are capable of doing great things, and Carter embodies that belief. We are very proud of you,” he shared then on social media.
Williamson said some OHL players he coached made it to the NHL, but he said he uses Verhaeghe’s story to teach his current players, with the Barrie Colts, about the importance of hard work and perseverance.
“I use Carter when I talk to my players at Barrie now as a great example that there’s not always sunshine and roses,” he said.
“Sometimes there are some difficult moments, and teams make decisions and you can live with them and then you have to keep working hard to still get the next opportunity.”
Now a ‘go to’ player: Former manager
When the Tampa Bay Lightning played for the cup in 2020, Williamson said Verhaeghe didn’t spend much time on the ice.
But this season, Verhaeghe reminded Williamson of “that player I coached his last two years, where he was making an impact every game.”
He is one of two players for the Ontario Panthers: defenseman Brandon Montour grew up in part in the vicinity of the Six Nations of the Grand River.
He said when Verhaeghe was playing with Tampa Bay “he was just a piece of the puzzle” but now he’s “a go-to guy.”
Already this playoff season, Verhaeghe helped the Panthers eliminate the league’s former No. 1 team, the Boston Bruins, and then stunned the Toronto Maple Leafs by beating them in five games, before sweeping the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday. .
“Seeing him succeed, you know, it puts a smile on my face,” Williamson said.