NASHVILLE – Three-year-old Isabella Hornqvist grabbed a Pittsburgh Penguins playoff flag from the ice, turned it upside down, and began stick-handling a half-empty Gatorade bottle on the ice.
Her father, Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist, interrupted her hockey skill display and picked her up, bringing her over to the glass where the Pittsburgh fans at Bridgestone Arena cheered wildly. She smiled, wearing a No. 72 jersey with “DADDY” on the back.
“We’ve been battling for this for nine months,” said the elder Hornqvist. “Now we’re standing like champions.”
When Isabella was born, Hornqvist wasn’t a Penguin. He was, in fact, a member of the Nashville Predators, playing 363 games in Nashville from 2008-14 as a core member of their team. Which made his series-winning goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Sunday night rather surreal for him, as he banked the puck off his former teammate Pekka Rinne at 18:25 of the third period en route to a 2-0 win, eliminating the Predators and winning his second Stanley Cup with the Penguins.
“Yeah, for sure. This is where I played most of my games. To win it here. To score that goal. It couldn’t end any better for me,” he said.
The ending of this season was special for Hornqvist, but in many ways that June 2014 trade that sent James Neal to Nashville and Hornqvist to Pittsburgh was the beginning of a two-time Stanley Cup champion’s construction.
“It started with Hornqvist,” said Penguins GM Jim Rutherford. “Hornqvist brought a special element to our team. That win at all costs character. That was maybe the first step to changing the culture a bit. For him to come here and win it, that’s pretty special for him.”
Win at all costs. That might be the right way to describe the ugliest Cup-winning goal since Patrick Kane’s delayed-gratification tally in 2010 for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Defenseman Justin Schultz fired a shot wide of Rinne’s net. The puck deflected back, off the mesh and into the air. Hornqvist batted it off of Rinne’s arm and into the net.
“[Schultz] got it to the net, missed the net. I just tried to bank it in off Rinne and it worked. Eh, [expletive] it,” said Hornqvist.
His Swedish countryman Carl Hagelin scored into an empty net for the 2-0 win, clinching the Cup for Pittsburgh. “After Hags scored, that’s when you know you’re going to win the Cup. That last minute was really emotional for me,” said Hornqvist. “There were a lot of guys telling us we can’t do it. And now we’re standing here and we’re going to celebrate with all of Pittsburgh in a few days.”
The emotions continued after the game as he lifted someone slightly smaller and lighter than the Stanley Cup.
Isabella Hornqvist stood with her father next the Cup on the ice for some photographs. Her hands gripped the top of the silver bowl, and she peaked down inside of it. Her father kissed the Cup, and then kissed his daughter.
“This is going to be the biggest goal I’m ever going to score,” he said. “To celebrate this with my teammates and my family, that’s going to stay really, really close to my heart.”
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