, , , ,

Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley didn’t play a minute in the Stanley Cup Final series against the San Jose Sharks.

Traded to Pittsburgh by Chicago, Trevor Daley wins the Stanley Cup.

Traded to Pittsburgh by Chicago, Trevor Daley wins the Stanley Cup.

But after National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman gave Penguins captain Sidney Crosby the Cup for vanquishing the Sharks Sunday, Crosby handed the oldest trophy competed for by professional athletes in North America to Daley  for a short skate.

Why? Because he earned it.

Crosby’s classy pass was a testament to Daley’s 2015-16 season and a career of perseverance and performance. He endured a season in which he was traded twice, skated with a heavy heart from his mother’s battle with cancer, and suffered a broken left ankle against the Tampa Bay Lightning that knocked him out of the playoffs.

But the moment that he hoisted that 34.5-pound Cup, all of Daley’s physical pain and personal heartache seemed to evaporate, knowing that his ailing mother, Trudy, would see him hold the trophy that they both desperately wanted to win.

“Daley has played such a long time. Hadn’t really even had a chance,” Crosby said following the Penguins’ 3-1 Cup-clinching victory over the Sharks. “He had been through some different playoffs, but getting hurt at the time he did, knowing how important it was, he had told me that he went and seen his mom in between series and stuff, she wasn’t doing well, she wanted to see him with the Cup. That was important to her.”

“I think that kind of stuck with me after he told me that,” Crosby added. “We were motivated to get it for him, even though he had to watch.”

Daley, 32, appreciated the gesture. He told Sportsnet that Crosby is “a great hockey player, but he’s an even better person.”

“What much more can you say about that guy? ” Daley told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. “He’s just as good of a person as he is a hockey player, probably even better. He’s a special guy.”

There are currently 2,476 names inscribed on the Stanley Cup. Five of them belong to black players: goaltenders Grant Fuhr and Eldon “Pokey” Reddick from the Edmonton Oilers’  five championships in the 1980s and 90s; goalie Ray Emery and defensemen Johnny Oduya and Dustin Byfuglien from the Chicago Blackhawks‘ Cup-winning teams in 2013 and 2015.

Now comes Daley. He started the 2015-16 season with a Stanley Cup run in mind, though not with the Penguins. The Stars traded the veteran defenseman to the defending champion Blackhawks.

But Daley, for some inexplicable reason, wasn’t a good fit in Chicago and the Blackhawks shipped him to Pittsburgh after only 29 regular season games. He quickly meshed with a  Penguins offensively talented roster that features Crosby,  center Evgeni Malkin and right wing Phil Kessel.

Oh what a night. Trevor Daley (right) savors Stanley Cup victory with actor Cuba Gooding, Jr.(Photo/Phil Pritchard/Hockey Hall of Fame).

Oh what a night. Trevor Daley (right) savors Stanley Cup victory with actor Cuba Gooding, Jr.(Photo/Phil Pritchard/Hockey Hall of Fame).

Daley tallied 6 goals and 16 assists in 53 regular season games for Pittsburgh and 1 goal and 5 assists in 15 post-season contests before injuring his ankle. He was second among the team’s defensive corps in regular season scoring  with 22 points and second in time on ice, averaging 20:27 minutes per game.

Prior to 2015-16, Daley was a mainstay in Dallas, the team that chose him in the second round with  the 43rd overall pick of the 2002 NHL Draft. He appeared in 756 games from 2003-04 to 2014-15, ranking him eighth all-time in games played for the franchise.

He played major junior hockey for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League under head coach and general manager John Vanbiesbrouck, a former NHL All-Star goaltender.

Daley experienced hockey’s hurtful side when he learned that Vanbiesbrouck, a 2007 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, had called him the N-word. Daley temporarily left the Greyhounds on the advice of his agent, hockey legend Bobby Orr, and met with OHL Commissioner Dave Branch.

Vanbiesbrouck resigned from the Greyhounds after he admitted using the word, saying  “It’s a mistake and consequences have to be paid by me.”

“I told Trev this is an old wound with me,” Vanbiesbrouck told The Sault Star. “I grew up with it. I’m as sorry as anybody that it’s stuck with me.”

Trudy and Trevor Daley, Sr., had prepared their son for such unpleasantness.

“What his father and I stressed to him was that we know who your are,” Trudy told author Cecil Harris for his excellent book “Breaking The Ice: The Black Experience in Professional Hockey.” “But when you go out on that street you’re just another black kid. That’s how you’ll be treated. They’ll stereotype you. But think less about what certain people think about you and think more about who you really are.”

Words that Daley has apparently lived by throughout his professional career. He has a reputation as a class act; a first-on-the-ice, last-off-the-ice, locker room character guy – long-hand hockey lingo for a leader.

When the Stars traded Daley last July, Mike Heika of Texas’ SportsDay called him “one of the best guys in the room and he is a very underrated leader.”

The Penguins agreed. When Daley went down with the ankle injury, Penguins Head Coach Mike Sullivan called him “an important player on our team.”

“He’s a hard guy to replace,” the coach said. “He plays a lot of minutes. He plays in key situations…when you lose someone like Trevor that plays important minutes for us, it makes it that much tougher.”

But like Daley, the Penguins persevered and performed. And Daley got to hoist the Stanley Cup for mom.