Worm and Little Worm: Why this trip to the Stanley Cup Final matters more to Corey Perry

TAMPA, Fla. — The sky opened up with one of those typical Tampa Bay thunderstorms on a sultry late-spring afternoon, and there was so much water that Corey Perry was able to kayak out to Amalie Arena for Game 6 of the NBA Finals. the Eastern Conference.

Still, he couldn’t bring himself to leave the driveway without at least asking his son and partner in superstition, four-year-old Griffin, if he wanted to continue his pregame routine.

Perry and ‘Griff’ exchange a secret handshake, then Griff runs up the sidewalk in front of his house and waves as Perry walks away. Like this:

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It worked for Game 3, while the Lightning trailed 2-0, and Perry hoped to keep it that way. In the middle of a monsoon.

“I asked him,” Perry admitted, laughing. “He said ‘Dad, I’m not going to get wet.’ I told him he could put on his bathing suit and do it, but he said no, so he did it from the porch.”

As they say in the Stanley Cup playoffs, it’s rare if it doesn’t work out. Ryan McDonagh thinks Perry is one of the most superstitious players in the league, and that’s saying something.

“Our team as a whole is very superstitious, but it’s hard not to with what’s happened in the last couple of years and trying to replicate that,” McDonagh said. “We’ll try to do everything we can to get another chance.”

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Same for the Perry family. Well, almost anything. Griff is smart. Victor Hedman needed the help of the police to get out of his flooded driveway for that game.

Three straight Stanley Cup Finals, over three years, playing for three different teams. But for Perry, no matter the outcome of this 2022 trip with the Tampa Bay Lightning, this one will feel different.

That’s because Griff is present at every step of the playoff race. That was not possible in the last two years, both because of the pandemic and because ‘Griff’ was too young to understand everything.

“Can’t get enough hockey,” Perry said, grinning. “In the bubble, he really didn’t know. He only knew that he was out playing hockey. Last year, he started to have a little idea: find out who the teams are. This year, he is playing hockey, he skates several times a week, every day when I come home from the rink, he wants to play and practice”.

Asking Perry about his Griff’s enjoyment of the Stanley Cup Final is one of the few ways to get him to open up, as he is a notoriously shy, soft-spoken player who is anything but on the ice.

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In Lightning’s dressing room, where Perry is affectionately known as ‘Worm’, Griff’s nickname is appropriately ‘Little Worm’. Former Ducks teammate Todd Bertuzzi gave Perry the nickname in 2007-08 because of the way he moved across the ice, sliding in and out of greasy areas. Like a worm, if you cut off an appendage, Perry could keep moving.

It’s fascinating to watch Perry, now 37, work his way through his pregame routine. Every moment, every detail of her night is precise and planned, from the time she spends in the dugout area before getting dressed, to throwing the puck into the opponent’s net from across the ice during warm-ups. .

Little Worm is there for everything, no matter how quirky.

“It’s been fun,” Perry said. “He has some things that he and I do. He has his place in the corner in warm-ups. He is a big part of that.”

Wearing the same blue No. 10 ‘Perry’ jersey as his father, Griff sits on a stool near the corner for warm-ups. He usually has a homemade sign, with Paw Patrol stickers or a message like ‘Playoff Perry is the best Perry’ and ‘Go Dad Go’.

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“Honestly, I think the little superstitions now are almost as much for Griff as it is for Corey,” Perry’s wife, Blake, said by phone on Sunday. “They have their routine, they say the little special words about him, and they continued it on FaceTime while he was in Denver. No matter the game, they persist. This season has been very, very fun to watch all of that.”

Despite success on the ice, the past few seasons haven’t been as much fun for many NHL families, especially players with young children at home.

“Oh man, it’s been three crazy years. Every year of Griff’s life, it’s been a different team. That’s a lot of jerseys,” Blake said. “Our stay in Dallas was cut short by the pandemic, so we didn’t go to the bubble. We saw alone, without family or friends. Then last year, because he signed so late in Montreal, we didn’t move there. We went six months without Corey, and we made it to the Conference Final, but it wasn’t the same without fans.

“The other two trips to the Stanley Cup Final almost didn’t feel real, we were just watching them on TV. This has been incredible.”

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Griff doesn’t miss a game, even the last ones, despite his mother trying to hire a babysitter. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. Tampa Bay has been an almost perfect fit both on and off the ice for the Perry family. Steven Stamkos’ father, Chris, recounted before a recent Lightning game that Bolts players have 23 kids wandering around the family room.

Many of them live in the same Tampa neighborhood, play on the same hockey and baseball teams, barbecue and dine together. It’s as tight a team as you can imagine after back-to-back Stanley Cups.

“It’s great to have all our kids around,” reserve goalkeeper Brian Elliott said. “To look out there and know what you’re playing for, it’s more than yourself or your team, those little boys and girls that have such big eyes when they see us out there, you know you have all the support in the world. .”

As Blake said, “It takes a town to raise kids, and we don’t have our typical town because we’re away from family, so the team is our town.”

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McDonagh acknowledged that the Lightning are probably one of the most difficult teams for an outsider to put together given the two Cups they’ve hoisted and the banners they’ve hung. He is intimidating. And he might have been a bit awkward given that Perry went to war with Lightning in each of the last two finals.

But Perry has fit right into Tampa Bay’s leadership core, earning an “A” on his jersey as a backup captain on certain nights. There has also been a respect factor since Perry’s end, a deference to the core that preceded it.

For example, when the Lightning captains took a photo last weekend with the Prince of Wales Trophy, Perry politely refused to be a part of it because he wanted the Bolts to have continuity with the other photos adorning the hallway outside. from her dressing room. Blake said that’s something her husband would have learned from Scott Niedermayer or Teemu Selanne or the Ducks showing him the ropes.

“He’s the kind of guy who commands respect every time he walks or speaks in the room,” Elliott said. “A guy like that, who has been around for so long and has played such a big role in Anaheim, with his teams that are so good for so long and the roles that he has played the last three years, is a pretty special guy.”

Hedman called Perry a “calming factor” for a Lightning team that has been there and done it all. Perry also has, as one of hockey’s ultimate winners: the Stanley Cup, two Olympic gold medals, world junior gold, World Championship gold, World Cup of Hockey, Memorial Cup, OHL Championship, along with all the individual accolades, including a Hart Trophy, Rocket Richard, OHL regular season and playoff MVP.

“He’s a tough client to play against, I know, I had to accept that,” Hedman said. “So having him on our side and seeing what a competitor he is has been an eye opener for me.”

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McDonagh said that among the guys who hate to lose, Perry is “up there.” So it was no surprise that the ‘Worm’ was in the thick of the madness on Saturday night, when Tampa Bay trailed by a touchdown in Game 2 at Denver.

The Lightning don’t need motivation to win, but they’re rooting for Perry and the other newcomers who haven’t had the same experience. Players said that one of the funniest aspects of the second time around was seeing it all unfold through the eyes of the new players – the same view Perry hopes to get of Griff in all his glory.

Perry and Lightning came home on Sunday, Father’s Day, and Griff was waiting for him in the garage. He is rarely without a hockey stick in his hands. Naturally, they went to dinner at the same restaurant as always. They’ll be ready for Game 3 together: routines, rituals and all. Whatever is needed.

“Oh yeah,” Blake said. “We are completely sure that we will return.”

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