Golden Knights take a trip they’ll never forget

Courtesy U.S. Military Academy
Owner Bill Foley brought his team along with the Stanley Cup for a day trip to West Point for what was a lifetime experience for all.

NEWARK, N.J. — In its glorious history, the Stanley Cup has been to myriad locations throughout the world, including countless towns, villages, hockey rinks and of course, the White House.

Wednesday, the Cup had a first.

It made its first appearance at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., thanks to a famous alumnus.

Bill Foley, Class of ’67 and owner of the Vegas Golden Knights, was able to cut through the usual bureaucratic red tape and have his team visit the alma mater with the Cup in tow on its day off from its four-game East Coast road trip.

Remember, we’re talking about a working military installation here. You just don’t cruise up to the gate, even with the Stanley Cup, and expect the MP’s to let you pass through (Yes, they have real MP’s guarding the entrances at West Point with rifles and bullets). It took some serious pull for it to happen but Foley never lets a challenge get in the way when he’s hellbent on doing something, especially something as cool as this and as close to his heart as a visit is to the alma mater.

He obviously had to clear it with the brass at West Point, which in turn had to get the O.K. from the Pentagon. 

The folks at West Point were great when we approached them,” Foley said. “It was a piece of cake.”

The tricky part was getting the NHL to allow the Cup to travel with the team. The rules give the winning team 100 days with the Cup from the time it wins it. The Knights have long since had the time expire for their possession. 

“We got lucky,” Foley said. “The Cup was supposed to be somewhere in Eastern Europe, but the trip got canceled, so it was available. When I saw the schedule and that we’d have a day off on our New York trip, I thought it would be neat if the guys could take a trip up to West Point with the Cup.”

Foley managed to pull it all together and he met the team at West Point, which sits on 16,000 acres overlooking the Hudson River and was established in 1802. It is as picturesque a setting as you’ll ever find. Go to an Army football game at Michie Stadium sometime during the fall when the leaves are changing colors and you’ll see for yourself.

There’s so much history. There are statues for many of America’s military heroes, including George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, George S. Patton, John Sedgwick and others. 

There’s no statue to Bill Foley. But his name is on two buildings on on campus. One is the Foley Athletic Center, a 77,000 square foot indoor training facility which is next door to Army’s Tate Rink where the Black Knights hockey team calls home. The other is the FEN Lacrosse Center which Foley helped contribute to the construction of and bears his name along with those of classmates Lt. Ray Enners and Michael Nathe.

The team got to share the Cup with 4,000 cadets in the mess hall’s “Poop Deck” with VGK captain Mark Stone doing the honors. The team also toured the campus and it left an indelible impression.

“It’s definitely a lot different (than the White House),” Stone said Thursday after the team practiced at the New Jersey Devils’ practice rink at the Prudential Center. “Just the discipline around the entire facility. Everything is done with a team setting. Those guys are going to put their lives at risk to protect one anther and protect the country. 

“For me, what I took away from it was how in sync everything is. From the mess hall to everything they do.”

Defenseman Alec Martinez, who grew up in Michigan and whose grandfathers both fought in World War II, came away realizing there’s a bigger sense of purpose to life.

“I had never been there before,” Martinez said. “It was incredible. It’s very impressive to see all those kids and have a little bit better understanding for what they sign up for. I have the utmost respect for everything they do and it’s good to provide perspective. 

“You play a game like this (hockey) and you realize that they’re training for something that’s much bigger and much more important.”

Fellow Michigander Paul Cotter got a chance to visit with a childhood friend, Andrew Garby, who is a junior defenseman for the Black Knights men’s hockey team.

“it was great to see him and catch up,” Carter said. “It was cool to eat lunch and see things from his world.”

When asked if he thought he could cut it as a cadet at West Point, Cotter said: “It takes a special person to do it. I don’t know if I could.” 

Keegan Kolesar’s brother Trey was a cadet at West Point for a while and though he is now at Iowa State, Kolesar was proud of his brother for giving it a go.

“He played JV football before he left,” Kolesar said. “It’s a prestigious place so to visit was pretty cool. I’m not a history nut but my ears were wide open when they told us about what happened there.”

Cassidy is a history nut. For him, seeing the memorials to the generals and learning about West Point was fulfilling.

“It’s very inspirational,” Cassidy said. “You can feel how special a place it is as soon as you step on the grounds.”

Cassidy and the team got a nice pep talk from Brian Riley, he current Army men’s hockey coach whose dad Jack also coached at West Point and was behind the bench when Team USA won the hockey gold medal at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif.

“It was a great day and I think each guy will take a different memory from the visit,” Cassidy said. “For me, listening to their coach was a special moment for me. We all talk strategy and different stuff, but he told a story about how he lost a couple of players in action overseas and how difficult that would be. How they were leaders in the hockey locker room then became leaders on the battlefield. He was close to those guys and that hit home to me.

“I also enjoyed the history all at the end. Being Canadian, I’m still catching up with that. I’ve read all sorts of books on World War II and World War I but not a lot about the Civil War so that helped me catch up a little.”   

Cassidy said it was wonderful to have their owner play host and that everyone on the Golden Knights took part.

“That shows you the respect everyone has for Bill. At first, it was going to be an ‘If you want to go …’ kind of thing. But when everyone realized it was Bill who was setting this up, it was a no-brainer and became automatic. 

“He looked very proud to be back there. There was a photo of him as youth, a handsome young fella, and some buddies of his were there. It was great. 

“Sometimes you need to get away from hockey, so moments like this are good.”

Foley didn’t accompany the team to the White House in November. But he wasn’t missing this.

“To take the most difficult trophy to win in any sport and bring it to West Point, it shows that anything is possible,” Foley said. “Hopefully it will inspire the cadets.”