Erik Cernak won the Stanley Cup two times in a row but after he got it to his hometown of Košice, Slovakia, the Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman has a good motivation for a three-peat.
As hockey’s most coveted trophy landed in Budapest with a delay on Tuesday, Cernak needed to get to the border of Hungary and Slovakia to pick it up himself because of the strict COVID-19 restrictions in Slovakia; therefore he did not have time to show it to the local youth hockey players which was his original plan.
“I wanted to show the Cup to the young guys who play hockey here in Košice because it would be an extraordinary experience for them but the plans have changed a bit,” Cernak told Slovak media at a press conference. “But I still want to become a role model for the young players here so that they would have a hockey player from Slovakia who they could look-up to.”
The 24-year old defenseman is the first player from Slovakia in NHL history who won the Stanley Cup in two consecutive seasons. After the first victory in 2020, he was not able to bring the Cup to Košice because of the difficulties related to COVID-19 restrictions.
“Every player dreams of bringing the Stanley Cup to his hometown,” Cernak said. “I managed to win it twice and I am glad that this time it worked out and I could bring the Cup to Košice to show it to my closest ones, my friends and everybody who has helped me down the road.”
The Stanley Cup got back to Slovakia after six years. The last time, forward Marian Hossa from the Chicago Blackhawks brought it to his hometown of Trenčín in 2015. It was the second time the Cup has visited Košice, a city with almost 250,000 residents in eastern Slovakia. Defenseman Jiri Bicek from the New Jersey Devils took it there in 2003.
“I am glad we could repeat its visit here, glad that a player from Košice won the Stanley Cup again,” said Cernak, who also invited Bicek to his private party.
Cernak planned to eat his favorite Szegedin goulash from the Stanley Cup, which has probably never been inside the trophy before. It is a slow-simmered pork dish with paprika and sauerkraut.
On Wednesday, the Stanley Cup will head to the Czech Republic. Forward Ondrej Palat will get the trophy and celebrate with the fans in Frýdek-Místek, joined by defenseman Jan Rutta who was invited to Palat’s evening party. On Thursday, Rutta will take the Stanley Cup to his native town of Písek and later on a party in Prague.