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NHL fans have breakfast with Stanley

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Stanley Cup
NHL

Forget Breakfast at Tiffany’s: A handful of lucky hockey fans had breakfast with Stanley at Simon this morning.

Lord Stanley’s Cup, that is.

As if that wasn’t enough, legendary NHL player Eddie Olczyk was there, too.

John McKeel won an intimate breakfast with the Stanley Cup and Olczyk after entering a contest online.

The breakfast for nine (or 10, if you include the NHL’s most prestigious cup) took place in the private dining room at Simon at Palms Place this morning.

Former NHL goalie Brian Hayward, who is now an analyst for the Anaheim Ducks, also popped in at one point to say hello.

Meanwhile, two other NHL heavyweights, retired Hall of Famer Mark Messier and Nicholas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings, had breakfast outside in the main dining room.

With Olczyk seated at the head of the table, McKeel and the others chatted about his career, including what it was like to play in the days without helmets, and how it took him a while to realize that the NHL is a business and to not take being traded personally.

The group also quizzed each other about their families, between mouthfuls of eggs, pancakes and fresh fruit.

Speaking as freely and as easily as if he was an old friend, Olczyk brought everyone up to speed on the hockey-related aspirations of his two sons, and cracked jokes between anecdotal stories from his surprisingly normal life.

The equally enjoyable and laid-back breakfast took place just five hours before Olczyk and dozens of other members of the NHL royal family were to gather in the Pearl Concert Theater for the 2009 NHL Awards.

Olczyk will hand out the league’s King Clancy Memorial Trophy at this afternoon’s gala. Despite playing 16 years in the NHL, he has never before attended the annual NHL Awards.

“This is actually my first awards,” he told the small table.

Olczyk first started with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1984 and, after enduring several trades and moves, retired a Blackhawk in 2000.

Though he personally didn’t win any of the NHL’s player-specific trophies, he does have his name on the league’s most coveted award. At one point the 42-year-old star got up to show his dining partners where his name was engraved on the Cup following his 1994 league championship with the New York Rangers.

He also told them how much of a thrill it was to hoist it high in the air and skate the ceremonial victory lap after the win – even though it was heavier than he imagined. (The Stanley Cup weighs 35 pounds, according Bill Wellman, who takes care of the NHL’s most prized piece of hardware.)

Olczyk said he jumped at the chance to be a presenter at this year’s awards.

“How can you turn down the Awards in Vegas?” he asked.

McKeel, 62, won his way to Vegas, the Awards and the private breakfast through an Internet contest administered by Budweiser.

He was skeptical when the phone rang three weeks ago and the call display showed an unrecognizable long distance number.

The retired Air Force veteran thought it was a telemarketer on the other end.

“I braced for the sales pitch,” he said, recalling the phone conversation.

Needless to say, the Oklahoma City, OK-resident was pleasantly surprised.

“We love Vegas,” he said.

McKeel’s prize included a trip for four, including airfare and accommodations; tickets to the Awards and private afterparties; special backstage access; the meet-and-greet with the Cup and Olczyk. He brought his wife, Sandy, and invited their friends Clyde and Alene Reed, to join them on the getaway.

Reed and his guests were joined by Olczyk, two Anheuser-Busch representatives, one local reporter and one of the four so-called “keepers of the cup,” Bill Wellman, at the breakfast.

The sports marketing director for Anheuser-Busch, Brad Brown, said the contest “was an unbelievable success.”

He said that while similar contests usually generate 10,000 to 12,000 entries, the NHL Awards giveaway attracted more than double the normal response.

“We had 27,000 entries, which was great,” he said.

The contest was a joint text-to-win and Internet campaign hosted on the NHL, Budweiser and local NHL teams’ Web sites.

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Melissa Arseniuk

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