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Special Time For Tenute; Hershey Bears' centre accepts Calder Cup at celebration

08/21/2006 9:45 AM -

When Dave Andreychuk escorted the Stanley Cup to town a few years ago, everybody knew about it.  There was a parade, a civic ceremony, politicians out in droves, tons of media coverage from around North America, and even an arena named after him.

Today's championship celebration is going to be pretty understated by comparison.  So tame, that when Hershey Bears' centre Joey Tenute accepts the Calder Cup at his parents' Hamilton home for a party with his family and friends - his reward for being part of last year's American Hockey League champions - it won't even be delivered by two bodyguards like Stanley is.

"It's coming in a UPS box," he laughs.

That's not to say it won't be a special time.  Those invited will take some pictures with the mug, check out the amazing array of famous names etched on its side, and maybe even sip a few beers out of it.

Thing is, talking to Tenute - pronounced Ten-oot - you realize as much fun and as satisfying as winning the championship was, it really wasn't the absolute highlight of his season.

He talks of how he still gets teary watching the DVD of the championship, which he does nearly every day.

He explains how having the Cup for a couple of days is nice.

But he can't hide the truth that the day in February when he made it to the NHL trumped everything, especially since his ascent happened so suddenly.

A year ago at this time, the junior hockey scoring machine had no idea where he'd be playing.  Despite winning the East Coast Hockey League's rookie of the year award, his options were pretty limited.  Hershey gave him the best of few offers, so he signed there.

Then he started the year on fire.  Things went so well that 15 games into the schedule, the Washington Capitals - the Bears' parent club - offered him a two-year NHL deal.

"Things were just going from good to better," he says.

Then came February.  There had been rumblings that the Caps would be calling up a player or two.  Still, when the phone woke him up from his pre-game nap, his stomach went into knots.  Calls at home from the general manager usually bring bad news.

Not this one.  As he answered, Hershey's GM excitedly broke the news he'd been waiting his whole life to hear.

"He said, 'You did it, you're getting called up,'" Tenute says.

"I said, 'No way.  What do I do?'"

Suddenly, the 23-year-old professional athlete turned into the six-year-old boy who'd spend night after night lying on his bed at home and dreaming of making the big league.

He paced.  He called everyone he could think of to break the news but couldn't get anyone.  He tried to find a non-wrinkled suite to wear.

"Honestly, my whole body was numb," he says.  "I felt a sense of light-headedness."

By the time he got to Washington, he was a bit of a mess.  During the morning skate, he couldn't make or complete a pass.  But by game time he'd settled down and just felt like one of the guys.  A few times he caught himself staring at Alexander Ovechkin and Florida's Joe Nieuwendyk, but he felt he played pretty well and fit in.  And he loved it.

Especially when he walked out of the dressing room after the game and saw his father there.  Dad had dropped everything to make to 10-hour drive, arriving just in time.

"We couldn't stop smiling," Tenute says.

Nor could he the next week when his paycheque arrived.  Marked separately was $2,350 for one day's NHL work.  Minimum wage, but not too shabby.

"It was all right," he says, breaking into a smile.  "I wouldn't mind seeing that."

He'll get his shot in the fall.

Starting in mid-September, he'll get a good look at Washington's training camp.

He's been skating nearly every day this summer to get ready for the chance to make it for good.

But before then, he'll enjoy today's chance to spend a few hours with the Cup and the people who helped him get this far.  Not-so-secretly hoping that someday, he'll be able to have a similar party with a larger silver trophy and a lot more fanfare. 

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