If you were to gaze at the rings of the Stanley Cup, nestled between George Parros and Ilya Bryzgalov on the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks, you’d find the name of Joe Motzko.
Motzko is the first -- and so far only -- Bemidji native to ever have his name grace Lord Stanley’s Cup.
As is tradition for members of Cup-winning teams, Motzko celebrated his day with the trophy on June 28, 2007, when he shared the esteemed Cup with his hometown.
What stands out the most to him about that day 13 years later?
“Fulfilling every childhood dream to spend a day with the Stanley Cup,” Motzko said. “Being able to bring it back to Bemidji was pretty special.”
The Cup arrived in Bemidji after crossing the border from Ontario where Ducks alternate captain Chris Pronger paraded the silver hardware around his hometown of Dryden. Then it was Motzko’s turn.
The Bemidji High School graduate brought the Cup to local hockey rinks, businesses, the Bemidji Town and Country Club and, of course, the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues downtown. Bemidji Community Arena hosted a public viewing where fans could snap photos with Motzko and his prize.
The Cup then made stops at the home of Motzko’s parents in Becida where former teammates, friends and family all gathered and had a chance to take a drink from the silver chalice. Motzko and some of his former St. Cloud State teammates took the Cup out on the lake in his pontoon.
The day ended at Slim’s Bar and Grill where the Cup partied late into the night.
Motzko wanted to show his gratitude for the family members, teachers, coaches and teammates who helped him along the way by sharing the historic piece of hockey lore with them for a day.
“You definitely don’t do it alone. You need a lot of help along the way, so it was wanting to share it with as many people as possible,” Motzko said. “Arguably the Stanley Cup is one of the most coveted, if not the most coveted trophy out there. Allowing people to share in that with me, to drink out of it, have a beer out of it, whatever it may be, it was important to me.”
Road to the Cup
Motzko spent most of 2006-07, his fourth full season of pro hockey, in the American Hockey League. As a forward, he played for the Columbus Blue Jackets and their AHL affiliate in Syracuse, N.Y, before being traded midseason to the Ducks and landing with their AHL club in Portland, Maine.
Anaheim recalled him from the minors near the start of the playoffs and he joined the team for its first-round series against the Wild, though he didn’t make the lineup right away.
“When we got to the Western Conference Finals against Detroit, I was getting more of a sniff,” Motzko said. “I took a couple warmups against Vancouver in the series before, but then I was kind of in the mix starting against Detroit.”
Injuries opened up a spot in the lineup for Motzko in two games against the Red Wings, with the Ducks winning the series in six games. He cracked the lineup again for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final in Ottawa, which ultimately allowed for his name to be engraved on the Cup.
“Obviously around Minnesota and in the U.S. hockey is a big deal, but once you get up into Canada, that’s a whole nother level,” he said recalling the game.
Anaheim won 3-2 and clinched the Cup two nights later in California. Motzko took part in the pregame skate before Game 5, but was scratched from the lineup. He and the other scratches donned their uniforms and joined their teammates on the ice at the final horn.
“It’s just an absolute fun grind where the highs and lows are so high and so low,” Motzko said, “but you’ve got to keep it even keel and stay the course and plug away and contribute the way you can.”
One year after the Ducks’ triumph, Motzko reunited with the Cup. And there it was: his name inscribed on the side.
Coincidentally, the reunion happened on Mark Hartigan’s day with the Cup, his second in as many years after hoisting it again with Detroit. Motzko played with Hartigan at SCSU and was part of the same trade to Anaheim from Columbus.
Motzko later spent parts of two seasons with the Washington Capitals and Atlanta Thrashers before playing in Europe for six seasons and retiring in 2014-15. He now resides in Plymouth, Minn., where he works in the financial world. He and wife Lauren have three sons: Sammy, Johnny and Sully.
And in case you were wondering, Joe is a distant relative of Gophers coach Bob Motzko.
Looking back more than a decade later, Motzko will forever cherish his day with the Stanley Cup.
“The whole process is one of those things where you wish you could slow it down and relive every memory,” Motzko said. “But the day is so fast and you’re talking to so many people. It’s one of those things that goes by in a flash. Never take it for granted. Like I said, it was a childhood, lifelong dream come true.”