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Published: Saturday, 2/26/2005

Players locked out, but Stanley Cup in with fans

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Jeff Antonelli, Elijah Owens and his mother Michele Antonelli, all from Michigan, enjoy being close to the fabled Stanley Cup. Jeff Antonelli, Elijah Owens and his mother Michele Antonelli, all from Michigan, enjoy being close to the fabled Stanley Cup.
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As Jeff Antonelli approached hockey's holy grail, the Monroe, Mich. native gently but firmly reminded his wife, Michele, of the importance of her assignment.

"If you mess up this photo, it's grounds for divorce,'' Antonelli said.

The shine may be off the National Hockey League because of a labor squabble that has resulted in the cancellation of the 2004-05 season, but judging by the reaction of fans who lined the Sports Arena's Exhibition Hall before and during the Storm's game against Johnstown last evening, Lord Stanley's Cup hasn't lost any of its luster.

"The Cup is the most prolific trophy in all of sports,'' Jeff Antonelli said. "Nobody really cares about the [NFL] Lombardi Trophy. The World Series trophy is pretty nice, it's flashy. The NBA's trophy is just a basketball.

"My wife said I was more nervous to see it than he was.''

Antonelli pointed to his nine-year-old stepson, Elijah Owens, who had a big grin.

"I've seen it because I have a Detroit Red Wings' magazine,'' Owens said.

"It's cool but I wish they were playing.''

Regardless of age, ending the lockout was a common theme from those who lined up to touch and ogle the artifact that dates to 1893. This season marks only the second time in its history - the first was the result of an influenza outbreak in 1919 - that the Cup will not be awarded.

"We always used to look at hockey people like they were different than a lot of sports figures, as far as their demeanor, the way they acted,'' Paul Forquer, of Toledo, said. "Now, you're seeing a greedy human side the other sports have had. It's disappointing.''

One of the outcomes of the lockout is that minor pro fans are getting a chance to see the Cup. Mike Bolt, the Keeper of the Cup, spends between 250 and 300 days a year on the road. He's visited cities in each of the five American-based minor pro leagues as well as college and major junior venues this season throughout Canada and the United States.

"We've been able to work with other leagues in a larger capacity,'' Bolt said. "The fans just love to see it. Whether it's at the top level of the NHL or elsewhere, it's always a positive thing.''

The Cup will be on display in Toledo tonight during the Storm's rematch with Johnstown. It's part of the team's Hockey Hall of Fame weekend which runs through tomorrow. Included are artifacts and displays of historic game-worn sweaters from the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Henri Richard, just some of the names of champions that appear on hockey's famous chalice.

"The Cup is the Cup,'' Jeff Antonelli said. "Lockout or not, that will never change.''

Contact Dan Saevig at: dsaevig@theblade.com



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