By Chris Umpierre
Craig Kowalski struggled to find the words to describe the past two days. The 25-year-old former Florida Everblades goalie still can’t believe he was part of a Stanley Cup winner.
“It’s surreal,” Kowalski said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I can’t even believe what’s going on right now. This is something every kid, every hockey player, dreams of and I get to go through it. This is the top of the mountain. I don’t know if I can do anything the rest of my career to top it.”
A non-roster practice player for the Carolina Hurricanes, Kowalski celebrated with the club after it beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Monday. Even though he didn’t play in the NHL postseason, Kowalski got the full experience of being part of a Stanley Cup champion. He hoisted the Cup in front of the sold-out crowd Monday, he drank from the Cup in the locker room and he participated in parades Tuesday and Wednesday.
“When they passed me the Cup (on Monday) I didn’t know what to do,” Kowalski said. “I told myself, ‘Just, don’t drop it. You’ll look like an idiot.’ It wasn’t too heavy. It was unbelievable to hoist it up in front of the crowd.”
Although his name won’t be engraved on the historic trophy — only those who play in the postseason get that — Kowalski said he might get a championship ring.
Kowalski can’t believe how far he has come. Eight months ago, Kowalski was playing for the ECHL’s Florida Everblades.
“No way. I didn’t think this would happen,” said Kowalski, who went 12-6-1 with a 2.80 goals against average with the Blades in 2005-06 but spent most of the season with the American Hockey League’s Lowell Lock Monsters. “Especially starting the year with the Everblades this was the last thing on my mind.”
Kowalski, who will become a free agent in July, said he learned a great deal from practicing with the Canes. He joined Carolina’s playoff roster April 19.
“The guys were so good to (the non-roster players) from the moment we walked in,” Kowalski said. “Following guys like (forward) Mark Recchi around and seeing what guys do every day to prepare and what it takes to play at this level (is helpful).”