Last August, Kimmo Timonen wasn't sure if he would ever play professional hockey again.
Nearly 10 months later the 16-year NHL veteran can finally call himself a champion.
A storybook career was given the proper ending for Timonen as the Blackhawks defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0 in Game 6 on Monday evening to capture their sixth Stanley Cup in franchise history.
But it was an ending that Timonen never could have predicted when he was a member of the Philadelphia Flyers last summer.
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Before the 2014-15 season began, Timonen was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs as well as his right leg. With the seriousness of the injury, the Flyers ruled out Timonen indefinitely.
"It’s been a long journey," Timonen said. "I can tell you that. Last August I didn’t know if I could play anymore, but my desire was so deep inside that I wanted to give it one more shot. But obviously doctors said, 'hold on boy.' But I just had to have so many meetings to get to this level. I don’t really know what to say, it’s been unreal.
"Nobody knew if I could play again. It was a long process ... luckily I found two doctors that found a way to play the game safely. From that moment on, I was dreaming about this moment. But that was December."
After talking with doctors, Timonen found a way to continue his career without risking his long-term health. Buried at the bottom of the standings in the Eastern Conference and knowing that Timonen wouldn't have a chance to hoist a Cup in Philadelphia, Flyers GM Ron Hextall found a suitor for Timonen. Just days ahead of the NHL trade deadline he was traded to the Blackhawks for two draft selections.
In 16 regular-season games and 18 Stanley Cup Playoff games with Chicago, Timonen failed to register a point. He played in just three games in the Stanley Cup Final, averaging just eight shifts per contest, including seven shifts and 3:39 minutes of ice time in Game 6.
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But regardless of Timonen's performance in a Blackhawks sweater, it's hard to imagine a more deserving player who emptied out his gas tank for one last magical run, risking his health for the chance to hoist the Stanley Cup above his shoulders as a culmination of an amazing career in which he played in 1,213 career NHL games.
After accepting the Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Blackhawks Jonathan Toews eyed one teammate in particular that would be the first player to get his hands on the Cup.
And it wasn't a surprise to Timonen after a conversation with Toews earlier Monday morning.
"He [Timonen] said, 'Holy something' and he skated off really fast," Toews said about telling Timonen Monday morning he would be the first person to hold the Cup if the Blackhawks won. "I kind of expected him to get fired up, maybe raise his heart rate a little bit this morning.
"I know it definitely did for 'Zus [Michal Handzus] and for [Marian] Hossa the first time. It's awesome. It's awesome to win but also more than anything to win for guys like that and guys like Richie [Brad Richards], Vermy [Antoine Vermette], Desy [Andrew Desjardins], guys that came into our lineup around the deadline. I could go on all day talking about how happy I am for these guys.
"It doesn't happen very often. Some people wait a lifetime for this, and we're fortunate to have done it three times. It makes you want to do it more and more."
As a first-time champion at any professional level, Timonen wasn't quite sure what to do with the Cup when he had it in his hands.
"I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t know you could go around the rink with it," Timonen said. "It was my first time. I played this game a long time and battled hard for years. I’ve been on the losing side of the story so many times that I know guys realize that. They know that I’m going to retire. This was my last game, my last time with skates on. The respect level goes both ways."
It's hard to imagine that after 20-plus years of professional hockey, Timonen has never been crowned a champion.
As a member of the Nashville Predators for eight seasons, his team never made it past the first round of the playoffs. He's a four-time Olympic medalist with Team Finland, and came within one goal of winning gold at the 2006 Olympics. He won the silver medal three times at the World Championships and captured a silver medal in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
And before Monday evening, the one that haunted him the most was finishing as a runner-up to the Blackhawks as a member of the Flyers in 2010 Stanley Cup Final. Ironically, he was on the ice when Patrick Kane scored the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 6 for the Blackhawks, but it's a memory he will soon forget after making a new one in Chicago.
"Well, Kaner scored again," Timonen said. "Yeah, I did see it. I was actually crying this time, a little bit, on the bench. It’s just a feeling you can’t get. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. At the end of the day, I’m glad nothing happened to me during the games. I’m 40-years-old. I’m just happy and relieved."
Any chance Timonen decides to give it one more run?
"I leave this game as a Stanley Cup Champion. I can't ask for anything more than that."