A & E
CONWAY — There's a local connection to the Stanley Cup, and that connection may bring Lord Stanley's prized possession to the Mount Washington Valley.
John Whitesides Jr. grew up skating in North Conway's Schouler Park and remembers many a raw evening on the local ice. Now, aged 38, Whitesides reached the pinnacle of his hockey career June 15 when the Boston Bruins won their first Stanley Cup in 39 years. Whitesides has been Boston's strength and conditioning coach for the past 11 years. He was on the ice seconds after the horn sounded in Game 7 in Vancouver celebrating with his team. It was a night, a season and a parade he'll never forget.
"It's been an exciting time, " Whitesides said by phone from Massachusetts June 22, as he was preparing for a Bruins summer camp for new players. The NHL draft is right around the corner and the B's have the ninth pick.
"It's now finally all starting to sink in," he continued. "We've been so busy for the past two months. You wake up, expect to play another game or expect to have to travel and now all of a sudden it all stops. (Laughing) Now it's catch up time, time to mow my lawn and do some things around the house."
Whitesides, the son of John and the late Kitty Whitesides, formerly of North Conway, has been involved in hockey for over two decades now.
In his position as the team's strength and conditioning coach, according to the Boston Bruins Website, Whitesides "is responsible for designing and implementing the strength, flexibility, conditioning and testing programs for all players within the Bruins’ system — the NHL team, their AHL affiliate team and prospects that have not yet turned pro. He also designed a website accessible only to current players by which they receive their off-season conditioning programs. In addition, he assists in player rehabilitation after both off- and on-ice injuries."
You can see video of Whitesides at the Bruins training facility at http://video.bruins.nhl.com/videocenter/console?id=44098
Whitesides, who lives in Bedford, Mass., joined the Bruins following four years as the assistant strength and conditioning coach for Boston College, where he worked with 17 of the college's sports teams, but primarily with the men’s hockey and football and women’s basketball teams. He was with the Boston College Eagles in 2001 when they won the NCAA men’s national hockey championship.
"At BC we went to the Frozen Four four times and played in three finals and only won it once," Whitesides said. "Any championship is hard to win, and when you win one you appreciate it all the more."
Whitesides had never been through four rounds of playoffs in a season like this one with the Bruins that included three Game 7 victories.
"Four rounds takes so much out of you and (laughing) I wasn't even playing and I was exhausted," he said. "Against Vancouver we were flying across the entire country back and forth. A lot of people didn't see it but we had guys with ice bags on the minute they got on the plane.
"These athletes are incredible," Whitesides continued. "I give them all the credit, they deserve it. We have the right group of guys here, players and coaches, who are willing to push their way through adversity."
Whitesides was particularly impressed when the Bruins, who lost the opening two games of the finals in Vancouver, never got down.
"After Game 2, they came off the ice and no one was upset," he said. "Players just said, 'We've done it the hard way all year, why stop now?' They all had such a positive attitude. In these playoffs, with three Game 7's, it all came down to bounces, chances and goals at the right time. I think the first round and Game 7 against Montreal was probably the highest pressure of all. We knew we had a good team and were expected to do well. No one wanted to go out in the first round."
Whitesides remembers the heartache of last year when the Bruins led the playoff series with the Philadelphia Flyers three games to none only to have their rivals come back and win the series, even rallying from a 3-0 deficit to win Game 7.
"I think we needed that, it's how you learn to win," he said. "I'm so happy and proud of this entire organization. The coaching staff has done such a phenomenal job. We have a great team and it's so rewarding when you see good guys come through."
Whitesides, who was a member of the University of Maine varsity football team, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in health and physical educations from Orono in 1995 and his master’s degree in exercise physiology in 1997.
According to the Bruins, Whitesides began his career as a teaching assistant for Dr. Stephen Butterfield in the Adapted Physical Education classes, where his duties included evaluating students working with special needs children. He then began his graduate studies at the University of Maine where he taught classes in Theories of Conditioning and Kinesiology, while responsible for the Exercise Physiology and Biomechanics Laboratories. Soon after, he became a graduate apprentice to Boston College’s head coach of strength and conditioning, Greg Finnegan.
Whitesides and his wife Virginia are the proud parents of twins, son John and daughter Jane, aged 19 months. Virginia was invited to Game 7 along with Whitesides' dad, John Sr.
"Dad decided to stay home and watch it rather than fly all the way out," Whitesides said. "He did go to the Garden for Game 4. We invite him all of the time, but it's tough to corner him."
Whitesides Sr., is proud of the Bruins and his son's accomplishments. Both have a love of the valley and came up with an idea to bring the Stanley Cup back to their community.
"He called me after they won it and asked, 'Do you think there would be any interest in Cup in North Conway?'" Whitesides Sr., said during a visit at The Conway Daily Sun June 21. "We wondered if there was some sort of a way to promote it. John used to play on the rink in Schouler Park, it's a special place to him. Those used to be very, very short seasons. He's been a good kid and loves this community."
As has become tradition with the Stanley Cup, members of the winning team have been allowed to enjoy the Cup for a day or two, taking it home or to any place they choose. It's been waterskiing, mountain climbing and even had the winning horse from the Kentucky Derby drink out of it.
"I'd like to try to line it up to bring the Cup home," Whitesides said. "I have a friend with a helicopter who could get me up there with it. I don't know when I'll get my turn with it, but North Conway was such a big part of me growing up it would be really nice to bring the Cup home to share it."
Whitesides was in a duck boat for the Bruins' victory parade the Saturday after their victory in Game 7.
"It was unbelievable, that's the only way to describe it," he said. "It was amazing the number of people who came out, it was phenomenal. Hockey is such a blue-collar sport and Boston's a blue-collar city and we're a blue-collar team, that's why I think so many people came out to support us. Looking back along the parade route there were just so many people you couldn't tell where the crowd ended."
While the parade was spectacular, Whitesides said the best highlight was Game 7 and the win.
"To see the guys on the ice, everyone so happy, and hoisting the Cup," he said, "that's what we all strive for. We have a trainer who has been with the team 18 years and was there for a lot of rough times, this was for people like him. The players worked so hard for this for months and months and then all of a sudden we reached the finality of it all. I'm pleased for guys like Zdeno Chara, the captain, whose been in the league for 13 years and works so hard every single day. You're also happy for the families who sacrifice so much behind the scenes. There's a lot of pressure to win and to win in Boston given the success of the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics. Everyone's been saying it's your turn, and this year it was."
The Stanley Cup weighs 34.5 pounds, but on June 16, the night the Bruins won the Cup, it was as light as a feather, according to Whitesides.
"It didn't feel like anything," he said. "I don't remember it being above my head, it just flew right up in the air. It could have weighed 205 pounds, it wouldn't have mattered."