The People's Champion

Havana caps a massive season with a phenomenal performance at home to nab the SICHL Continental Cup. Reporter Che Guevara takes a stroll to find his story.
by Che Guevara | September 27, 2023, 8:41 AM ET

The streets are almost liquid, the combination of hot asphalt and spilled beers makes it hard to rip your shoes from the sticky ground as you walk through the endless crowds that continue celebrations in Havana. The Cuban and Revolution flags hung from every building were more vibrant than normal in the hot Havana sun and they seem to flap louder too. Row after row of side streets lined with buildings painted every colour of the rainbow, brilliant blues, soft yellows, punchy pinks, and neon greens containing shops, bars and restaurants all of which have been jammed summer long with celebrating hockey fans.

Stopping in to a little corner café for a classic Cuban coffee, and a nice Bolivar robusto. The strong aroma of a jet black espresso coupled with the burning cedar strip igniting the full bodied Bolivar wrapper was just pure delight. A couple puffs and a nice sip had this reporter all relaxed, when an elderly gentleman leaned over and asked why I hadn’t written anything on the Havana Revolution Continental Cup victory. A few more puffs of the cigar and the realization hit home, the man was right! Such a stunning set of victories after trailing the Banff Rockies 3-2 left the whole of Cuba completely shocked and elated. The seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, and now months following Havana’s historic win saw the city and country descend into what seemed like an endless party.      

Upon finishing up the coffee and cigar, back out into the street I go where again the scorching sun hits you like a laser beam. How do you even capture this victory, such a tough struggle for Havana, so many years of failure, so much excitement. And what it means to the players, coaches, and fans…it seemed like an impossible task. Needing more time I wandered through the streets looking, listening for inspiration. A couple blocks down you could hear the soothing, splashy, brass trumpet of a Cubano band spilling out through the streets just calling out for patrons.

If ducking back into the shade wasn’t enough, a well dressed bartender shaking cocktails behind a vintage wooden bar would take the edge off. “Sorry sir this is a closed event” he tells me from behind his bushy moustache, disappointedly making my way back out I am stopped by a firm hand on my shoulder. Looking back upon the giant mitt overwhelming my shoulder, is All Star defenseman Brent Burns, with his classic toothless grin, pointing into the other room. Walking past the bartender he gives a quick nod and motioning to the shaker tins left me with hopes there may be a cool beverage coming my way.

Following the music and the 6’5” behemoth up a set of stairs to find the whole Havana Revolution team at the friends and family party. A big airy room with spanish archways overlooking a palm tree and garden lined courtyard just packed with season ticket holders. The sounds of Cuban tres, claves, congo drums and that brassy trumpet was actually a more classic Cuban trompeta. It appears as though I stumbled upon my best interview yet. This was a who’s who and this reporter wasted no time getting right into it, starting with the colossus that saved this story, Mr. Burns!

Coming off his most dominant season yet where he was averaging 1.14pts/gm putting him right neck in neck with Cale Makar if it weren’t for a midseason ACL tear, and an even more impressive performance in the playoffs putting up 27pts in 24 games all while dealing with a lingering ankle injury. “I cannot thank the Revolution enough, they brought me in and made me a contract offer that at the time in 2015 looked a little risky for me. But we bet on each other and look where it has got us. We are Continental Cup Champs! I feel that I’ve played my best hockey here in Havana, sure ive broke records and climbed the league all time standings, got a Bobby Orr…but this win, this city, this year, is the best moment of my career!”     

Burns stopped to grab another glass of this pink hued refresher that looked too good to pass up so naturally I partook as well. Burns looked down to see I hadn’t got a victory cigar. Being the polished man that he is, especially to those in the media, off he went in search of a stogie for yours truly.

This cocktail was impressive, light, airy, sweet but tart, it must have been some hint of elderflower liquor, and fizzy, maybe champagne? Either way it went down well and led to me dropping it off next to another popular Revolutionary, one Leon Draisaitl.

Draisaitl was also no slouch this year, a model of consistency, putting up just over a point per game all year. He was part of a one two punch for Havana with teammate Connor McDavid, both of which carried a lot of the weight when fellow forward Jonathan Huberdeau went down in Game 1 of the finals against Banff.

“It was a tough year, lots of challenges we faced as a team and overcame”, mentioned Draisaitl. “Maybe it's the German in me, but I need to be more efficient. I didn’t have the best year offensively, I know I can do better but come playoffs when the team needed me to step up I was there!”

Sure bud, about time you came to help me out. I couldn’t drag us there all alone” joked McDavid from across the room. “He’s always riding my coattails, this guy. Obviously I’m kidding around, this team rocks. How team management has kept this core together and let us build, held faith after some shaky years. It spoke volumes to the confidence in us as a group. We knew when Hubey went down in Game one that we had to pull together and get this done. There was a real moment when he came down into the locker room in Game 6 before OT that really fired us up! And now here we are cruising through special victory Montecristo’s and sipping Rev’d Up from the Continental Cup”

Editors note: The Rev’d Up was created by a local Havana bartender specially for the celebrations, it is a variation on a French 75 with Elderflower but instead of lemon juice it is made with pink grapefruit juice in tribute to a historic Havana legend Ernest Hemmingway.

McDavid and Draisaitl continue bantering back and forth about who is more special and comparing stats, all while I spotted a rather quiet Connor Hellebuyck over by large cigar display case etched with the Revolution logo on it. The same ones that Burns somehow hasn’t found his way back over with yet. Hellebuyck is just lighting one up and offers one over “Have you tried these yet?” he remarks as I nod away, he hands one over. The cigar is velvety smooth in your hand, it feels like silk, to the point it would feel weird to even consider sparking it up, instead something that belongs framed and cherished for all time. But one whiff and the notes of peppercorn, caramel, chocolate and leather overwhelm the senses…including any previous notions of not immediately putting fire to tobacco and enjoying this delight.  

Reflecting on Hellebuyck’s season it is clear he was dialed in once again, delivering 80 games with yet another solid performance deserving of some of the best numbers in the SICHL. Over the past 5 seasons this goaltender has put up historically good numbers, and been the model of consistency. His playoff performances have been less stellar, however this season he was good when he had to be and saved his best performance his “piece de resistance” for Game 7 of the Continental Cup.

It felt real good to get that monkey off my back. I wanted to prove I was one of the best and to do that you need to perform in the playoffs under pressure when it matters. I was able to do that for my teammates and as a unit we were able to complete our goal and bring home the cup to Havana. All these wonderful fans here in Cuba deserve this win, you can see the spirits it has lifted and the joy it has brought to everyone on the island.

Everything comes to a quick halt when news hit of a parade in honour of the teams victory, everyone runs to the windows overlooking the street. There are hardly words to describe the pride, and beauty of watching old Chevy Tri Fives, De Soto Firedomes, Buick Super Riverias, Cadillac 62s, Ford Fairlanes, and Pontiac Star Chiefs in every colour imaginable rolling through the streets with Revolution flags waiving and people cheering. A thing of beauty.

As I am taking in the cars rumble and the smell of diesel drifting through the air, I notice standing next to me is Jonathan Huberdeau who is still healing his broken ankle from Game one in the finals. After having a career year with 94 points and a solid playoffs he went out leaving the Revolution to fill this enormous gap.

“Good to see you, I wasn’t sure you would make it” laughed Huberdeau knowing that no media was actually invited! “I suppose you want to know how im feeling and if my ankle is any better…and I can tell you it didn’t heal how I was hoping. I might have to have further surgery but we will see.” I had to reference the earlier remark on his appearance in the locker room during game 6 prior to OT, and you could tell he really stalled “You know the team will say I limped down and lit a fire, but everyone in that locker room knew what they needed to do. I don’t want to be broadcast as some locker room hero. But it does feel good knowing that we accomplished it as a team, I just wish I could have been there with them on the ice at the end. I think I might have broke my ankle again jumping up and down when we won!”     

Another round of Rev’d Up’s are offered around which were hard to turn down. Having a sip I can appreciate now the complexities and the special attention that went into creating this celebratory drink. Over walks GM Prozeller, it was obvious he really wanted to get his words in before this reporter put his notebook down and really started to enjoy the festivities. The cigar was really heating up now, the middle section turned from sweet to spicy, this was a game changer as it comes to cigars. Drawing the fire back it seems to have altered that chocolate and caramel at the start and replaced it with almost a spicy cinnamon and earthy flavours. But on to GM Prozeller who word on the street has it had been calling Havana coach Wendel Clark hourly to “suggest” roster and line combinations as the playoffs wore on.

I mean, sure I was a little panicked. The Rockies are an unbelievable team and we as a management group had to use every last bit of data analysis and metrics to try and figure out our best chance to beat them. In the end it worked, but the credit goes to the players. I knew if I kept this group together they could do it, and thankfully they proved me right. Now we get to enjoy the spoils of war, along with all of Cuba!” reflected Prozeller. As he and the Revolution team heading to the windows overlooking the courtyard they pull off one final trick yelling into the crowds in unison “Gracias a todos nuestros maravillosos partidarios! Esta Victoria es para ti! Viva La Revolucion!”       

Cheers to the 2022-23 Champions the Havana Revolution: 

Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Jonathan Huberdeau, Elias Lindholm, Jesper Bratt, Tyler Seguin, Charlie Coyle, Nazem Kadri, Phillip Danault, Connor Brown, Josh Anderson, Mathieu Joseph, Brent Burns, Mikhail Sergachev, Rasmus Ristolainen, Ryan Suter, Jakob Chychrun, Brayden McNabb, Zdeno Chara, Jake Muzzin, Kaapo Kahkonen, and Connor Hellebuyck 

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win!” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

¡Viva La Revolucion!

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