When the Capitals won the Stanley Cup on June 7, Ovechkin handed the Cup to forward Nicklas Backstrom. Now it was Kempny’s turn.
The Cup arrived Monday in Prague and was driven three hours to Hodonin, a town of about 25,000 in the eastern part of the Czech Republic near the Slovakian border that has never seen the Stanley Cup before.
“I’m proud I am the first one who could bring the Cup to this part of Moravia,” Kempny said Tuesday. “And I am glad my Slovak friends and former teammates came here to see this event, too.”
More than 2,000 fans came to an ice rink named after Vaclav Nedomansky, a Czech hockey legend and Hodonin native who scored 278 points (122 goals, 156 assists) in 421 NHL games for the Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers from 1977-83.
“I enjoyed it here a lot,” Kempny, 27, said. “Sometimes it got a little crazy here. I didn’t expect so many people to come around here. I tried to accommodate and satisfy everyone but unfortunately there were too many and not everyone could get their pictures. But in general, I believe everything went well.”
After the celebration, Kempny took the Cup on an hour’s drive to Brno, where he played six seasons with HC Kometa. Four seasons ago he was playing in the Elite Czech league. Now he’s a Stanley Cup champion.
“My dream was always to play abroad. I’ve never had any long-term goals, I wanted to go season by season and each year move one step further,” said Kempny, whose first big step to the NHL came in 2015 when he played for Avangard Omsk in the Kontinental Hockey League. “When everything turned out to be on the right track after I had a good season in Russia, I had a chance to go to North America. And after two seasons there, all this happened. Unbelievable. I’m extremely grateful for that.”
Kempny left the KHL and signed with the Chicago Blackhawks for the 2016-17 season. He was traded to the Capitals on Feb. 19, 2018 for a conditional third-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. He scored three points (two goals, one assist) in 22 games with Washington, and had five points (two goals, three assists) in 24 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He signed a four-year, $10 million contract with the Capitals on June 29.
“In a way, that trade saved my career in the NHL,” Kempny said. “Everything has clicked since the start (in Washington). I came to [a] team with great players, great background and great people. I enjoyed every moment and I’m glad we agreed to terms for the next four years in Washington.”
After the stop in Brno, Kempny had a private celebration with family and friends. He was looking forward to getting a chance to put the Cup down.
“I can’t feel my hands after the entire day full of lifting and holding the Cup,” Kempny said.
Kempny said the plan was to drink wine out of the Stanley Cup at the private party.
“(Southern Moravia) is a wine country so I think it’s appropriate,” he said.
After the party, the Cup would return to Prague, where forward Jakub Vrana would have his day.
“It’s great that I was able to bring the Cup here. Those are memories no one will ever take away from me,” Kempny said.