It’s been a long and winding road for Blake Comeau.
For the next week, though, the path is straight and the goal is clear: The Stanley Cup.
On Saturday, the Dallas Stars, featuring two B.C. residents, will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning for hockey’s top prize.
The Stars’ lineup is a cornucopia of talent from across North America and Europe. And leading the way are team captain Jamie Benn of Victoria and Comeau, of Meadow Lake, Sask., an assistant/alternate captain who has been calling Kelowna home since 2001.
“(The playoffs) have been a lot of fun,” Comeau told Global News. “Obviously, when we first got here, it was an adjustment being in the bubble and not having a whole lot going on.
“But as time’s gone on, it’s kind of turned into the new normal. I’ve felt like we’ve really bonded as a team when we got here. We’ve had a nice run so far, and now we’ve put ourselves in a really good position to compete the Stanley Cup.”
For Comeau, and Benn, this is both their first Stanley Cup appearance.
Both played for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets during their junior days, with Comeau playing a key role in helping the team appear in three consecutive Memorial Cup appearances (2003-05). Benn, meanwhile, captained Kelowna’s 2009 Memorial Cup squad.
Drafted by the New York Islanders in the second round in 2004, 47th overall, Comeau’s pro career took him the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL for one full season before eventually latching onto the NHL.
To date, he’s played in 855 NHL games over 14 seasons with New York, Calgary, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Colorado and Dallas.
He was also a member of Canada’s national junior team that won gold in 2006.
“Being a part of those (junior) teams and winning things like that, those are memories that I’ll have forever,” said Comeau.
“Now that I’m in the NHL, I’ve never had a chance to be in a Stanley Cup. Before I got to Dallas, I hadn’t even been past the first round of the playoffs.
“So, for me personally, I realize how hard it is to win a Stanley Cup. And we have a veteran team and a lot of guys who’ve been around for a long time who also haven’t won Stanley Cups.
“So I think we’re at the stage now where we realize in our careers, we might now have this opportunity again.”
Stars interim head coach Rick Bowness has also never won a Stanley Cup, and Comeau says the bench boss is reminding them of how hard a challenge this is.
“He keeps us very grounded,” Comeau said of Bowness. “When we won the series against Las Vegas, we enjoyed it for a little bit, and then the next day, we got together and hit the reset button.”
Meanwhile, Benn, drafted in the fifth round by the Stars in 2007, made the direct jump from Kelowna to Dallas in 2009.
“I’ve known Jamie for a long time, and he was one of the first guys who shot me a text when I signed with Dallas,” said Comeau.
“I love playing with him. He’s an unbelievable captain and he treats everyone the same way. He’s our emotional leader on the ice; he’s taking big faceoffs, he’s blocking shots, you can see him throwing his weight around and being physical.
“He’s scoring big goals for us and putting up some big numbers. He just wants to win. That’s what I love about him.”
Notably, in facing Tampa Bay, Comeau and Benn will be facing a former Kelowna teammate in defenceman Luke Schenn (2005-08)
They’ll also face a forward in Anthony Cirelli who has a stinging connection against Kelowna. In 2015, Cirelli scored the game-winner for Oshawa in overtime in the Memorial Cup final, burying a loose puck from atop the Rockets’ crease.
On Thursday night, Cirelli scored from the exact same spot against the Islanders on a near-identical goal to put Tampa Bay into the final.
Going on with connections, Comeau is now teammates with Corey Perry, whose London Knights beat Kelowna 4-2 during round-robin action at the 2005 Memorial Cup.
Kelowna was up 1-0 in that game and Comeau had a glorious chance to make it 2-0, but his shot from the left side just missed the open far side by a couple of inches.
“With the amount of different players we have from around the world, we’ve really bonded in this bubble,” said Comeau.
“We’ve done a lot of time playing cards together. If there’s golf on TV, we’re all down in the lounge watching that or other hockey games. We’ve just really come together as a team, and I think that’s one of the big reasons why we’ve been successful.
“It doesn’t matter where guys are, what ages guys are, everyone is hanging out. We have card games where guys are 35 years old playing with some of the kids that are 19, or extras here. Just a great dynamic.”
Asked who is the team’s best card player, Comeau quickly quipped himself. Then asked who’s losing the most, he laughed and called Tyler Seguin “a human ATM.”
With the Stanley Cup ahead, Comeau said it’s made him reflect.
“You get to a position like this and you kind of look back at your entire career – junior, the minors and the NHL,” he said. “You think about the long road that you’ve been on, the ups and downs, the things you’ve gone through to get to this point.
“I had a good start in New York, then I got put on waivers, I got traded, I’ve been healthy scratched. I’ve been everything in my career. To be at this stage where I have a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, it’s really exciting.
“There’s a lot of people who’ve had an impact on my career, and hopefully we can win the Stanley Cup and I can celebrate with everyone that has helped me get to this stage.”