From Sexsmith to Stanley Cup, Carter Rowney gets his name on hockey's holy grail

Sexsmith hockey product Carter Rowney won the Stanley cup as a rookie with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The undrafted player spent four seasons with the University of North Dakota before signing a two-way contract with the Pens.

'You know, to get my first crack at it and to be a champion at the end, that's unbelievable'

The Rowney family celebrates Sunday's win: from left to right, brothers Clayton and Kris; Carter (holding Stanley Cup); mother Tracy; sisters-in-law Shanna and Ashley; and father Brian (kneeling in front). (Clayton Rowney)

From January to June, 132 days, that's how long it took for Carter Rowney's life to change.

After waiting years for his chance, the former Grande Prairie Storm junior hockey standout suited up for the Pittsburgh Penguins in late January and played his first NHL game against the Nashville Predators.

On Sunday, he hoisted the Stanley Cup in front of those same Predators, and more importantly, his family.

"It's a dream, it's been a long road," Rowney, 28, told Hockey Night in Canada's David Amber after Sunday's game at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. "To get my first crack at it, and to be a champion at the end, that's incredible." 

For Rowney and his wife, Danielle, the past few months have been a whirlwind.

"We just became a family a month ago, we had a baby a month ago," she told Amber.

The Penguins beat the Predators 2-0 to win the series four games to two. 

The fact that Rowney was even there is a story of perseverance and defying the odds.

'Never, ever imagined that we'd get to here'

He got his start in the Alberta Junior Hockey League with the Grande Prairie Storm. From there, it was four years with the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks, before he bounced around for several seasons in the American Hockey League and the East Coast Hockey League. His break came when he signed with the Penguins' farm team in Wilkes-Barrie/Scranton. Three years later, he got the call he'd been waiting for so long. 

"Never, ever imagined that we'd get to here," said his father, Brian, who is now on the way back to Pittsburgh along with the rest of the family for Wednesday's Stanley Cup parade. 

"It's been many years of roller-coaster rides, his career up and down," the proud father said. "But it's always seemed to have gone farther forwards than it did backwards. And he got there, persevered through it all. He had a goal to get there, and he did it."

Along for the ride to savour the Cup win were several members of Rowney family. 

Carter's brothers, Kris and Clayton, and their wives, along with mom and dad, Tracy and Brian.

For older brother Kris, it brought back memories of playing hockey in Sexsmith, where the three brothers spent countless hours on the hometown ice. 

"We had a neighbour down the road," recalled Kris. "He had a dugout out back where he had boards, lights and a little change room. It was a hunting shack in the summer [and] served as a change room in the winter. I mean, any chance we had we were over there in the evenings playing hockey, playing pond hockey." 

For Sunday's game in Nashville, the family had seats two rows from the top of the arena. As soon as the final buzzer rang, it was a mad dash down the steps to celebrate with Carter on the ice.

"Mom was in tears, starting to cry up a little bit," said Kris. "It's just something you wanted for him so bad. It was just about the coolest thing you could ever imagine."

They joined Carter in the dressing room, where the champagne sprayed as families and players celebrated.

'You never see a celebration like that'

"We all had a bit of a turn holding the Cup," said Kris. "We got a picture with all of us with the Cup, some of us drinking beer out of it, which is cool. The team was so good about it."

"You never see a celebration like that," said his father, Brian. "It was unbelievable. There was a huge contingency of people there celebrating with the team. Just an incredible experience."

A similar celebration was happening hundreds of miles away.

At Sexsmith Secondary School, Rowney's accomplishments this year have not gone unnoticed by staff members who once taught him.

'That would be wonderful, to have the Cup here'

Phys-ed teacher Cathe Dickson was watching at home in Grande Prairie, remembering her former student, who she recalled excelled in the classroom and at practically any sport.

Now she hopes their next encounter will include the Stanley Cup.

"That would be wonderful, to have the Cup here," said Dickson. "But as exciting as it is for us, all the work that he's put in and his family going through all that time and all that work, it's just fantastic to see him earn something like that.

"And the picture I was looking at, the picture of him and his wife with his little boy in the Cup, that's it in a nutshell, really. Like he understands, 'Yeah, it's hockey but it's also family.' And what's important."