Two months after the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 21 years, the trophy and the festivities made its way 1,200 miles west to Gilroy’s Fortino Winery, where family and friends alike gathered to celebrate Brett Heimlich, the Avalanche video coach who worked in the shadows to help the franchise reel in the elusive hardware.
As Colorado’s video coach, Heimlich has several responsibilities, perhaps none more important than reviewing video to possibly getting opposing team’s goals overturned, something he has become known for.
The 34-year-old spent recently completed his sixth season with the Avalanche, the last four years as video coach. He breaks down video, prepares scouting reports, video reports for player-performance reviews and statistical analysis for the coaching staff.
Heimlich spent the first nine years of his career with the San Jose Sharks, first starting in event services before steadily working his way up to what is essentially a coaching staff type role. Heimlich, a native of San Jose, opted to spend part of his day with the trophy on Sept. 4 at Fortino Winery on the basis of both practicality and sentimentality.
“It was, ‘How do we get a space big enough for friends and family?’” Heimlich said. “And Fortino Winery was gracious enough to get us this space. [They] have a great connection with us…Their champagne was at our wedding, so it’s just something to bring this trophy to [this]…spot.”
Per NHL rules and tradition, all coaches, players, and heads of departments get one day with the famed Stanley Cup, and must return the trophy by midnight. Heimlich, in his role as video coach, qualified as part of the coaching staff.
Before Heimlich’s turn with the Cup, defenseman Erik Johnson had his turn with the trophy in Southern California, where it spent the day gliding down the slip and slide before heading to the famous Del Mar Racetrack for a night of partying.
The next morning, at around 10:45am, Heimlich picked up the trophy in Los Gatos, where his parents live. He and his family took some pictures before 50 of his friends and family packed into a Lux Bus America bus to begin the festivities at the winery.
Approximately 135 of Heimlich’s friends and family gathered at the winery, where they took photos with the larger-than-life silver cup, played some yard games, and mingled amongst each other during the three-hour event. The attendees also enjoyed sipping on Fortino’s assortment of wines, or soda and lemonade for the younger guests, pairing it with scrumptious hors d’oeuvres and pizza for a perfectly filling meal.
After the event, Heimlich headed to his parents’ house to relax, sharing more intimate time with those closest to him away from the hubbub of the party. He also promised to take part in the Stanley Cup tradition of drinking out of the silver bowl atop the prize.
Growing up, Heimlich was surrounded by former NHL players like Tim Hunter, who won the Stanley Cup in 1989 with the Calgary Flames. Still great friends, Hunter was in attendance during the weekend celebration.
It was Hunter who provided Heimlich his first opportunity as a “video guy” with the San Jose Sharks during a family barbecue.
“He said, ‘Hey, I need some help, can we get a video guy, we don’t have a video guy.’ So I said ‘Sure,’ [but] I had no idea what that meant,” Heimlich said. “Later in the summer, they had a camp and he handed me the video book and said, ‘Hey, get started.’”
Many years later, Heimlich has achieved the same pinnacle of hockey success as Hunter did. The Stanley Cup, of course, is perhaps the most unique and revered trophy in professional sports. With 32 teams and a series of seven games throughout the entire playoffs, consistency, strategy, and luck must all align for a team to even get a chance at hoisting the silver cup.
“That same trophy that [Wayne] Gretzky touched is the same trophy that…Larry Robinson touched,” Heimlich said. “It’s the same exact trophy that they put their lips on, their blood and sweat and tears to win. The same thing I put my blood, sweat and tears to win.”
The trophy—which has not been replaced since 1963—is a fleeting object for even those who do manage to win it. However, for Heimlich, the history and singularity of the trophy make up for the limited time he gets with it.
“It’s pretty special because there’s a lot of great histories and great players for the game and communities that won it,” Heimlich said.
While Heimlich is ramping back up with the Avalanche in preparation for the upcoming 2022-2023 season, he still selflessly gave his hometown San Jose Sharks words of encouragement and solidarity in their own championship endeavors.
“Six years ago, our organization was 22-58-2. And now, we’re world champs. So it’s a process. So as frustrating as it is, it’s special and it’s hard,” Heimlich said. “I don’t know when the right time is going to happen, but when it’s there, enjoy it, [and] embrace it.”