Worm and little worm: Why this Stanley Cup Final trip matters most for Corey Perry

Asking Perry about his Griff’s enjoyment of the Stanley Cup Final is one of the few ways to get him to open up, as he is a notoriously soft-spoken and shy player who is anything but on the ice.

In the Lightning dressing room, where Perry is affectionately known as ‘Worm,’ Griff’s nickname is fittingly ‘Little Worm.’ Former Ducks teammate Todd Bertuzzi gave Perry the nickname in 2007-08 because of how he wormed his way around the ice, slithering into and out of the greasy areas. Like a worm, if you cut off an appendage, Perry could still keep moving.

It is fascinating to watch Perry, now 37, worm his way through his pregame routine. Every moment, every detail of his night, is precise and planned out – from the time he spends in the bench area before getting dressed, to shooting the puck in the opponent’s net from the other end of the ice during warmups.

Little Worm is there for all of it, no matter how quirky.

“It’s been fun,” Perry said. “He’s got some things that him and I do. He’s got his spot in the corner in warmups. He’s a big part of it.”

Wearing the same blue, No. 10 ‘Perry’ jersey as his dad, Griff sits on a stool near the corner for warmups. He usually has a homemade sign – featuring Paw Patrol stickers or a message like ‘Playoff Perry is the Best Perry’ and ‘Go Dad Go.’

”Honestly, I think the little superstitions are now almost as much for Griff as they are for Corey,” Perry’s wife, Blake, said via phone on Sunday. “They’ve got their routine, they say their special little words, and they continued it over FaceTime while he was in Denver. No matter the game, they persist. This season has been really, really fun to watch all of that.”

Despite the on-ice success, the last few seasons have not been as fun for many NHL families – particularly those players with young kids at home.

“Oh man, it’s been a crazy three years. Every year of Griff’s life, it’s been a different team. That’s a lot of jerseys,” Blake said. “Our stay in Dallas was cut short by the pandemic, then we didn’t go to the bubble. We watched alone, no family or friends. Then last year, because he signed so late in Montreal, we didn’t move there. We went six months without Corey, and we came in for the Conference Final, but it wasn’t the same without fans.

“The other two trips to the Stanley Cup Final almost didn’t feel real, we were just watching it on TV. This has been incredible.”

Griff does not miss a game, even the late ones, despite his mother’s attempt to hire a babysitter. He would not take no for an answer. Tampa Bay has been a near perfect fit both on and off the ice for the Perry family. Steven Stamkos’ father, Chris, counted before a recent Lightning game that the Bolts’ players have 23 children roaming around the family room.

Many of them live in the same Tampa neighborhood, they play on the same hockey and baseball teams, and they barbecue and go to dinners together. It is as close-knit a team as you might imagine after back-to-back Stanley Cups.

“It’s pretty cool to have all of our kids around,” backup netminder Brian Elliott said. “To look over there and know what you’re playing for, it’s more than yourself or your team, those little guys and girls their eyes are so big when they see us out there – you know you have all of the support in the world.”

As Blake said: “It takes a village to raise kids, and we don’t have our typical village because we’re away from family, so the team is our village.”

McDonagh acknowledged that the Lightning are probably one of the more difficult teams for an outsider to join given the two Cups they have hoisted and banners they have hung. It is intimidating. And it might have been a little awkward given that Perry went to war with the Lightning in each of the last two Finals. 

But Perry has fit in seamlessly to Tampa Bay’s leadership core, earning an “A” on his jersey as alternate captain on certain nights. There has been a respect factor there from Perry’s end, too, a deference to the core that preceded him.

For instance, when the Lightning captains took a photo last weekend with the Prince of Wales Trophy, Perry politely declined to be part of it, because he wanted the Bolts to have continuity with the other photos adorning the hallway outside their dressing room. Blake said that’s something her husband would’ve learned from Scott Niedermayer or Teemu Selanne or the Ducks that showed him the ropes.

“He’s the type of guy that commands respect whenever he speaks or walks in the room,” Elliott said. “A guy like that, that’s been around for so long and played such a big role – in Anaheim, with as good as their teams were for so long, and the roles he’s played the last three years – he’s a pretty special guy.”

Hedman called Perry a “calming factor” for a Lightning team that has been there and done everything. Perry has, too, as one of hockey’s ultimate winners: Stanley Cup, two Olympic gold medals, World Junior gold, World Championship gold, World Cup of Hockey, Memorial Cup, OHL Championship – along with all of the individual accolades, including a Hart Trophy, Rocket Richard, OHL regular season and playoff MVPs. 

“He’s a tough customer to play against – I know, I’ve had to take it,” Hedman said. “So to have him on our side, and see what a competitor he is, has been eye opening for me.”

McDonagh said among guys that hate to lose, Perry is “right up there.” It was no surprise then, that the ‘Worm’ was in the middle of the madness on Saturday night, as Tampa Bay trailed by a touchdown in Game 2 in Denver.

The Lightning don’t need motivation to win, but they’re pulling for Perry and the other newcomers who haven’t had the same experience. The players said one of the most enjoyable aspects the second time around was watching it all unfold through the new guys’ eyes – the same view Perry is hoping he can have of Griff in all of his glory.

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