Hockey Hall of Fame - Stanley Cup Journals: 2009, 14

Sidney Crosby hoists the Stanley Cup in front of cheering onlookers aboard the HMCS Preserver (Walt Neubrand/HHOF)
Birthday parties are always filled with surprises, but on Friday, August 7, 2009, Sidney Crosby's 22nd birthday included the Stanley Cup, and with it, more thrills and surprises than anyone could ever imagine.

At 5:49 that morning, a private jet arrived in Montreal and picked up the Stanley Cup, the Prince of Wales Trophy, Pittsburgh Penguins' forward Maxime Talbot and the Keepers of the Cup, and then flew them to Halifax International Airport. Just before 8:00AM, the jet landed and was greeted by Sidney Crosby and his father, Troy.

Don't for one moment think that Sidney is the only hockey star in the Crosby household. While Mom, Trina, and little sister, 13-year-old Taylor, are pretty fine hockey players in their own right, Dad was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 12th round of the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. Although the netminder never reached the National Hockey League, his teammates with the Verdun Jr. Canadiens included such future NHL stars as Jimmy Carson, Claude Lemieux and Everett Sanipass.

Crosby and the Stanley Cup aboard a vintage firetruck (Walt Neubrand/HHOF)
The Canadian Armed Forces provided a Sea King helicopter (which was 23 years older than Sidney!) and flew the men to the Halifax Dockyard where they landed on the flight deck of the HMCS Preserver, a ship built in Saint John, New Brunswick in 1970 and through the decades, served Canada both nationally and internationally. Currently, it is docked in Halifax as part of the Canadian Navy's Atlantic Fleet.

'Operation Homecoming,' as the day was tagged by military personnel, began with a quick, private snack of sandwiches and fruit, and then Sidney was feted at a special reception with hundreds of those serving their country, plus their families, looking on. Included in the presentation was a birthday cake, decorated with the Penguins' logo and his number 87, and all those on deck sang 'Happy Birthday.' Sidney responded with some stirring comments. "You talk about sacrifice a lot as a hockey player," he began. "The things we sacrifice are very minimal compared to what people have to sacrifice here, with what their families go through and what it takes to serve your country like they do." Crosby later told, "That was pretty emotional, to meet a lot of men and women who serve our country."

After descending the steps to the pier, Crosby and the Cup climbed into an LAV (light-armoured vehicle), Maxime Talbot and the Prince of Wales boarded a second vehicle and the Crosby family and some friends stepped into a third LAV. The procession took them through Halifax to historic Citadel Hill.

Halifax is one of Canada's oldest cities. Established as a British port in 1749, a fort was built on the site of Citadel Hill at that time, acting as a fortress as it overlooked the Halifax Harbour. The current star-shaped fortress, Fort George, was built in 1856. At 12 noon every single day for all 260 years since the fort was first established, a ceremonial cannon is fired, and on this day, that task was bestowed on Sidney Crosby.

The entourage toured Halifax, getting scenic shots with the Stanley Cup all around the area. One important stop was at the IWK Health Centre, where Sidney took the Stanley Cup to visit the young patients staying there. Prepared for their hero's visit, several children presented Crosby with homemade birthday cards, while others gave him their replica Stanley Cups, created out of empty toilet paper rolls and tinfoil. Cupcakes and another birthday cake were given to Sidney, who ensured that every youngster got a picture with him and the Stanley Cup.

Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police pose for a photo with Crosby and the Stanley Cup (Walt Neubrand/HHOF)
The group then left the hospital, crossing over into Dartmouth and proceeding on to Cole Harbour, Sidney's hometown, not quite thirty minutes from Citadel Hill. The town had prepared a parade, and just before 2:30, Crosby and the Stanley Cup climbed aboard a vintage firetruck, followed by convertibles carrying Maxime Talbot and the Prince of Wales Trophy, another with Troy, Trina and Taylor, and another with Sidney's maternal and paternal grandmothers.

The fans were lined at least six-deep all along Cole Harbour Road, the numbers far exceeding the expectations of organizers. "I never would have imagined it like that," he said. "I expected it to be good, but this was incredible, and it really kind of hit me!" All along the parade route, fans wearing Penguins' jerseys waved and shouted out birthday greetings. Sidney laughed at the number of signs he saw that read: 'It's My Birthday Too, Sidney!'

The number of attendees to Crosby's Stanley Cup parade was pegged at a staggering 75,000, and is the single largest crowd ever for a one-player event. It was a stark and emotional realization for the Penguins' young captain. "Going down Cole Harbour Road, I was fighting back tears," he admitted to "I grew up on those streets. I was thinking about all those times that I was either playing street hockey or running before school. You're seeing everyone but you're also thinking about everything that got you there. I used to go to Subway in that strip mall there and the grocery store and Tim Hortons. I used to go there all the time. At that moment, I think it hit me pretty hard what was going on."

As the parade route turned onto Forest Hills Parkway, it took members of the Halifax Police Force and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to keep the surging crowd from completely enveloping the parade participants. They arrived safely at Cole Harbour Place, the recreation centre and arena where Sidney once played.

Mayor Peter Kelly welcomed Crosby, and thanked him for putting Cole Harbour on the world map. He then declared Friday, August 7, 2009 as 'Sidney Crosby Day,' and the crowd went wild.

When it came his turn to speak, the humble hero made an impact by stating, "I know there's a lot of young kids here that are watching and seeing the Stanley Cup up close. I'm sure a lot of you are dreaming of winning it yourself, either go through it when you're playing road hockey or when you're on the rink. I just want to let you know that I did the same thing and the proof is right here that you can do it, so go for it!" The eruption of cheers was deafening, and Sidney could only smile, glancing at the Stanley Cup he had helped capture. He tagged his comments by saying, "I would love to be able to say that this is something that's going to happen every year, and I really hope it happens again sooner than later. For everyone here, and for me personally, this is something I'm going to soak up and enjoy. Enjoy every second of it."

Sidney takes the Stanley Cup for a spin around the lake. Note the necessary personal floatation devices worn by both player and trophy.
(Walt Neubrand/HHOF)
Yet another birthday cake was wheeled out, much to the amusement of the Crosby family. Afterwards, 87 contest winners were able to meet their hero and received an autographed hockey stick as a souvenir. For several hours, the Stanley Cup was made available for fan photos.

While pictures were being taken inside, on the tennis courts beside Cole Harbour Place, Sidney and a number of his childhood friends staged a roller hockey game. The NHL's premier forward didn't play forward back in those days — he was always a goalie, and this day was no different. Sidney suited up in pads, chest protector, blocker, trapper and mask. "I always played goal for some reason," Sidney explained, and his father could only wink and smile.

Crosby's team thumped their opponents 7-3, and at centre ice, Phil Pritchard and Walt Neubrand, this day's Cup Keepers, pulled on their requisite white gloves and together, presented the victors with the Stanley Cup. Sidney hoisted the Cup over his head but his teammates, respectful of hockey tradition, did not follow suit, and simply carried the Cup — very proudly, we might add — around the perimeter of the tennis courts, while hundreds of fans applauded the celebration. "I grew up with these guys and since we were 5 or 6, we played exactly the same way we did today," smiled Sidney. "It felt like it did ten years ago. We probably played for the Stanley Cup 500 times, whether it was snowing or raining or dark. It was just really fun to be able to share that with them."

Joined by rocker Sam Roberts, Sidney, his family and friends, cruised the Halifax Harbour, finally able to relax a little with the Stanley Cup. A few boaters spotted Sidney and/or the Stanley Cup, but for an hour or so, the time was their own. When the ship docked, the group clambered into one of the amphibious 'Hippo' vehicles that is able to act as either a boat or a ground vehicle. Laughing away, they toured up and down the hilly streets of Halifax before calling it a night. "Wherever the Cup goes, it draws attention everywhere," Sidney said. "It's amazing to see how important it is for people to be able to be up close to it. That's why I'm happy to be doing it."

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Crosby raises the cup high in front of The Canadian Armed Forces Sea King helicopter.
(Phil Pritchard /HHOF)
The next morning, Saturday, August 8, Sidney and his family, along with 100 other family members and friends, visited the Nova Scotia Sports Heritage Centre for a breakfast reception. For the past two years, one wall has been devoted exclusively to Sidney, and while Trina Crosby had been instrumental in securing photos and artifacts to populate the display, neither Sidney nor his father had yet seen it.

One item on display that has grown wildly important in hockey legend is the Crosby family's battered dryer. When Sidney was small, he used to practise his shot by firing pucks at a net in the basement of their home. But if he missed the net, the pucks banged off the dryer, sounding a hollow 'kerrang' and leaving nice, deep welts in the white enamel. Over time, the outside of the dryer was all but demolished, although it still left the family's clothes 'meadow fresh.' Trina donated the old dryer, and on this Saturday morning, it served as the perfect perch for the Stanley Cup.

Sidney took the Stanley Cup back to his Mom and Dad's home, and sat with the legendary trophy in his old bedroom, still adorned with hockey posters on the walls. A lot of hockey dreams were formulated in that room, and on this day, the biggest of them was realized.

Almost begrudgingly, Sidney left the family home, stopping for a photograph by the sign that welcomes visitors to Cole Harbour. Then, it was off to a private party at his waterfront home, not far from his parents' house. The musical entertainment was very special — Great Big Sea. The band, one of Newfoundland's greatest exports, is the consummate party band, and has enjoyed hits like 'When I'm Up (I Can't Get Down),' 'Ordinary Day,' and 'End of the World' from their triple-platinum album, 'Play.'

Crosby and the Stanley Cup are guarded closely by Canadian Armed Forces personnel. (Phil Pritchard /HHOF)
Lead singer Alan Doyle and Trina Crosby began the evening by belting out 'Happy Birthday' in perfect unison. For the second song of the evening, Doyle summoned Sidney and a number of his teammates from the Rimouski Oceanic, the junior squad with whom he starred in 2003-04 and 2004-05. The teammates, arms around each other and without a care in the world, sang along with Great Big Sea to Stompin' Tom Connors' 'Hockey Song.' "Hello out there, we're on the air, it's hockey night tonight…" Spirited, if not wildly out of tune, the friends thoroughly enjoyed the moment.

The band performed several more songs, including 'Ordinary Day.' The Hockey Hall of Fame uses this track for its commercial, featuring the Keeper of the Cup, Phil Pritchard, who stood by laughing, tapping his fingers to the beat while wearing his white gloves. At that point, a beautiful, big cake was brought out for a further birthday celebration for Sidney.

Sidney was savouring the time he had earned with the Stanley Cup, and took some private time with the trophy he had worked so hard to collect. He ran his fingers over the patina of the trophy, stopping to read names every so often, and realizing that no matter what awards and rewards come his way through hockey, his legacy is assured as his name will be engraved on the Stanley Cup alongside all the other greats of the game.

The day had again evaporated, and it was time for the Stanley Cup to leave Cole Harbour. Sidney turned to the Cup Keepers. "Hey guys, before you take the Cup away, can ask a huge favour?"

"Sure, anything," came the reply.

"I'd really like to wash the Stanley Cup now that my time is over. Is that cool?"

"Absolutely," said the Hockey Hall of Fame representatives, and with that, Sidney methodically scrubbed hockey's greatest prize. He was almost as masterful with the cloth as he is with a hockey stick, and was flabbergasted when the Cup Keepers teased him that he wasn't doing a thorough enough job. In fact, it was spotless.

Reflecting on the experience of spending time with the Stanley Cup, Crosby got wistful, and said, "It's better than I ever would have imagined. It's the goal that you work so hard for. When you finally do it, you realize the experience that comes with it, and how good that is. It doesn't get much better than this. It worked out great. I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate!"

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Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz take their turns to celebrate on Tuesday when we turn to the next entry in the Stanley Cup Journal.

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Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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