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Monday, August 10, 2009
Sid gives Cup one big homecoming

By Scott Burnside

COLE HARBOUR, Nova Scotia -- In the grand scheme of things, the parade was a small affair.

Sidney Crosby's two grandmothers were in one convertible. Crosby's parents, Troy and Trina, and younger sister Taylor were in another. Teammate Maxime Talbot and Penguins team services manager Frank Buonomo rode in another car. And Crosby, riding in a vintage fire engine, stood with the Stanley Cup perched in front of him.

Before the tiny procession even technically entered Cole Harbour, thousands of people were lined on both sides of the main street leading into the town.

Past the Petro Canada gas station and the sub shop, past the deli and the family restaurants, many of which had put out signs congratulating Crosby on his 22nd birthday and bringing home the Cup, the crowds grew larger with each passing block.

In one backyard, someone had erected scaffolding on which people stood to see the return of the town's most famous son. They stood on balconies and embankments and roofs.

Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby was transported around in the Sea King Canadian Armed Forces helicopter.

By the time the parade made the left turn onto Forest Hills Parkway from Cole Harbour Road, the number of well-wishers was staggering.

"I never would have imagined it [to be] like that, honestly. I expected it to be good, but that was great and more. It was shoulder to shoulder there," Crosby told a small group of reporters the next night at his lakefront summer home. "It was full of people, and the coolest thing for me was, I saw a 5-year-old kid clapping and cheering and then I saw an 85-year-old woman sitting in a chair with an umbrella and she was clapping and cheering, too. I was like, this is incredible, and it really kind of hit me."

Instead of dissipating after the parade passed, the crowd fell in behind the last of the vehicles in the motorcade, following and then passing the parade as it made its way to Cole Harbour Place, a local community arena and recreation center where Crosby used to play.

By the time Crosby and the Cup reached the facility, the parade had literally been swallowed by the crowd as Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Halifax Regional Police, along with the three-man security detail hired by Crosby for the weekend, valiantly tried to keep fans at a safe distance from the vehicles. (Talbot later said the moment reminded him of the Cup parade in Pittsburgh -- but that was for an entire organization, not one person.)

Final estimates of the crowd ranged from 65,000 to 75,000. Hockey Hall of Fame curator (and keeper of the Cup) Phil Pritchard believes this is the biggest crowd ever for a one-player event.

What other sport can claim to generate that kind of passion? What other player might strike that kind of emotion in thousands of complete strangers?

Crosby does not know them, of course, but he is in some ways kin to all of them. This moment was as much theirs as it was his.

Hours earlier, Crosby and his father are standing outside the fence at a private air terminal adjacent to the main Halifax International Airport terminal. He checks his watch. It's not yet 8 a.m.

The Sea King Canadian Armed Forces helicopter that will ferry Crosby to the first stop on his first day with the Stanley Cup is standing by, having landed a few minutes earlier. Now all they need is the Cup.

They joke about what might be keeping the guest of honor. Groom-like nervousness? No. More likely just anticipation.

Finally, the Learjet touches down and off steps Talbot. Talbot pumps his right arm in the air (he keeps his surgically repaired left shoulder close to his side) and the two embrace.

The flight from Montreal and Marc-Andre Fleury's day with the Cup was slightly delayed as Pritchard and colleague Walt Neubrand realized the Cup's hard-sided, wheeled carrying case would not fit on the plane.

Soon, though, Crosby is carrying the familiar silver trophy into the waiting area. Here, the first of what will be thousands of pictures are snapped with the Canadian military staff.

Crosby, his father and Talbot will fly with the air force crew from 12 Wing Shearwater, one of the oldest airfields in the Canadian military. Captain Andrew McGarva gives instructions about their heavy helmets and vests, including what to do if the group ends up in the water.

"He looks like he knows what he's doing, but I don't know," Talbot quipped.

En route to Canadian Forces Base Halifax, or Dockyard Halifax as it is known, the Sea King circles over Crosby's childhood home in Cole Harbour. As it approaches the downtown area, where thousands have gathered on the jetty, the Cup can be glimpsed, glinting in the morning sun.

"Really, it was like something you'd see in a movie," Crosby's sister Taylor, 13, said later.

Finally, the helicopter settles on the stern of the HMCS Preserver and Crosby appears around the end of the ship holding the Cup, prompting cries of joy from the crowd.

"I mean, the Cup comes right off the plane, I jump in a helicopter and land on a navy ship, so that was pretty cool," Crosby said later. "To see the reception there, that was pretty emotional, to meet a lot of men and women who serve our country."

The port of Halifax was founded in 1749, 118 years before the nation of Canada was born. From the very beginning, the port has been woven into the fabric of the identity of the maritime community's identity.

There are currently about 10,000 Canadian military personnel in the Halifax area representing all three branches of the service: army, air force and navy.

All three branches of the service have a hand in hosting Crosby; the transport into Halifax provided by the air force, the breakfast reception on the HMCS Preserver and finally a trip off the base in LAVs (light armored vehicles) provided by the army.

Military officials who operate the morning's reception have identified servicemen and servicewomen who will meet Crosby on a stage set up on the jetty, and they line up patiently. Meanwhile, thousands of fans have crammed the jetty between the Preserver and the NCSM Ville de Quebec, and hundreds more line the decks of the two ships. At one point, the crowd bursts into a rendition of "Happy Birthday" and a giant cake complete with a Penguins logo and No. 87 appears on the jetty's stage.

As Petty Officer Paul Walsh departs the stage, he lets out a great roar. "Yeah, that rocks!"

Walsh is a bomb disposal technician who has spent time in Afghanistan, where Canadian troops have been mainstays in that conflict, often at great loss. Accompanying Walsh are Meagan and Ryan Lunn, ages 16 and 11. Their father, Petty Officer Mike Lunn, is currently in Afghanistan. Lunn, whose tour of duty is not scheduled to end until early next month, is a minor hockey coach in Crosby's hometown.

Crosby's presence here -- and, of course, the presence of the Stanley Cup -- sends a powerful message to the military men and women and their families, an acknowledgement of the sacrifices they make on a daily basis, sacrifices that often go unnoticed by the public.

"To do this for us in the military, it's just incredible," Walsh said, shaking his head. For the Lunn children, the moment was to be shared via e-mail with their father at the earliest opportunity.

"To invite us is really great," Meagan said. "Especially knowing that he [their dad] is over there doing good things."

Some players can turn it on and off. Light it up for the cameras and then brush past kids as soon as the cameras go cold or the notepads are put away. Not Crosby.

At the IWK Health Center in Halifax, a young boy is waiting to go into surgery. The operation is delayed as he waits patiently for Crosby's arrival.

"You got time to hang around with this a bit?" Crosby asks the wide-eyed boy as he plops the Stanley Cup on the side of his bed.

"Hope we didn't keep anybody waiting. Pretty good excuse, though," Crosby adds with a smile.

Even when the boy shyly admits to being a fan of both Vancouver and Montreal, Crosby puts him at ease pointing to the Cup. "Yeah, they're on there a few times," he jokes of the Canadiens' rich history.

Before Crosby leaves, he signs autographs not just for the boy but also for the boy's doctor.

Crosby, the Cup and the rest of his group ascend a few floors to a pediatric activity room that is chock-full of children, from seriously ill infants to teens with mental issues.

There is another cake and cupcakes, and Crosby ensures that every child gets a turn for a picture with him and the Cup. Handmade birthday cards and a miniature tin foil Stanley Cups are pressed into his or his parents' hands, adding to a growing collection of mementos from the day.

What does such a visit mean to these children, their parents or even the staff at the hospital? In the business of sickness, any break from the routine is welcome, let alone a break provided by the most famous hockey player in the world and the most famous trophy in sports.

One woman leaves the play room holding an infant in her arms, a portable intravenous unit attached to the child. Tears are streaming down her face.

Jason Parlee, from Amherst, Nova Scotia, has been in the hospital for a couple of days after his son Cameron's legs inexplicably would not support his weight. At 2 years of age, Cameron is too young to know who Crosby is and to understand the meaning of the Cup's arrival in the hospital, but his dad isn't.

"For someone of his stature, he doesn't forget his roots, where he came from," Parlee said.

From the moment the day began, Talbot has been a welcome sidekick to the proceedings, helping to share the burden of expectation that follows Crosby and the Cup. Talbot has signed and joked and posed and made hundreds of fans happy. Perched on some equipment boxes behind the stage at Cole Harbour Place, Talbot enjoys a moment's respite.

Later, he will do a question-and-answer session on the stage with Crosby, joking about his lack of goal-scoring prowess and Sid's superstitions.

Crosby is inside the arena meeting with 87 youngsters, winners in a contest, and young hockey players connected to one of Crosby's corporate partners, Tim Hortons. Talbot shakes his head at the pace of the day and the size of the crowds.

Crosby sent a powerful message that his day with the Stanley Cup was more than an acknowledgment of his personal accomplishments.

How many times has Crosby shaken a hand and nodded a greeting or encouragement on this day? Two hundred? Five hundred? Talbot had 10,000 fans at his day with the Cup the previous week. "But you get here and it's unbelievable," he said.

What amazes Talbot is that Crosby seems to understand how his own presence, whether it's at a parade or in a hockey rink, affects people -- and that kind of responsibility is not to be taken lightly.

"He's doing it so right. He understands. He's very conscious of the influence he has over everybody," Talbot said. "He created that himself by being himself."

It's not just his patience and the ease with which he interacts with people, whether they're seniors who want to squeeze his cheeks or young girls who fawn over him or young boys and girls who look wide-eyed at Crosby the superstar. But as time has passed, Crosby's ability to articulate how he feels about things has also grown.

"Going down Cole Harbour Road in the parade, I was fighting back tears for a long time. I grew up there and on those streets. I wasn't used to seeing crowds of people," Crosby said later.

"I was thinking about all those times that I was either playing street hockey or running before school. You're seeing everyone and the way they're reacting, but you're also thinking about everything that got you there. It was pretty emotional going through all that. At that moment, I think it hit me pretty hard what was going on. 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. Just to see it different like that is just like a dream."

After about nine straight hours of sharing the Cup, his Cup, with strangers, after all the signings and posing for pictures, Crosby somehow finds time to open a space in his day for himself, for his past.

Taking a page from Martin Brodeur's day with the Stanley Cup book, Crosby gathered a group of former minor hockey friends to play a little roller hockey game on the tennis courts next to Cole Harbour Place. On the line is nothing less than the Cup itself.

Back in the day, it was Crosby who would awake early on weekend mornings and begin calling around to set up that day's pond hockey or street hockey game. Sometimes the calls would come before his friends were even awake. After school, it would be the same, Crosby waiting for his friends, anticipating the games, the competition.

Even now, after all that has passed between the friends, Crosby sits in the dressing room before the ball hockey game and goes around the room reciting without fail the phone numbers of all his childhood friends.

"He always seems to make time for everybody when he comes home every summer," said Andrew Newton, a longtime friend and a former winger on Crosby's minor hockey teams.

Newton, who recently graduated from nearby Dalhousie University with an engineering degree, acknowledged that none of them knew what might happen to their friend as his world changed, going to the NHL, winning awards, now becoming the youngest captain to ever win a Stanley Cup.

"That's the funny thing, you don't know how the success is going to affect somebody," he said. Yet Crosby remains unwaveringly consistent.

"He's the same Sid," said Newton.

Even here, playing ball hockey with his buddies, there are clues to Crosby's character. The gifted center heads down to the tennis courts from the arena dressing room decked out in goalie pads, chest protector, mask and gloves. It has always been so.

"I was always in net for some reason. I always played goalie," Crosby said.

It is an offhand comment, a throwaway line. But Newton, two years Crosby's senior, explains it simply. Crosby was too good to play anything but net, and his presence anywhere but in goal would have upset the balance of the teams and ruined the competition. He accepted the role without hesitation.

As the boyhood friends squared off, hundreds of fans pressed against the chain-link fence that surrounded the courts. Hundreds more stood on the grassy slopes nearby. Newton joked that he tried not to look up at the crowd and fall down.

Crosby -- could it be any other way? -- was terrific, stopping Newton on a breakaway and leading his team to a 7-3 victory. As the game winds down, Pritchard and Neubrand arrive at the courts, familiar white gloves on, to deliver the Cup to the winners. The friends took turns hoisting the Cup, just as they watched Crosby do so not so long ago on the ice at Joe Louis Arena after Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.

"Big win," a grinning Crosby said after.

It is a moment that was particularly important to him.

"I grew up with these guys and we played the exact same way we did today, since we were 5 or 6 years old and we had our parents there watching us. And you can ask them. The group is the same. The guys' personalities are the same," Crosby said. "Everyone's kind of gone their separate ways and found their own paths in life, but today felt like it did 10 years ago and it was just really fun, and I'm glad we could all really share that because you know, really, we probably played for that [Cup] 500 times, whether it was in snow or rain or darkness, whatever the case was.

"Today was a chance to do it for the real thing. Hopefully, it's not our last shot. Hopefully, we can get the group together again for it, but it was a lot of fun to be able to share that with them."

, One wall of the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame is devoted to Crosby memorabilia, early report cards (he was very strong in family studies, by the way), skates, sticks, newspaper and magazine headlines, family photos.

One photo shows Crosby playing for the AAA midget Dartmouth Subways. His coach on that team, Brad Crossley, is among a group of about 100 family and friends invited to the Hall for a breakfast gathering with the Cup and the man they used to call The Kid.

Crossley played hockey with Crosby's father when Troy returned from Quebec from his junior hockey days and went to school with Crosby's mother Trina.

Sidney would have played for him as a 13-year-old, but the provincial hockey body forbade it, and instead he joined the midget team at 14, two or three years younger than the vast majority of players in the league. It didn't matter. He led the league in scoring with 217 points in 81 games. He was a plus-103.

What sticks out for Crossley isn't the numbers, but Crosby's work ethic and personality.

"I think he's got a lot of respect for people and truly cares about what he does," Crossley said. "He finds a way to treat all people the same. Having the ability to do that, you have to be extremely special."

At one end of the wall sits the family dryer. You know the one, the battered Whirlpool that sat in the basement of the Crosby home in Cole Harbour. It used to sit just left of the net that Troy set up for his son to practice on. Any shot that missed left would clunk onto the dryer. Over time, all of the buttons were blasted off by slap shots or backhands that missed the mark.

The dryer was donated by the family and is one of the items that goes on the road when Hall officials do educational programs all over the Maritime Provinces. It is something that resonates with the kids, a tangible, puck-marked reminder of what determination and dedication can yield.

This day marks the first day the family has seen the exhibit together. Soon, the Cup takes up a comfortable perch on top of the dryer.

Both Trina and Troy Crosby have joked that planning for the Cup's arrival was like planning a big wedding.

Actually, it's more like planning a series of weddings over a 48-hour period.

Sidney Crosby
Crosby shared his day with the Cup with family, friends, military and anyone who wanted a part of the festivities.

Now, they are at the part of the weekend when the reception pace has slowed. There are guests happily milling about, there are people down on the dock. A neighboring boater honks his horn at the sight of the Cup.

Trina recalled the moments on the ice after Game 7 against Detroit this June, father and son embracing. "I was so happy for them," Trina said.

She suggested she has been an observer on this journey, that the passion Troy and Sidney shared for the game, and their shared competitiveness, set them apart from her at an early age.

"Probably when Sidney played novice, I lost them. I just made sure he got fed," she said with a laugh that comes easily and often to her.

This is a family that has had to grow and evolve not as normal families do, but under the sometimes unflinching glare of celebrity and notoriety. And if the game has bound Troy and Sidney irrevocably through the years, make no mistake, the four Crosbys are tight-knit.

On this weekend, Trina's role is significant; her impact on what was a wildly successful, ambitious endeavor is indelible. Want to know who should be where, who was on a list or should have been and who's not, and the answer was consistent: Ask Trina.

The goal was simple: have as many people as possible share in the time with the Cup.

"It's a big responsibility, so we did our best to do that," she said.

There are moments that stick out for her, even now, snapshots she'll put away in her own memory bank for all time. Like the late-night boat cruise the previous evening, coming alongside other vessels and watching their reaction as her son raised the familiar trophy.

Later, they cruised past the harbor front, which was playing host to a buskers' festival. While performers had their backs to the water, throngs of people were facing the water as the Cup magically appeared, prompting shrieks of delight.

"That's a lifelong story they'll tell over and over," Trina said.

Earlier that afternoon, Troy and his son sat briefly on the back deck of the family home, the Cup between them.

The two took the Cup into Sidney's bedroom, which remains unaltered from the time he was a child. On the wall, there are still posters of that childhood, Patrick Roy, Kirk Muller, Mario Lemieux and the Stanley Cup. On this day, the real Cup sat on that childhood bed in front of the old poster, a powerful reminder of the dream that became a reality.

Troy recalled sitting in the television room off the hockey area in the basement, listening to the swoosh of Crosby's roller blades and the sound of the stick on the puck and the occasional metallic clang of puck on dryer. It was a reassuring sound, knowing his son was nearby.

"I think about it all the time. I miss them, really," he says of those moments.

Often, Troy would come and feed his son passes -- forehand, backhand, tipping shots into the net.

"It was one of those things, that is where we spent a lot of hours," he said with just a hint of melancholy, the kind of melancholy all parents bear when remembering those moments of happy connection with a child.

"Thousands of pucks have been shot down there, thousands," he said. "In some small way, they're all pieces of the puzzle."

Time grows short.

The popular Maritime band Great Big Sea will soon begin to play on a stage set up in the backyard. The sun will set behind the lake's pristine water and the clock will tick toward the end of Crosby's time with the Stanley Cup.

Will it come again?

It's a question that haunts all who enjoy these special moments as a champion. Crosby, so intuitive about the game, understands this clearly. He jokes that tomorrow night, he'll go fishing and the Cup will be gone.

"Yeah, it's going to be sad, for sure," he said.

Pritchard and Neubrand are about to clean the Cup before the evening's festivities, and Crosby offers to take on that duty. He wipes it carefully -- lovingly -- while some of his guests razz him about missing a spot or not having enough elbow grease.

In the end, it shines brightly as he sets it on a table on his back patio.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for