COLE HARBOUR, N.S. – Sidney Crosby dropped into a military base on board a Sea King helicopter Friday to take the Stanley Cup on a tour of the community where he grew up.
The captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrated his 22nd birthday with the NHL’s famous championship trophy at events around Halifax and Cole Harbour, the suburban community where he was raised.
The military helicopter landed Friday morning on the flight deck of HMCS Preserver at the Halifax Dockyard. But first, the aircraft circled the city’s harbour with the Stanley Cup sitting in the open chopper door.
Meagan and Ryan Lunn of Cole Harbour were among those to meet their hometown hero at the dockyard. It was a moment arranged by family friends because their father, Mike, is deployed in Afghanistan on bomb disposal duties.
“I’m just so grateful that we met him,” said Meagan. “The guys at the unit arranged this for us because I love Sidney and it was just good to meet him.”
She plans to email pictures of their time with Crosby to her father.
“I think he’s going to be shocked and happy that his friends did this for us and kept us in mind,” said Meagan, who had Crosby sign the back of her pink cellphone.
Ryan, who is in pee wee, got his hockey stick signed by Crosby.
“My dad will really love it,” he said.
Crosby said because of the city’s connection with the military, he wanted to start the day by sharing the cup with members of the Armed Forces.
“This is something that I felt was important,” he said. “There’s a lot of troops that aren’t here right now who are overseas … but for the ones who are here I thought they would really get a kick out of it.”
Crosby said the NHL is unique because it allows its players to travel with the championship trophy.
“That’s what we get a kick out of us players is the sharing with everyone,” said Crosby, who also made a private visit to a children’s hospital in Halifax.
He left the navy base for the hospital in one of the military’s light armoured vehicles.
Crosby said he dreamed of winning the Stanley Cup as a child, but the experience is better than he imagined.
“When you finally win it you realize the experience that comes with it and how good that is. I’m finding that out right now, but it’s probably everything and better.”
He also led a parade through Cole Harbour, where thousands of people showed up for a series of events, including a concert by Sam Roberts.
People were standing 10-deep in places along the parade route. Police said members of the public began lining the route at 9 a.m., more than five hours before the parade started.
Francis Castein, 16, of Truro said she was at Cole Harbour Place at the end of the parade route at 1 a.m. to try and improve her chances of getting an autograph.
“I saw him play in junior and once he got to Pittsburgh I fell in love with him, I guess. Since then I’ve been a big fan,” said Castein, who was carrying a large cardboard cut out image of Crosby.
“He’s bringing something back that he’s worked for for a long time, he should know that we are really, really proud of him.”
The dryer Crosby made famous at his parents home for all the puck marks he left on it from shooting practice was part of the festival of events at Cole Harbour Place. People lined up to get their pictures taken with the dryer.
On a stage outside the recreation complex, Crosby thanked his family for giving him a chance in hockey and was greeted by fans singing Happy Birthday.
“I’d love to be able to say that this (winning the cup) is something that’s going to happen every year, and I really hope it happens again soon,” he said. “But for everyone here, for me personally, this is something I’m going to soak up.”
Hundreds of military members and their families, some decked out in Penguins jerseys, were at the wharf to greet Crosby in the morning, along with Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Rear Admiral Paul Maddison.
The Penguins won the NHL final in seven games against the Detroit Red Wings this spring as Crosby became the youngest captain ever to win the Stanley Cup.
Crosby’s hockey career has been chronicled since he was a boy in Cole Harbour, where his prodigious talent emerged at a young age.
After learning to skate on the rinks of Cole Harbour, Crosby left home in 2002 to attend Shattuck St. Mary’s, a boarding school in Farbault, Minn., known for its hockey program.
He returned to Canada to play junior hockey and led the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to a Memorial Cup final in 2005.
There was plenty of buildup for Crosby’s NHL debut. Years before he was drafted, Wayne Gretzky said he was the best player he’d seen since Mario Lemieux.
The hockey world buzzed that “The Next One” was coming.
Crosby was the much-anticipated first overall pick in the 2005 NHL draft.
In his rookie season with the Penguins, Crosby held his own, finishing sixth in league scoring and becoming the youngest player to score 100 points in a season.
In his second season with the franchise, Crosby started to shine. Leading the NHL in scoring, he won the Art Ross trophy, becoming the youngest person to do so. He was named the league’s most valuable player and the players’ association voted him the outstanding player.