Hockey star Sidney Crosby stepped off a Sea King helicopter at a wharf in Halifax harbour on Friday, the Stanley Cup aloft over his head, to cheers from hundreds of fans.
The captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins is celebrating his 22nd birthday in Halifax and the suburban community of Cole Harbour — his hometown — with the trophy.
The military helicopter carrying Crosby and the cup landed on the flight deck of the HCMS Preserver at the Halifax Dockyard.
Crosby said because of the city’s connection with the military, he wanted to share 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 is also making a private visit to a children’s hospital in Halifax.
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.”
Later, he leads a parade through Cole Harbour, where thousands of people are expected to show up.
Hundreds of military members and their families, some decked out in Penguins jerseys, were at the wharf to greet Crosby, 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.
Paul Mason, who coached Crosby in minor hockey, said as a young player in the local minor hockey association, Crosby stood out.
“He was exceptional. He had an ability to see the ice and he was very tenacious,” said Mason, who remembers Crosby as the most skilled player he’s worked with in 31 years of coaching.
“He made, as he does now, made everyone on the ice better in the way he moves the puck, his ability to control the play. He was a very coachable young fellow.”
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.