-- Sidney Crosby
's 48 hours with the Stanley Cup began at Stanfield Airport in Halifax, N.S., around 8 a.m. local time Friday, his 22nd birthday, with the expectation for a special and surreal weekend.
As the sun began to set by his lakefront home Saturday during a party with close friends, family members and the Stanley Cup, Crosby was still awed by the magnitude of the weekend and the impact it had on not only his community, but his own emotions.
"I didn't need to win a Stanley Cup to realize the amount of support I have here, but if anything it opened my eyes up to what it is and what level it is at," Crosby said to a select group of reporters who were invited to his private party Saturday night. "It's not a huge town, but if you look at the turnout (at Friday's parade in Cole Harbour) it's a lot more than the town, it's all the surrounding areas. I expected it to be special, but I didn't think emotionally it would be like this. This was incredible."
Day One: A Homecoming Fit for a King
Crosby admitted he fought back tears during his parade through Cole Harbour, where he grew up and where his parents, Troy and Trina, still live with his sister, Taylor. He stood on an old naval fire truck with the Cup and waved at thousands of people who lined the streets, holding signs and snapping pictures, trying to take in history as it passed.
As the convoy of cars in the parade passed by, the crowd started filling in behind and began to walk along the parade route. Before long, everyone was marching up to Cole Harbour Place, where Crosby played most of his minor hockey.
The local newspaper, The Chronicle Herald, estimated that 75,000 people came out to see Crosby and the Cup. More than 25,000 were waiting at Cole Harbour Place for Crosby's arrival at 4 p.m. Police officers on site said some folks arrived seven hours earlier.
"Going down Cole Harbour Road in the parade, I was fighting back tears for a long time," Crosby said. "I grew up there and on those streets I wasn't used to seeing crowds of people. 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."
Upon arriving at Cole Harbour Place, Crosby was introduced to the crowd and delivered a speech on stage with the Cup sitting next to him. He told the kids in the crowd to go after their dreams because he is living proof that they can come true.
"People forget that it's all about the journey, but we saw the destination," Trina Crosby told NHL.com. "I was so happy when Sidney got on the stage and told all those kids that, 'I was just like you. I dreamed of hoisting the Stanley Cup.' He encouraged them to dream big, and that's the message. I hope they get the message."
"I wanted to let them know that I was exactly the same way as them, growing up with the same dreams," Crosby added. "I was able to do it and so could they."
Long before he delivered that message -- and posed for countless photos and signed hundreds, if not thousands of autographs -- Crosby and a few select others waited at Stanfield Airport for the Cup to arrive early Friday morning.
When it finally did, he was greeted by the two Hall of Fame representatives, Phil Pritchard and Walt Neubrand, as well as teammate Maxime Talbot
, who was invited to spend the weekend and celebrate with Crosby.
Pritchard handed the Cup to Crosby -- and his father Troy, who was standing more than 100 feet away watching, said that's when he first got emotional.
"When he carried the Cup off the jet after it landed in Halifax and you see that Cup in his arms, that was really special to see that again," Troy told NHL.com. "I saw it when they won it and to see it again brought back a lot of memories."
Crosby, his father, Talbot and the Cup all boarded a Sea King military helicopter bound for the HCMS Preserver, a naval ship in the Halifax dockyards, for the first stop on his long and eventful daylong journey with the Cup.
The chopper, the first Crosby has ever flown in, darted through the sky over his old house in Cole Harbour before finally touching down on the stern of the Preserver. Thousands of service men and women, their families and civilian employees as well as some of Crosby's former coaches greeted the Penguins' captain, who actually put his autograph on the helicopter.
The servicemen and women were calling it 'Operation Homecoming.' Crosby said growing up near the dockyard and being around military families made him want to bring the Cup to them.
He was hoping it would take the stress off their daily lives, if for only a few hours.
"He's such a great kid, and to do this for us in the military, you can't go on enough about how this makes our job more tolerable at times," said Petty Officer Paul Walsh, a Cole Harbour resident and one of the lucky ones who got his photo taken with Crosby. "It's incredible and it's the truth. You can tell that he's bashful and sincere about it."
Crosby left the dockyards in one of the military's Light Armored Vehicles, which was basically a tank. He carried the Cup on board and wore a helmet with, of course, the No. 87 sealed on the back of it.
From the dockyards, Crosby went to an area of Halifax known as Citadel Hill and shot off the cannon signifying high noon. Then, it was on a children's hospital in Halifax.
He met with a large group of patients in one of the hospital's playrooms, signing autographs and posing for pictures. He saw select patients in their rooms, including one that was minutes away from being prepped for surgery to have a portacath installed.
Crosby was visibly touched during his entire two hours in the hospital. Some of the kids even gave him birthday gifts and handmade cards.
"It's easy to think about some of the kids and the situations they're in, but the kids get more out of it and you enjoy it more when you just try to make it the best for them," Crosby said. "You try not to think about their situation because mentally it's hard on them and they just want to have fun and think about something else, so that's what I try to do."
Crosby left the hospital and started his journey from Halifax over the harbor and into Cole Harbour for the parade. It began at the Portland Hills Bus Terminal and continued down Cole Harbour Road before turning onto Forrest Hills Parkway for the home stretch.
When the parade made that right turn onto Forrest Hills Parkway, Crosby said the magnitude of the moment hit him. The crowd was huge, standing shoulder to shoulder, screaming for the arrival of their hometown hero.
"I wasn't sure what the crowd would be like, but it just seemed to keep getting bigger," Crosby said. "When I saw that stretch and how many people there were that's where I got emotional for sure."
"It was way more than I could have imagined," Troy Crosby
added. "The size of the crowd and the emotion of the crowd, the things they were yelling, you could feel their emotion. They are truly happy and proud of Sidney."
Talbot, who rode in a yellow convertible during the parade, said it was special for him to see the reaction Crosby gets in his hometown. He said it's different and bigger than what he gets in Pittsburgh.
"It's unbelievable," Talbot said. "It's really, really special to be here and see this parade and how much this guy is respected and loved by everyone. You know what, he deserves it all. You see the look on their faces. He's the man here."
After signing more autographs and posing for more pictures, an exhausted Crosby fulfilled one of his childhood dreams. He and eight of his closest friends played one of their traditional road hockey games for the Stanley Cup. Thousands of spectators made their way down to the tennis courts to watch.
"We grew up pretending to play for the Cup and we probably played just as hard as I did in Game 7 to get it," Crosby said. "That was our Stanley Cup, even if there was no trophy. I just thought it was really cool to be able to do it for the real thing this time."
Friday ended with Crosby and his entourage going on a private paddle boat cruise out on the harbor. Late Friday night he was seen around downtown Halifax in a Harbour Hopper, one of the land and water vehicles, carting the Cup around and celebrating with the people on the street.
"The goal was to try to get the Stanley Cup to as many people as we possibly could and it was spontaneous some of the things we did with it," Trina Crosby said. "We hung that snapshot in people's minds and how they experienced it will be somewhat similar to what we experienced when Gary Bettman said those words that he would be the youngest captain to get it and then he grabbed it. Those are all so surreal for us and I hope that the people that experienced the Cup here have snapshots similar to them."
Day Two: Less Commotion, More Emotion
When the sun came up Saturday, it was off to the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame for another private function with roughly 150 people, mostly friends and family. Of course, Crosby posed for more pictures and signed more autographs.
"I would take as many pictures and sign as many autographs as I could with the Cup sitting next to me," Crosby said. "That never gets old."
The Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame put up an exhibit in Crosby's honor with artifacts ranging from old sticks, gloves, pucks and jerseys to a report card from 2001 and, of course, the now famous family dryer he used to use for target practice.
The display was first unveiled last year when the IIHF World Championship was played in Halifax, but Saturday was the first time Crosby got to see it. Memories from various chapters of his life came flooding back as he walked through the exhibit.
"It was the first time I have seen the dryer I used in about six or seven years," Crosby said with a smile. "It was really neat to see that."
Saturday night's party was the final event for Crosby with the Cup and it was also his most private. Only his closest family and friends were invited to his sprawling lakefront property in Enfield, a town roughly 30 minutes from Cole Harbour.
Crosby asked and was given permission by Pritchard and Neubrand to clean the Cup. He brought out some dish detergent and towels and went to work, starting with the bowl and eventually working down to the body.
By the time he was done, Crosby said, "Hey, it does look shinier."
"He actually wanted to do it, which is another new experience," Neubrand said.
"It's one thing to clean the Cup," Pritchard said. "It's another thing to clean it when it's your Cup."
Pritchard and Neubrand were scheduled to go to Chicago to meet up with Chris Kunitz
on Sunday morning and Crosby said it will be sad to see the Cup go. However, its departure also signifies the beginning of his next journey.
Winning it again.
"Next season is approaching and it'll be up for grabs once again," Crosby said. "It'll be tough to see it go, but I look forward to the challenge of trying to get it back."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com