So many people dream of the day they will have the opportunity to share the same sheet of ice as the Stanley Cup, though only a select few ever get that chance.
But thanks to Scotiabank's Stanley Cup Surprise and Delight campaign, dozens of children across Canada have experienced that feeling during the past week -- and it was the surprise of their young lives.
Five minor hockey teams, in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal, were selected to get a surprise visit from the Stanley Cup during a practice, taking photos and reading the decades of history etched onto the trophy's bands.
"I think it will be something they'll never forget for the rest of their lives," said Todd Cook, coach of the 11A1 Lord Selkirk Steelers, a minor peewee team based in Selkirk, Manitoba, about 21 miles northeast of Winnipeg. "All these kids, from the time they were 4 years old, they've been playing for the Stanley Cup in the streets. So this was a dream come true for them."
The Stanley Cup and its keeper, Mike Bolt of the Hockey Hall of Fame, already have visited four of the five lucky teams: The Parkwood Stars major atom selects in Scarborough, Ontario; the Vancouver Angels novice girls in Vancouver; the Lake Bonavista atom 5 Breakers in Calgary; and Cook's Lord Selkirk Steelers in Manitoba. Just one team remains on the journey.
"Scotiabank's done a lot of great things with grass-roots hockey, but this has been tremendous," Bolt said. "It's been great for both the big and small kids; the parents have been loving it as well."
Each of the teams selected are part of the Scotiabank Community Hockey Sponsorship Program, which provides a $1,000 grant for each bank branch across Canada to sponsor a local minor hockey team, helping to pay for tournament fees and other expenses. The program supports more than 4,400 minor hockey teams through the Scotiabank Bright Future philanthropic program.
The arrival of the Stanley Cup at practice wasn't a surprise for everyone involved, as the coaches needed to be let in on the secret in order to make the proper preparations, while still acting as though it would be just a regular practice.
"That was the hardest part," Cook said.
In the case of the Vancouver Angels, coach Todd Hickling found a clever way to make sure no one suspected anything was amiss. Every year the team has a pizza party before the Christmas break, so he used that as a pretense for why his girls had to make sure not to miss their practice last Friday evening. He then had the girls suit up in their game uniforms, telling them they would be taking a team photo after practice for a holiday tournament in which they were entered.
"We used an adjacent dressing room to set up the Cup and we hid all the media in there, then we got them ready to hit the ice," Hickling said. "I wasn't sure what their reaction would be. At first they were just stunned. With all the extra lighting the Stanley Cup was looking just extraordinarily shiny. It took them a minute or two to realize it was the real thing."
After examining the Cup in the room, it is brought onto the ice for photos and then parked in the stands so the parents can check it out while the kids practice. Then, once practice is over, Scotiabank arranges for a room to be made available so everyone can get over an hour to examine every last detail of the historic trophy.
"Usually, when you get to take a photo with the Cup at an event like the All-Star Game, you only get a quick picture with it and a couple of seconds to find your favorite team because there's a really big lineup," Bolt said. "So this is a much more intimate experience."
For Cook's Lord Selkirk Steelers, the Cup represented a reward for the team's remarkable turnaround. Virtually the same group of players failed to win a single game when they played as 8-year-olds and 9-year-olds, and last year they went 5-3-11 as 10-year-olds. But this season, the team sat undefeated through 12 games, with a 10-0-2 record when the Stanley Cup arrived.
"It was incredible," Cook said. "It was more than I ever could have expected."
Hickling loved watching the parents interact with their kids and explain the wealth of information found on the trophy.
"Their parents were able to spend some time with it with their girls, so they could explain it and show them some of their favorite teams," he said. "I think it was a very personal experience for the players and their families."
Hickling, however, failed to deliver on one of his promises that day -- there wasn't any pizza.
"I did actually have a couple of girls mention that," he said, laughing. "But I think this made up for it."