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Sidney Crosby has everlasting impact on hometown

Penguins captain brings pride, Stanley Cup back to Cole Harbour

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

COLE HARBOUR, Nova Scotia -- Nearly 11 years ago, when Jay Leno asked a then 17-year-old Sidney Crosby on "The Tonight Show" where he was from, people from here would have understood and accepted had he simply answered "Halifax."

That Crosby instead responded, "Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia," still matters in this middle-class community of nearly 30,000. That the Pittsburgh Penguins captain said "Cole Harbour" changed opinions about the community and even made fellow residents change their mailing addresses.

Because of amalgamation in the Halifax region, Canada Post recognizes all of Cole Harbour's residents as living in neighboring Dartmouth. Not everyone here agrees with that.

"My mailing address is Dartmouth, N.S., but I live in Cole Harbour, so I don't write Dartmouth on mine anymore," said longtime resident Paul Mason, who coached Crosby as a peewee hockey player and helped run his hockey school this week. "I do that because of Sidney. When he first went in the NHL he kept saying he's from Cole Harbour. So I said, 'Why am I writing Dartmouth, I should be darn well writing Cole Harbour.' I think Sidney's pride in this area has brought everyone else to do the same thing. That's why there is that love for him here."

Crosby's love for Cole Harbour is as strong as the love the people have for him. It's a bond built on family values and friendships created during adolescent years that showed him the good in people, taught him about volunteerism, and gave him a sense of community and belonging.

All of that encompasses what this weekend is about for Crosby and Cole Harbour.

For the second time, Crosby has brought the Stanley Cup home, this time bringing the Conn Smythe Trophy too, a result of the Penguins' recent championship and Crosby's honor of being voted the most valuable player of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

He brought the Cup to the kids and families at his hockey school at Cole Harbour Place on Friday before taking it around the community, even stopping at the local Tim Hortons for an impromptu visit. On Saturday, there will be a parade in Crosby's honor, culminating at Cole Harbour Place, the multipurpose recreational facility where he played hockey.

Bringing the Cup home is Crosby's way of saying 'Thank you.' It's also an opportunity for the residents here to stand out above the other small-town hockey-loving communities in Canada because they -- and only they -- get to call No. 87 their own.

"It's pride," Crosby's father, Troy, said. "People take pride in saying they're from Cole Harbour. Sidney represents Cole Harbour. People are proud of that connection."

EMOTIONAL IMPACT

During the winter of 1989, when Crosby wasn't even 2 years old, Cole Harbour was in the news for all the wrong reasons. Racial tensions at Cole Harbour District High School escalated into violence on school grounds stemming from a snowball-throwing incident.

Brawls broke out and the school had to be closed as authorities worked to resolve the tension.

"It was just one incident that took on a life of its own," said longtime resident Lorelei Nicoll, a two-time elected official who represents Cole Harbour in the Halifax Regional Council. "It became a national story. We all felt the ripple of it. Those that are still feeling the pain from it still speak of it."

Nicoll, though, partially credits Crosby for helping change the national view of Cole Harbour.

When he told Leno that Cole Harbour was his hometown, it was met with a swell of pride in the community. Here was Canada's new golden boy, Cole Harbour's own, representing on national TV. That was cool.

"He knew that would put Cole Harbour in a positive light, and it certainly did," Nicoll said. "We're not dismissing the situations from the past, and there is a lot of work to do everywhere in that regard, but it's all about being inclusive and enjoying the diversity that we do have."

Mason takes it back a few steps further. He said he thinks the community's stature began to grow with Crosby's stature in hockey when he wasn't even a teenager.

He tells a story about how Crosby blew away the competition at the revered Quebec International Peewee Tournament when he was only old enough to be an atom.

"He did so representing Cole Harbour," Mason said. "In the hockey community, his name was already well out there and it was tied to this community. He genuinely likes it here, and everyone knows that, and that's why everyone is so proud of him."

TANGIBLE IMPACT

Mason sees the impact Crosby has made in this community and the region every day in his dual role as a coach and leader in the Cole Harbour Bel Ayr Minor Hockey Association and as principal of Ross Road School in neighboring Westphal.

"We have a little shop here [in Cole Harbour Place], my wife and I are partners with the Crosbys, and we see the Cole Harbour kids coming in, so we know firsthand how many kids come in and what they're buying," Mason said. "I see it in the school too. Why would so many kids wear Pittsburgh Penguins jerseys in Cole Harbour? That's where you see that impact."

Jon Greenwood, a Cole Harbour native and assistant coach of the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, suggested teams like the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins previously dominated the region.

"Now I'd be shocked if you asked 100 kids from Cole Harbour to name their favorite team if 95 didn't say the Pittsburgh Penguins," Greenwood said.

"I know people here almost took it personally when people questioned whether he was done or if he still had good years ahead of him. Anybody that asked those questions to someone in Cole Harbour and they'd be furious because he means so much."

Crosby fuels his impact and his popularity here by attempting to be one of the faces in the crowd instead of the most recognizable person in the community.

"It wouldn't be uncommon for him to stop his truck and play ground hockey with kids if they're playing, just spontaneously," Crosby's mother, Trina, said.  

"He's an old soul in that way," Troy Crosby said.

Crosby's impact is also impossible to ignore at his 2-year-old hockey school. About 100 people worked the school this week as unpaid volunteers who have some tie to Crosby, his family or the minor hockey association.

Watch Sidney Crosby reflect on Cole Harbour on YouTube

Even Cole Harbour native and Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon, who grew up idolizing Crosby before he matched him by becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, was on the ice here for two days.

Crosby was on the ice every day, teaching and taping sticks, signing autographs and fixing equipment. People from as far as the United Kingdom and Australia were blown away by how accommodating he was with his time and how he seamlessly fit in with the rest of the volunteers.

"He's just another guy working the camp when he walks into the rink," Greenwood said. "Yeah, he's more in demand. He has to go do his signings and meet and greet, but it really is cool to see him just walk around and interact with the other people here volunteering for the camp. He wants to be treated just like us, and I think that's awesome."

Doing humble work like this, giving back, impacting the local youth, comes from Crosby's upbringing.

"He grew up around volunteers," Troy Crosby said. "His coaches were volunteers. The managers were volunteers. If we had a fundraising event, it would be all volunteers. The parents of his friends too, we did the same thing and we all kept together. He grew up around that environment."

Nicoll found the irony between the hockey school and its venue.

"We're in Cole Harbour Place, which was built by volunteers," Nicoll said. "How can you not be humble when you see other people wanting the best for you so much so that they gave up their time and energy to make it happen? That's in essence what Cole Harbour is."

That's part of what makes it home for Crosby. In turn, he's part of what makes calling Cole Harbour home special to the people here.

"I was at the NHL Draft last month and I met other junior coaches from all over North America, and they say, 'You're in Halifax, but where are you from?'" Greenwood said. "'I'm from Cole Harbour,' I said. Nobody asked where it is. Everybody already knows. Maybe I would have been the guy who said Halifax 10 or 15 years ago, but now I'm proud to say Cole Harbour." 

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