It was a very Canadian homecoming for a very all-Canadian hero.
Flying first in a Sea King helicopter into the Halifax Dockyard, Sidney Crosby dropped in on his hometown Friday to take the Stanley Cup on a tour of the community where he grew up.
The military helicopter landed Friday morning on the flight deck of HMCS Preserver. But first, the aircraft circled the city's harbour with the Stanley Cup sitting in the open chopper door.
Mr. Crosby, who was celebrating his 22nd birthday, 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."
Hundreds of military members and their families, some decked out in Penguins jerseys, were at the wharf to greet Mr. Crosby in the morning, along with Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Rear Admiral Paul Maddison.
A parade, led by grandmothers Nanny Crosby and Nanny Forbes in a sports car, ended at Cole Harbour Place, the community centre where Mr. Crosby used to play.
Although the youngest captain of a cup-winning team, Mr. Crosby exhibits the maturity and graciousness of Gordie Howe - a role model and genuinely nice guy.
The Pittsburgh Penguins captain told the thousands of fans gathered at Cole Harbour Place to always keep their dreams alive "because the proof is right here."
Angela Abou-Hamad, 18, said: "I'm really proud of him bringing the cup back to Cole Harbour as it's close to home and it's really exciting he's from Nova Scotia. Besides, he's really good looking and I want him to marry my friend Tiffany."
"A hockey player; that's all he wanted to be when he was hacking up that dryer," said Nanny Kay Forbes. Mr. Crosby started playing hockey when he was just 21/2, later practising shots in his parents' basement on a net placed beside the clothes dryer.
The dryer was on display Friday - full of dents where pucks thwacked against it while Mr. Crosby aimed to get the them through its door. Three other dryers suffered the same fate from fans in a shootout area.
"It's great to have the other person from Cole Harbour recognized," said Julian (actor John Paul Tremblay) of the Trailer Park Boys, there without his trademark rum and Coke, "because there's kids around."
Later, Mr. Crosby presented local minor hockey teams with a version of the cup, and he and teammate Maxime Talbot answered questions from fans. The two then headed to a back field to play a pickup game.
Dave Emin, one of more than 200 volunteers who helped organize the event, said it was all about community.
"It's nice for kids to have heroes, especially when they're such positive role models, not only to kids in Cole Harbour, but all over Canada. He's genuine and nice and has a super family."
People came from all over: Cape Breton's Eskasoni First Nation, Prince Edward Island and Labrador, carting folding chairs and playing cards. Pauline Perron drove six hours from Tide Head, N.B., just to see Mr. Crosby. "He's just a guy from the Maritimes."
Organizers expected around 40,000 people, but later estimates ranged up to 80,000. One of them was Amber Levy from Red Deer, Alta., who said: "It's amazing, he's not going to Toronto, he's not going to Halifax, he came here."
No small slight to the big cities, one elderly gentleman summed up a generation or two of hockey fans: "It's about damn time that cup was on Canadian soil."
With a report from The Canadian Press