As Sidney Crosby prepares to carry the Stanley Cup through his Nova Scotia hometown, he says in many ways a championship tour is all the sweeter the second time around.
The Pittsburgh Penguins captain is in Halifax this week overseeing his annual hockey camp and will bring the Cup to the city for a parade on Saturday, ending at the same rink where he honed his skills as a boy.
During a break Wednesday from working with excited kids at the Cole Harbour rink, Crosby reflected on a season that had its ups and downs – and a championship ring that shone all the brighter as a result.
"This time I appreciate it a little bit more," said Crosby. "I'll make sure I spend every second I possibly can with it (the Stanley Cup)."
After the previous 2009 victory tour through this hockey-crazy suburb, Crosby said he naively imagined winning seasons might be an annual affair.
Not so much.
He struggled through a concussion, time away from the game, and the Penguins endured a seven-year hiatus from hoisting hockey's greatest prize, until they raised it for the fourth time in franchise history on June 12 after beating the San Jose Sharks 3-1 in Game 6.
As team captain, Crosby is permitted to have the trophy an extra day, meaning it will have a proud place at his home on the outskirts of the city. He declined to say exactly what shenanigans are expected.
He said he intends to have friends over for a look, including several whose careers are over and may never have another opportunity to be so near it.
"The best part is being able to share it with people," he said.
The Penguins evolved into a different team after a mid-season coaching change, picking up speed, scoring more and improving puck possession when Mike Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston in mid-December.
Crosby called it the "two-team" season during Wednesday's news conference.
The captain's performance also picked up under Sullivan, along with forward Phil Kessel, who became a key post-season force on the third offensive line. The Penguins went 33-16-5 after Sullivan took over.
"Everybody was talking about … do we need to change this, do we need to change that? There's always those questions, and winning kind of answers all of those," said Crosby, when asked about the year past.
The Conn Smythe winner was out on the ice most afternoons this week, joking with the young players and offering shooting tips.
Crosby's hockey camp is in its second year and is drawing children from Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and northern Europe, say organizers. There's a lottery for the 160 girls and boys allowed in, drawn from 5,000 applicants.
Parents attending say many of the children, ages 8 to 12, have a Crosby story to tell from their workouts.
Kristin Scarcella said her daughter dropped her water bottle and Crosby bent over the boards, bum in the air, to fetch it. She's been sending the image around to some social media pals back in her hometown of Michigan.
For the NHL star, it's all part of unwinding.
"You see how excited the kids are. … There are kids from all over here. That's neat," he said.
Crosby said he's starting back on training after a short break, and is already reflecting on his role as a captain of Team Canada in this fall's World Cup in Toronto.
The tightly packed tournament will leave little room for error and winning will depend on which squad adapts the most quickly, he said.
The team is similar to the Team Canada that won gold at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
"The biggest thing in Russia is we got better as the tournament went along. A short-term event like that, it's very important. We'll have to see. We'll have to find our identity pretty quickly," he said.
"It's one-game scenarios so you need to execute pretty well."
Meanwhile, the veteran is soaking up his hometown celebration, conscious this time around that in professional sports, you don't know what the future holds.
"It's a tough road … You understand it's tough to get there, and you take in as much as you can when you do win it," he said.