Hundreds of Little NHLers were feeling like big leaguers earlier this week when the Stanley Cup came to visit them.
The Little NHL is an annual March Break tournament for young native hockey players in Ontario. This year it took place at the Iceland arena complex in Mississauga, and event sponsor Scotiabank brought a special guest along for the first day of the competition.
“I haven’t seen the Stanley Cup before,” said Vaughn Montour, a peewee goalie from the Six Nations reserve near Brantford. “I got to take a picture with my team. It’s pretty awesome.”
“It’s pretty cool,” said Shawnee Bomberry, another Six Nations resident who was there to cheer on family members.
“I’ve been coming to Little NHL for a couple of years now, and to be able to touch the Stanley Cup is pretty great.”
Bomberry didn’t just touch it – she was even allowed to place her one-month-old daughter Charlie in the bowl of the hallowed silver chalice. Charlie yawned, blissfully unaware of the significance of the moment.
But everybody else knew what they were seeing. There was a huge lineup before the doors were opened to the public, and a steady stream of people continued all afternoon.
They waited patiently to have a couple of precious moments with the Cup, posing for photographs to preserve the memories while two uniformed native police officers stood guard.
“This is my second time,” said Crystal Jones, who’s from Garden River, near Sault Ste. Marie. She saw it for the first time last August when a fellow band member brought it home for a visit that included a community parade.
“Jordan Nolan just won it with the (Los Angeles) Kings so it’s nice to see it again.”
Lee Walker is the national director of aboriginal financial services for event sponsor Scotiabank. She says the Cup’s visit was organized as part of the bank’s Bright Future Program, a philanthropic initiative that responds to community needs at the grassroots level.
“We do this for a lot of communities, and it just worked out that we were doing it for this tournament,” Walker said. “We know the importance of the Stanley Cup and just how much Canadian families love the sport.”
This year’s 42nd annual Little NHL tournament was the largest ever, attracting 154 teams from across Ontario. It’s reasonable to assume that most of the players on those teams have visions of not only seeing the Cup again someday, but of hoisting it and bringing it home – just like Jordan Nolan of Garden River.
“You ask any of these little kids,” said Mike Bolt, a Keeper of the Cup who works for the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. “The second you put on a pair of skates, you kind of start dreaming about this thing.
“I was no different as a kid growing up; I wanted to win it like anybody else. It’s part of our history. It’s hard to put into words exactly what it means to this country. It means something to everybody around the world, but it’s truly special here in Canada.”