After 112 years of existence one might think the Stanley Cup has precious few opportunities left to be a part of history – let alone be taken to a region of Canada that has not yet been graced by the regal trophy.
But in December thanks to the Hockey Hall of Fame and Hockey Canada's Western Centre of Excellence, the Stanley Cup was once again part of an historical event, this time in Canada's sparsely populated frozen north.
Over a century after being donated by Lord Stanley of Preston – during which time it has seen nearly every corner of every province in Canada – hockey's Holy Grail found itself inside the Arctic Circle for the very first time serving as the centrepiece of a WCOE-run travelling hockey clinic.
The 5-day trip into the Northwest Territories and Nunavut began December 18th in Yellowknife and ended with a return to the city December 23rd after having been to a number of very small and remote arctic communities.
The significance of bringing the Stanley Cup to places such as Norman Wells and Cape Dorset cannot be overstated according to the vice-president of Hockey Iqaluit John Thomas.
"Most in the south probably don't realize how big a role hockey plays in northern communities," Thomas said via e-mail, "The biggest impact for many Inuit would have been to actually see and touch the Cup; bringing the reality of the Cup and what it means to them really hit home. Bringing the Cup into such small arctic communities was actually an emotional experience for most people as they could hardly believe it was actually there in their hometown. I heard many stories of people crying and in total disbelief of the whole experience."
The impact of their visit was not lost on WCOE manager Marty Savoy. In fact, according to him it would have been hard not to notice.
"There's no mistaking who the star of the show was: the Stanley Cup. But the one night in Taloyoak it was unbelievable. We walked in and we were basically like movie stars. One kid said he thought he was going to die he was so happy to see the Stanley Cup."
While the WCOE makes an annual winter trip into northern Canada to run a series of hockey clinics, this year was the first partnership with the HHOF – the keepers of the Cup.
And although previous years' clinics have been quite popular, being able to see such a revered trophy in some of the more isolated arctic communities brought the people out in droves and made the hockey camps that much more memorable.
"It's like one RCMP officer told me," said Savoy, "‘Marty, you gotta realize you hold a camp in Calgary and maybe the kid remembers it for a year. Up here they remember it for life. Ten years from now those kids are still going to have the jerseys we gave them."
Following a formula of displaying the Cup in the airport or community hall before taking it on the ice after clinics, Phil Pritchard – the trophy's handler from the HHOF – and the WCOE instructors visited 9 different communities in 5 days, also visiting elementary and high schools when the situation permitted.
From Hay River to Iqaluit to Q'kiqtarjuaq the Stanley Cup was seen by roughly 13,000 people, travelled approximately 15,000 kilometres, went for a dog sled ride and visited one youth correctional centre.
It was in places such as the correctional centre and poverty- and tragedy-stricken Cape Dorset that the power of the Cup's popularity could be seen so starkly. At the youth centre, anticipation of the Cup's visit was such that through good behaviour nearly all of the young people warranted the privilege of seeing the trophy. In Cape Dorset it wasn't just the residents who were excited to see the Stanley Cup. The RCMP were especially happy to see the Cup's arrival. As Thomas said, having a hand in it being there meant gaining some goodwill within the community.
"Hockey Nunavut and the RCMP, who graciously donated their aircraft to fly the Cup into many of the Nunavut communities, were able to use this opportunity to build further bridges between the RCMP and the communities they serve," he said.
There were many other reminders of the Cup's drawing power too. From the spiritual Inuit holiday ceremony in Taloyoak to being met by RCMP officers in full ceremonial dress in Cambridge Bay, the allure the Stanley Cup still has for many Canadians was obvious to those escorting the trophy.
"The thing about the Cup," said Savoy, "is that it doesn't matter where you take it, people turn into little kids. It's amazing."
Because of such reactions to the Cup and the positive attention it garnered for the WCOE's development clinics, there has been some discussion of future Cup tours going hand in hand with hockey clinics. Right now the only sure thing though, is that in December history was made with the Stanley Cup one more time.
From being punted into the Rideau Canal for an overnight stay in 1905 to having a child christened in its bowl in 1996, the Stanley Cup has seen its share of unique moments. Resting on frozen tundra with an arctic sunset as a backdrop, though, ranks among the more rare moments in the Cup's history.
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