Driving into Cole Harbour from downtown Dartmouth, it’s hard not to notice the welcome sign at the corner of Cole Harbour Road and Caldwell Road.
“Home of Sidney Crosby,” it proclaims.
Additional information isn’t required – not if you’re a Canadian, not if you’re at least a little bit knowledgeable about hockey.
Perhaps, if you live elsewhere, you might need some detail about the suburban community itself – that it had a population of 25,000-plus in the last census, and that its primary athletic facility is Cole Harbour Place, home of the Cole Harbour Minor Hockey Association.
But back to that welcoming message.
An addition was made a while back – “2018 Lieutenant Governor’s Community Spirit Award Recipient.”
That’s appropriate, too.
Cole Harbour is well noted for its community spirit, whether it’s athletic activities, schools, religion or community organizations. It’s simply a great place to live.
But now there’s a specific event to recognize, one that occurred down in Florida two Sunday nights ago.
It was about midnight in Cole Harbour. Most residences were still lit up, even though another work week was beginning in a few hours.
Horns blew in the darkened night, cheering could be heard on just about every street in Colby Village, Forest Hills, Bel Ayr and the other parts of the community.
The Stanley Cup had just been captured – by the Colorado Avalanche, a very talented team performing its closing performance far from its home in Denver, far from Cole Harbour.
The outcome of the game was important to the people around Colby Village and the other areas that feed young players into the Cole Harbour Wings program. That’s because the historic silverware was won by a club that included Nathan MacKinnon, the latest superstar from you know where.
I had a question on my mind for quite some time. But I held back until Nate lifted Lord Stanley’s gift high above his head as cameras and cellphones were aimed at the recipients.
My question: Has Cole Harbour Minor Hockey set some type of record for most Stanley Cup victories by graduates of an organization about the size of Cole Harbour?
For former Wings, the cup count is now five.
The community’s first Stanley Cup player was in 2006-07 when defenceman Joe DiPenta was with the Anaheim Ducks when they defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL finals.
Then, of course, came Sidney Crosby, hailed for several years as the greatest hockey artist on the face of this Earth. His cup-winning seasons were in 2008-09, then in back-to-back 2015-16 and 2016-17. All were with Pittsburgh during his tenure as team captain.
Now, thanks to Colorado’s conquest of the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning, it’s Nate’s time to celebrate, Nate’s time to bring the cup to where he grew up and began his outstanding career.
It’s been pretty impressive what these three have done.
And – lest we forget – it’s quite an accomplishment, too, by the people who built Cole Harbour Minor Hockey into one of the finest associations in the province. The executives, the coaches and managers, the referees and other officials, all deserve applause for making Cole Harbour’s story a fascinating one.
There are some pretty large minor hockey organizations across this hockey land of ours, but when it comes down to size, it’s difficult to make comparisons.
Across Nova Scotia alone (I may be missing something), I can’t identify another group that has had more graduates winning hockey’s most famous rings.
Taking Cole Harbour’s story a step further, you could add Cam Russell, the big rearguard who came close to drinking from the cup when the Chicago Blackhawks got to the finals in 1991-92. Cam was the first prominent player to come out of the Cole Harbour ranks, a career that saw him spend 10 years in Chicago. How far back was that? The Crosby kid hadn’t reached his fifth birthday.
As for cup winners, DiPenta was the trailblazer.
Besides playing two seasons for Boston University, he came home in 1999-2000 to play junior with the Halifax Mooseheads. That’s when we saw another star developing before our eyes.
He spent a lot of time in the American Hockey League, highlighted by his helping the Chicago Wolves win the Calder Cup in 2001-02. After a tryout with the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers, he joined the Anaheim Ducks.
In 2006-07, he appeared in 76 regular season games and 14 playoff contests, experiencing his hockey dream by being on a Stanley Cup winner. It put Cole Harbour on the hockey map.
Then it was the Kid’s turn.
Those of us around Cole Harbour hockey in the early 1990s quickly knew the name Sidney Crosby – even before he started wearing number 87. He overwhelmed us with his abilities before he stepped into a school. He was obviously a natural from birth.
No need to rehash Sid’s statistics, games played, his trophies and more trophies, his awards and more awards. Those lengthy lists are available anywhere hockey is addressed.
The three Crosby cups (with the big C on his uniform) brought accolades from all corners of the globe. He turned a whole community, a whole province, a whole country into hockey joy.
Now it’s Nate’s turn to celebrate.
The MacKinnon name is getting known across the hockey landscape, in the same fashion that the Crosby handle spread like wildfire.
No need to quote his stats, either. Anyone with a television, anyone who reads newspapers and magazines, anyone using the internet, can recite Nate’s numbers.
While talking about Cole Harbour, I must add that my favourite TV commercial continues to be the one showing two hockey pals riding a Zamboni from Cole Harbour Place to Tim Hortons for coffee.
I have one concluding comment to send to the MacKinnon household, similar to ones I sent to DiPenta and Crosby in years past.
Warmest congratulations, Nate, you’ve made us very proud.