COLE HARBOUR, Nova Scotia -- Sidney Crosby raised the Stanley Cup last night.
Kissed it. Plopped himself down for photos with teammates assembled around the gargantuan trophy. Flashed that big winner's smile of his.
Unlike that night in June when the Penguins beat Detroit in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final and Crosby became the youngest NHL captain to hoist the Cup, this time he was on a tennis court living out a childhood hockey fantasy with his hometown buddies.
The roller hockey game -- with Crosby in goal, not playing center -- capped off hours of celebrating with people in and around his suburban Halifax hometown on his personal day with the Cup, which also happened to be his 22nd birthday.
"It's bigger and better than I ever could have dreamed," Crosby said. "I knew there was tons of support here, but that was way more than I could have imagined."
The day was so perfect that, in an eerie and nearly unbelievable backdrop, dark skies that were brewing all around Cole Harbour didn't erupt with rain until just after the roller hockey game, which was the final public event of a jam-packed schedule that also included a helicopter ride to a Navy ship, a hospital visit with children, a parade and other interaction with fans.
And then, sappy as it might seem, a rainbow arced over the town just as Crosby was headed to a private celebration with family and friends.
Officials estimated a crowd of 65,000 for the parade and ensuing activities at Cole Harbour Place, a large sports complex where Crosby played hockey growing up.
"In terms of enthusiasm, they're all big, but in terms of people, this probably has to be the biggest," said Phil Pritchard, who as a keeper of the Cup for the Hockey Hall of Fame has attended many players' summer Cup celebrations.
Another who was impressed with the turnout was Max Talbot, who was in town to share his teammate's day.
"They're all different. They're all great," said Talbot, the two-goal hero of Game 7. "There's always a lot of people. Sid is extra special. The number of people here, it's unbelievable. It's really special to be here, to see the parade and how much this guy is loved and respected by everyone. It's amazing. And you know what? He deserves every bit of it."
Crosby met the Cup at the Halifax airport in the morning and flew with it in a Sea King helicopter to the HMCS Preserver, a Navy ship, where a throng of military personnel and their families were waiting.
"First time ever in a helicopter, and they flew me over my house where I grew up," Crosby said. "To see the reception there, that was pretty emotional and meant a lot because it's a lot of men and women who serve our country."
Then it was on to a hospital, where the children sang "Happy Birthday" and, Crosby noted, "every single one was able to get a picture with the Cup."
While that was happening, crowds were gathering along the mile-long parade route down a commercial main drag.
Businesses sported signs congratulating Crosby. Fans bought commemorative T-shirts and posters that raised money for the new Sidney Crosby Foundation.
"Everything should be finalized in the next month or so," Crosby said of the foundation.
Crosby and the Cup brought up the rear of the parade in an antique fire engine, something he requested because if hockey hadn't worked out, he considered being a firefighter.
In the back corner of the Cole Harbour Center parking lot, Crosby went on stage with the Cup to wild cheers and offered a list of thank yous. He then posed for pictures with the Cup and 87 fans who entered a drawing by buying posters.
Then it was back to the stage, where he and Talbot had a question-and-answer session with the crowd. Crosby broke the news that, because he hasn't found a house in the Pittsburgh area he's comfortable buying, he expects to remain in the Sewickley home of Penguins owner and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux for the start of his fifth NHL season.
Finally, with an estimated 5,000 remaining fans pressed against the chain-link fencing around the tennis court or watching from an adjacent hill, Crosby joined his old friends to play for the Cup. He donned athletic shoes and what he freely admitted was illegally oversized goaltending equipment and made several good saves as his team won, 7-3.
"It's great that he includes us because we had so many great memories over the years," said one of the skaters, Andrew Newton, who grew up down the street from Crosby and just graduated with an engineering degree.
"You don't know how the success is going to affect somebody, but he's just the same guy every time he comes back no matter how big he gets or how many trophies he wins. He's the same Sid. It says a lot about the type of guy he is, to do something special like this today, a daylong event for everybody. That's the type of guy he is. That's what makes him so special."
Shelly Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1721. First Published August 8, 2009 4:00 AM