Best day ever

SOME SECRETS ARE really hard to keep. I asked the National Hockey League if I could have the Stanley Cup for a day; the league said yes, so long as I didn't tell anybody. You have to understand: I live in a small Canadian town called Port Hope, about an hour east of Toronto. For us up here, the Stanley Cup is close to a religious artifact; it might be the one inanimate object that every single Canadian could recognize instantly, even though we don't win it anymore.

Victorious players each get the Cup for a day, one of the countless reasons it's the best trophy in sports. They've taken it to the tops of mountains and on the backs of their motorcycles; they've eaten popcorn and Froot Loops out of it; they've christened their babies in it. (The 1994 Rangers did something so unspeakable to it -- literally, no one will say what they did -- that the rules changed. Midnight curfew, for starters.) Now I was going to walk up to people with it, with all that ghostly history, totally unannounced. Just the idea made me sleepless.

Mike Bolt, one of four Keepers of the Cup, called when he was 10 minutes away. I ran around flapping my hands. When he arrived, I made him hug me. The 43-year-old Toronto native has been watching people turn into puddles for 12 years, and now he was smiling again. "Seeing that happiness never gets old for me," says Bolt, who logs 250 days each year with the Cup. "It's amazing, really, the power of this trophy."

He opened the black traveling case in the back of his SUV. There it was, 35 pounds of shining silver. My honest reaction: hysterical laughter. Since I was a boy, I've watched that trophy being hoisted into the air by giants. Now it was on my front step. I sat beside it and laughed until my eyes filled with water. Just then, the neighbors had two guys pull up to open their pool. I will never forget the size of the smiles on their faces. The mailman came around and refused to believe it was the real thing. "You'll get that a lot today," Bolt said. "Where do you want to go first?"

I decided on Port Hope High School. There's a teacher, Shane, who volunteers so much for kids and sports in our town. His class was in the gym, where he was playing floor hockey with the kids. Sticks clattered to the floor. Shane wiped away tears. He had no doubt. It was such a perfect moment. Word traveled fast. Within minutes, classrooms had emptied, and the gym had filled. I was worried about the Cup's safety, but Bolt wasn't. "They know what it means," he said, and he was right. The kids treated it like glass.

It was that way everywhere we went, a mix of reverence and pure joy. Usually Bolt stood back, or off to the side, and at first I wondered why he didn't want to be in the middle of all this. Eventually I understood that he was the keeper of himself as well as the Cup. For so many people, the Stanley Cup is more than a trophy. It's a symbol, the antidote to everything bad, and seeing those moments of escape, of release, up close ... It's draining to spend four hours with a lump in your throat.

Last, we took it to the elementary school, Ganaraska Trail. Actually, last we took it for a doughnut at Tim Horton's. But right before the best doughnut ever, we took it to the elementary school. We put the Cup on its case, and we wheeled it through the halls. Kids and teachers caught sight of it through open doors, and soon we were surrounded by screaming kids. Yet even they parted in front of us, awestruck, touching the Cup only when it passed by, hundreds of little hands reaching out.

There was one girl, maybe 9 or 10. Her hands were at her mouth, and she was crying so hard. I told her she should touch the Cup -- she should touch the same trophy that Patrick Roy and Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby had touched, the same trophy that some new blessed few would soon be raising above their heads and taking home.

Finally, she took a breath and reached out her trembling hand, and she pressed it flat against the Cup's shoulder. Her whole body lifted, as though she weren't governed by gravity anymore. Her feet were off the ground, and her tears floated off her face and danced in the air around her. I would swear that the Stanley Cup made that girl weightless. I will die believing that in that moment, she couldn't feel a thing.

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