TORONTO—Tom Wilson and the Stanley Cup made a number of stops on their tour of Toronto on Sunday, but there was never any doubting where the rugged Caps winger would take the trophy first.
The first stop, of course, was North Toronto Memorial Arena, the rink where it all started.
Just arrived at North Toronto Arena, where @tom_wilso will be honored today. A Tom Wilson poster hangs on the wall with the words, “Brought it home.” Eric Lindros is also on the wall. #Caps pic.twitter.com/hf8I71g8UP— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) August 5, 2018
Wilson, who learned to play and love the game here as a 5-year-old, entered the charming old building to a standing ovation from the program’s current players, friends, family—including three generations of Wilsons—as well as a handful of former coaches and players.
Tom Wilson just received a hero’s welcome home at North Toronto Arena, where he played his youth hockey. All of the rink’s teams are here and will get photos with Wilson and the Stanley Cup. #Caps pic.twitter.com/G9PhWR1W9q— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) August 5, 2018
For the Caps’ toughest player, it was just the beginning of an occasionally emotional day in his hometown.
Over the next three-plus hours, Wilson mingled, reconnected, posed for pictures with each of the youth teams, took a lap in the stands with the Cup and conducted an unintentionally hilarious Q & A with the youth players.
Before he started fielding questions, Wilson jokingly requested that the kids only ask softballs. The second kid who stepped to the mic musta missed the memo...much to the delight of everyone in the building.
“Why do you like fighting?” a boy asked Wilson, who had 13 fights last year, the second highest total in the NHL.
Wilson was ready with a quick answer.
“Just so everyone knows, I don’t think I got into one fight when I played for North Toronto,” he cracked. “Keep the gloves on. Play hockey. …You know what, I’ve just always been big on sticking up for my teammates. It’s part of the game still. It’s a five minute penalty and sometimes you gotta do it.”
Wilson also acknowledged that, as a youngster, he owned a black and gold Alex Ovechkin jersey and was a big fan of No. 8. While not exactly breaking news, it was something I hadn’t heard before.
Hundreds of kids attended, but just one was a special guest of Wilson’s: Brock from The Hospital for Sick Children, who overcame significant health issues thanks to the treatment he received at the world-renowned medical center. Sunday’s event benefitted the hospital’s SickKids Foundation.
Tom Wilson got a new jersey from his old club, met Toronto’s mayor, helped Brock from @sickkids hoist the Cup and thanked the North Toronto community for supporting him on his journey. #Caps pic.twitter.com/YmYTqYbF0z— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) August 5, 2018
Midway through the program, Toronto Mayor John Tory stopped by to congratulate Wilson. Tory also played his youth hockey at North Toronto Arena. After thanking Wilson for bringing the Cup home and partnering with the hospital for the event, Tory had some jokes.
“Did you actually play in this arena?” Tory asked Wilson, who nodded. “Well, I want you to know, so did I, which is why I’ve got the North Toronto jersey on. The only thing is, my career went terribly wrong somewhere and I ended up as the mayor of Toronto and you ended up on the Stanley Cup champions. So congratulations to you.”
Geoff Campbell, one of Wilson’s first coaches, said he’s never been surprised by the success Wilson has enjoyed as he’s moved up the ranks from AA to AA to junior to the NHL and now to world champion. That insatiable drive to be the best, according to Campbell, came built-in.
“When I watch him play now, he was the exact same way when he was younger.” — Geoff Campbell, one of Tom Wilson’s first hockey coaches. Earlier today, Wilson took the Stanley Cup to his childhood rink and shared with it with former coaches and teammates. #Caps pic.twitter.com/TmUJLQRvox— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) August 5, 2018
Wilson said the most humbling part of his day at NT Arena was seeing his poster on the wall, right next to the one honoring Hall of Famer Eric Lindros, who also grew up playing at the single-sheet facility.
Pete Wilson, Tom’s older brother, said he got choked up a couple of times watching Sunday’s event unfold just a few blocks from the family home.
“Seeing that banner up there, and seeing the community come out and support this event and support SickKids, it’s just so surreal,” he said. “I found myself getting choked up a couple of times because this was such a staple in our lives. I mean, we were here ALL the time. All three kids came through here. My dad coached here. My mom even coached here way back.”
As hectic as the day was at times, Tom Wilson did get a little alone time with the Cup, which he spent asking questions about its storied history.
Although players spend most of their day with the Stanley Cup sharing it, they do enjoy some quiet time with the trophy, too. Here’s Tom getting a little history lesson. (BTW, that’s his first hockey jersey in the background.) #Caps pic.twitter.com/l22bvLC93M— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) August 5, 2018
After the celebration at North Toronto Arena, Wilson took the Cup down to the scenic Ontario Place marina, where he posed for the day’s most memorable photo.
Of all the pics @tom_wilso has posed for today, this one is my fav...on the pier at the Ontario Place marina with the CN Tower in the background. (Pretty sweet t-shirt Tom is sporting, too.) #Caps pic.twitter.com/nb1F0VM0hM— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) August 5, 2018
Wilson’s unforgettable day didn’t end on the pier. But that photo did signal the end of what Wilson wanted to share with reporters.
Winning the championship marked the realization of a childhood dream, and now it was time for some private time with family and his closest friends, many of whom also donned white t-shirts emblazoned with, “We did it!”
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