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The staff at HOPE for Animals was expecting a crowd of around 300 people Tuesday night to see the Stanley Cup. When they finished off record day inside the 1333 Maycrest Dr. spay and neutering clinic at 4:30 p.m., an hour before the event was supposed to start, there were already that many people standing in line outside.
An estimated 2,000 people showed up in what turned out to be a summer hockey festival. For a little numerical aspect, there were probably more than 300 people present wearing full hockey sweaters while standing around in 90-degree heat.
``I love the fact that Fort Wayne has shown their passion for hockey with this turnout,'' said former Komets player and coach Robbie Laird who earned part of a day with the cup as a senior scout with the National Hockey League-champion Los Angeles Kings. He decided to share it with a public event at his wife Madeleine's place of business.
We often wrongly deify sports figures and it's somewhat sacrilegious to talk about the cup as ``The Holy Grail'' of sports, but that's the way people react to the trophy. As the Stanley Cup was being driven onto the property, the attendance was quiet and respectful like a memorial service except all the participants were happy. Everyone was dressed up in their hockey jerseys and Komets T-shirts and baseball caps and they chatted in line with each other like they had something in common with the focus of the meeting.
By the end of the two-hour event, they all did.
Everyone treated the event with dignity. When it was announced the flight carrying the cup from Detroit was delayed for a half hour, there were only a few disappointed groans. Thanks to a police escort, much of the lost time was made up, and most people were quiet in anticipation as Hockey Hall of Fame Keeper of the Cup Mike Bolt prepared the trophy so Laird could lift it out of the back of the SUV.
As Laird lifted, there were more cameras focused on him than there had been on Usain Bolt earlier in the week. Everyone in Fort Wayne got closer to the cup than they ever dreamed, much closer than those looking on in London got to Bolt. Even the cheering was respectful.
The Lairds were shocked at the turnout, but Komets General Manager David Franke wonders if the team might be able to do something like this every three years or so. It's a relaxed atmosphere to talk to current and former players and about the upcoming season. If the attendance is only half of those who showed up Tuesday it would be a huge success and a lot of fun.
Because of a tight schedule of other private events in Fort Wayne, there was a limited opportunity for a personal picture with the cup. There were 300 tickets (sold for a $5 donation to the clinic) handed out for reserved spots, but only about 200 were able to make it in front of the official camera. Though an announcement was made that it was doubtful they'd get a chance, probably another 100 people remained in line and signed the forms in case something changed.
Many people used cell phones and their own cameras to take excellent pictures from the sides of the tent where the cup was resting. The pictures will all show up on Facebook, in wedding invitations, on Christmas cards and in family scrapbooks. Everyone was just delighted with the opportunity.
``He'll appreciate this one day,'' said a father as he tried to get a tired 1-year-old boy in his arms to smile.
When the final chances had run out and the trophy needed to move to another location, approximately 30 people remained in line. As they gathered for a group picture with the icon of sports trophies, no one complained, probably because they all knew they'd probably never again get this close to the Stanley Cup.
For everyone left, it was still an incomparable memory to end a once-in-a-lifetime evening.