Power of the Cup

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

ST. ANDREWS -- It's probably the first time a pink octopus has hung above centre ice at the St. Andrews Arena. Maybe any arena, for that matter.

That was just one of the many Detroit touches put on the old rink for Darren Helm Day yesterday, as thousands of people lined up for hours to get a chance to meet the Red Wings forward and his special guest, Stanley.

While throwing octopi is a hockey tradition exclusive to the Motor City, throwing a 24-hour party with the Cup is a tradition practised from coast to coast, and Helm's day with the silver chalice was well underway when we caught up with him.

Surrounded by red-and-white balloons and with the arena scoreboard showing 43s behind him -- his number with the Red Wings -- Helm seemed in awe of the hoopla around him.

"It's unbelievable," he said. "It's great the community comes out here and shows their support. How the Cup attracts people is unbelievable. We were a little bit worried that not many would come out."

It looked like the whole municipality turned out, as every infant, toddler, teenager and grandparent seemed to be in line, waiting for their hero to sign hats, shirts, pennants, photos, even their foreheads.

They put their babies into the Cup, planted their lips on it and put their arms around it.

One family came awfully close to shedding a tear or two in it.

Jimmie Skinner and his sister, Karen, came to see the trophy their dad, Jimmie Sr., won as coach of the Red Wings back in '55.

Back then, players and coaches didn't get the Cup for a day, and their dad didn't live long enough to get the chance.

"They were starting to give the Cup to the older players who never got it," Jimmie, Jr., said. "I don't know why, but they never got around to my dad. He was 90 years old. You figure he would have been first on the list."

Yesterday, a year almost to the day after Skinner's death, organizers made sure his family was first in line to meet Helm and touch the trophy that bears their dad's name.

"It's something I had to do for myself," daughter Karen said. "It's very emotional."

Old man Skinner would have been pleased to see someone like Helm bringing the Cup home. Sounds like the two were cut from similar cloth: quiet, humble and hardworking as a Red River Settler.

Helm certainly worked hard to get the Cup to as many places as he could.

His day began around 9 a.m., when he brought it home and had breakfast -- right in it.

"He and his cousin were eating Fruit Loops out of the Cup," Helm's dad, Gary, was saying. "Right on the deck. It was awesome."

Fruit Loops, the breakfast of champions. Who knew?

"I'm not much of a cereal eating guy," Helm explained. "But I definitely wanted to try it out. You've got to have as much stuff out of the Cup as you can."

After breakfast, he took it on a tour to the sporting goods store, the golf course, the local car dealer, even Harry's Foods.

The people who work at or own those establishments helped the skinny kid who could skate like the wind turn into an NHLer.

Consider the debt repaid.

Helm injected life into the entire community yesterday. When a small-town kid grows up and makes the big time, others wonder, "If he can do it, why can't I?"

"Knowing he's from St. Andrews, he gives the dream to everyone else," arena manager Darren Zembik said.

Zembik organized yesterday's event, even getting a limo for Helm and Stanley to tool around in.

Around dinner time, the festivities were to return to the Helm home, where 150 family members were expected, and where we assume the Fruit Loops were replaced by spirits.

At first, Helm's dad, Gary, disagreed, saying his clan was rather tame for that sort of thing.

Then his son reminded him.

"Dad," Darren Helm said. "You wouldn't believe the power of the Cup."


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