Message of hope

PAUL FRIESEN

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

WINKLER -- They came from nearby farms, small towns and the big city, from just down the street to half a day's drive away.

They came carrying lawn chairs and packing cameras and sun screen, waiting in line for as long as six hours, much of it in 30 C heat.

They came to see it, to touch it and, in the case of 45-year-old Carl Monson, to actually hold it.

Paralyzed from the waist down since falling from a tree eight years ago, Monson packed his wheelchair and his 12-year-old son, Zack, into his specially-equipped pickup and made the three-hour drive to Winkler from Bottineau, N.D., just to get close to the Stanley Cup.

Why?

Because he and his son used to watch Dustin Penner play hockey in Bottineau. And now that Penner is a Stanley Cup champion, they feel a part of it.

So you can imagine how Monson felt when he wrapped his arms around the most famous trophy in sports.

"I got a hold of the Stanley Cup," Monson said, as if he had to say it to believe it. "I'd love to be able to have the body strength to lift it up. But I'm a T-3 paraplegic... I have no stomach muscles. It's just an amazing feeling to be part of it, let alone touch it. Dustin coming from our home town, it's really special."

HOLDING THE CUP HIGH

That's the way it seemed to be for all 2,500 or so who packed the sweat-drenched arena where Penner got his start. No matter where they were from, that was their boy holding the Cup high above his head. And if he could do it, what else might be possible?

By now you may have heard Penner's story, how he was cut three times by the local junior team, the Flyers. How he wasn't good enough for other junior teams or the AAA Midget League, either.

How he settled for a small college at Bottineau, until a scout from the University of Maine saw something nobody else did, and how that turned into a contract with the NHL's Anaheim Ducks, a 29-goal rookie season and pro hockey's ultimate prize.

PROUD MOMENT

The story was inspirational enough for a woman from the Boissevain area to drive her 12-year-old son, stricken with leukemia, to Winkler to meet Penner and touch the Cup yesterday.

It was enough for what seemed like half the city of Winkler to show up despite the heat.

"Everyone I talked to is here," Val Harder said, her three- and five-year-old sons in tow. A Grade-8 teacher, Harder lives on the same street, Willow Drive, as the Penner family. "It's a very proud moment for Winkler."

The way the Harders remember it, young Dustin wasn't that great a skater at one time. If someone back then had suggested he'd make the NHL, guess what they would have said.

"That's a nice dream," Val's husband, Chad, piped in. "It gives all kids hope that if you want something bad enough and work hard enough, you can do it."

Rick Wolfe, a Winkler cop the last eight years, says kids grab hold of that concept like it's their first hockey stick.

"Kids have been talking to me, saying, 'I'm going to keep trying.' The perseverance is what everybody picks up on," Wolfe said.

Persevering longer than anybody yesterday were Carol Jones and her husband, of nearby Morden. Along with their niece and nephew, they were the first to get in line, arriving at 7:45 a.m. -- a full six hours before the star of the show hit the stage.

The coolest thing about the Cup, according to Jones' 10-year-old nephew, Thomas?

"That you can get all the way to the finals, and you win it," he said.

And if you keep on going, never quit when things get tough, you can come all the way from death's door to hold the thing in your arms.

"I should have died," Monson said from his wheelchair, thinking back to his accident. "But I had two young kids to live for. I'm still working. I still chase the kids around and go to hockey games."

Yesterday, it was all about the chase, too. The chase for the Cup.

Whether it's a just a crazy dream, or three hours down the road.


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