Although the schedule for fan photo opportunities was slated to take place from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday evening, fans eager for their chance to see the Stanley Cup began congregating outside the Yellowhead Centre as early as mid-afternoon, and by the time the doors opened, lineups several persons wide snaked from the stage area all the way through the sports complex, continuing outside across the parking lot to the west and a block south down Mountain Avenue, where approximately 1500 fans, most local residents, waited patiently in the hot afternoon sun for their turn to meet Shane and the Cup.
Retired local teacher Elizabeth Sneesby, who taught Shane Hnidy in grade 2 elementary class at Neepawa's Hazel M. Kellington School, and who has been following his career over the years, was the very first person given the opportunity to have her photo taken with Shane and the Cup before the doors opened to the public, greeting him with a big hug under the spotlight of an ensemble of media and television camera crews.
"It was really great to see him again," she remarked afterwards, "I've been an NHL fan all my life, and it's been great to see all his accomplishments, and I'm very proud of him."
Together with her family, nine-year-old Brooklyn Chartrand waited three-and-a half hours in line, but was rewarded in being the first to see the Cup, and appeared almost awestruck by the experience. Local resident Kim Smith, whose children are enrolled in soccer programs, didn't let her family miss out on the photo opportunity either.
"It's pretty exciting," she said immediately following her family's visit to the stage, "I've been watching hockey since ...I don't know – forever! I think it's great to see the Stanley Cup come to Neepawa – for all those kids playing hockey, it's a good motivator, and even for kids like mine, who don't play hockey, it shows them that they can excel at any sport, even if they are from a small town. It was worth the two-and-a-half-hour wait!"
Having waited in line for two hours, 13-year-old Carberry resident Jon Davison also considered the payoff worth the patience, remarking after his turn, "I think it's pretty awesome – sort of a once in a lifetime opportunity." Another person was overheard saying "I didn't think it would be such a rush – it was certainly worth waiting three hours for!"
Neepawa resident Dave Kasprick, a few years shy of Shane in age, remarked after his family had their photo taken with Shane and the Cup, "It's pretty exciting, especially for Dawson (his three-year-old son) – I remember playing free ice and roller hockey with him (Hnidy) in the Yellowhead years ago; compared to the rest of us, he certainly stood out, that's for sure."
Winnipeg resident Kelly Armstrong, whose wife Jenna was raised in McCreary, after mounting his eight-week-old son Thomas atop the Cup for photos, exclaimed "I've waited 20 years for Boston to win, and it's good to see the Cup as well in the same year, and it was a good experience with the new baby – it was awesome to touch the Cup."
After accommodating fan photo opportunities for the more than three hour duration required until the very last person in line had taken their turn with the Cup, Shane Hnidy, with seemingly inexhaustible stamina, then entertained crowds by showcasing the Stanley Cup at the Yellowhead hosted Stanley Cup Social, which continued until 1 a.m. Friday morning.
Yellowhead Centre director of operations Ann Kuharski couldn't have been more pleased at the turnout for the Yellowhead fund-raising social.
"It couldn't have gone better - Shane was carrying the Cup from table to table – a perfect night, and the crowd was great!"
All things aside, there can be no doubt that the Stanley Cup homecoming celebration in Neepawa will serve as an inspiration to many others in the community, living proof that with the input of hard work, determination, and perseverance, even the greatest of achievements are possible.
That said, the Neepawa Press would like to congratulate Stanley Cup champion Shane Hnidy on his landmark accomplishment, and thank him for bringing the Cup home to Neepawa.