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Friday, April 17, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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To Canadians, Stanley Cup Is Holy Grail -- Childhood Promise To Grandpa Inspires Red Wings' Mccrimmon

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

DETROIT - Angus James McCrimmon never took on a job around his sprawling Saskatchewan farm without his constant tag-along partner.

They fixed fences together and put in posts. They baled hay and spent hours driving around checking cattle and crops, mostly wheat. They talked a lot; often the subject was the game that is a way of life for many Canadians.

"Grandpa," the boy would say, "when I grow up, I'm going to be a hockey player, and I'm going to play in the NHL."

"Sure, Chick," Gus McCrimmon responded.

"And I'm gonna win the Stanley Cup, too."

"Sure, Chick," Grandpa said, hearing the boy's dream, encouraging it, but not taking him too seriously. After all, isn't this the fantasy of every Canadian kid who has laced on a pair of skates? The boy's father once dreamed the same dream, Gus McCrimmon knew.

"When I do," the boy promised, "I'm going to bring the Cup home here so you can see it, so everybody can see it."

And darned if Brad McCrimmon didn't do it.

Brought the Stanley Cup home to Plenty, Saskatchewan, much the same way his Detroit Red Wings teammates want to bring it to Joe Louis Arena this season.

"I never paid too much attention to him, and I'm sure his grandpa didn't either," Byron McCrimmon, Gus' son and Brad's father, said this week. "They were just dreams. But, hey, that's how we get by in this world."

Like American boys growing up playing on the sand lots, dreaming of hitting the home run in the bottom of the ninth to win Game 7 of the World Series, Canadian boys on ponds, rivers or rinks envision themselves scoring the decisive goal in overtime of Game 7 to win the Stanley Cup.

"It's basically like that all across Canada," Brad McCrimmon said. "In French Canada, it's religion. It was the dream you had if you're a Canadian."

Tomorrow night, the dream gets closer for McCrimmon, now with the Red Wings, and his 26 teammates - 20 Canadians, three Russians, two Americans and a Swede - when the Red Wings begin the playoff quest vs. Minnesota.

McCrimmon and fellow Red Wing Brian MacLellan were teammates when the Calgary Flames won in 1988, beating Montreal.

Their current teammates can only imagine how it must have felt. Utter joy? Indescribable happiness? Immense satisfaction?

"Relief," Brad McCrimmon said. "That's what I felt. That was the third try. I'd been pretty close a couple of times."

That was when he played in Philadelphia, when Coach Mike Keenan's Flyers went to the finals twice, once losing in seven games to Edmonton.

MacLellan hadn't been that close before and hasn't since. But more than the jubilation of winning the Cup, he remembers what it took for his Stanley Cup dream to come true.

"It was so tiring," he said. "It seemed like such a long road to get there. There was so much pressure and so many games. You enjoy winning it, but not as much as you think you would, at least right away. Later in the summer, that's when it hits you."

Winning the Cup was easy compared to getting the NHL to release it for a brief visit to Saskatchewan in the summer of '88, so McCrimmon could uphold the last part of his promise.

"Oh, he had a terrible fight to do it," Byron McCrimmon said. "I don't think they ever intended to let it go. But he kept persisting, even after they canceled it on him a couple of times. I think they figured the only way they'd get rid of him was to send it out to him."

And soon, the Stanley Cup was shipped from the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto to Saskatoon.

"It was in a big, wooden crate, all padded with felt on the inside, like it was jewels or something," said his wife, Maureen. "We just threw it in the back of the truck and drove home with it."

Home is about 100 miles from Saskatoon.

"Brad kept looking through his rear-view mirror to make sure it was still there," Maureen said.

The Cup made two public appearances in Plenty - the middle school during the day and the community hall that night.

Many people came to see it. Some rode in on tractors and other farm equipment.

For Brad McCrimmon, having the Cup in Plenty was the fulfillment of a dream and a promise. But missing was one of his closest friends.

Grandpa had died four years earlier of Alzheimer's disease.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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