Stanley Cup brings smiles, excitement to fans ahead of Winter Classic

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BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Will Gran searched the Stanley Cup for a piece of family heritage Wednesday.

With the help of Mike Bolt, the “Keeper of the Cup,” there it was inside the top bowl: Kenora Thistles.

“My grandmother had a half brother who was a pretty good hockey player and played for the Thistles and won a Stanley Cup up there,” Gran said of the Ontario-based team that won the trophy in 1907. “Then he ended up going to the Montreal Wanderers in 1908 and they won the Stanley Cup there, so I was here to see if his name was on the Cup.

“They have the (Thistles) name on the rim, so I got a picture of that.”

Gran was one of hundreds of spectators at Mall of America viewing and taking pictures as part of the NHL Trophy Display presented by Discover. It is one of the festivities surrounding the 2022 Discover Winter Classic between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues at Target Field in Minneapolis on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; TNT, SN1, TVAS, NHL LIVE).

“Anytime we get to bring the Cup to Minnesota with players or the NHL or any minor hockey thing, it’s always great,” Bolt said. “You call Minnesota the ‘State of Hockey’ and it definitely shows. Every time we come out here, it’s a huge crowd and people are definitely thankful.”

Cooper Bitzenhofer, a 10-year-old Squirt B hockey player from Lakeville, said seeing the Stanley Cup up close was “shocking,” and 9-year-old Lucy Pohl said it was “really cool” to view all the names engraved on the trophy.

Kevin Veneruzzo got to reintroduce his son Gavin, a White Bear Lake Peewee AA player, to the Stanley Cup. They last saw it when Gavin was 1 and Patrick Sharp brought it to Thunder Bay, Ontario after winning with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. Kevin introduced his son Lincoln, a Squirt B player, to the trophy for the first time.

Susan Brandon, a native of the suburbs of St. Louis, was thrilled to see the Stanley Cup display aligned with the family’s trip to the mall, even though they will miss the main event on New Year’s Day.

“I didn’t get a chance to see it when [St. Louis] won (in 2019),” Brandon said. “So it was very exciting. I immediately had to go find the year the Blues won and see all their names there.”

Natalie Harrison worked during high school at Xcel Energy Center, home to the Wild, and had never seen the Stanley Cup in person. Even behind her mask, the smile was easy to detect.

“I’ve been doing this for 21 years and I never get sick of seeing the people’s reaction on their faces,” Bolt said. “The smile, the awe, even the odd tear if you’re that close and you’ve been a hockey fan for say 50 years … that never gets old either.

“It’s a very special trophy, and the Winter Classic is going to be a very special event for Minnesota. It’s all just great to be a part of.”

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