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Cup of happiness; Nashoba grad brings home NHL trophy.

Byline: Bud Barth

BOLTON - It's hard to say which was the tougher grind for homeboy Hal Gill - his Pittsburgh Penguins' 106-game crusade to the 2009 Stanley Cup title, or his grueling two-hour autograph and photo session with about 550 area fans who showed up to see Gill and hockey's holy grail in person yesterday morning at his alma mater, Nashoba Regional High School.

The 6-foot-7-inch, 250-pound defenseman, a Bolton native who played hockey at Nashoba, brought the Stanley Cup home to raise money for his high school's athletic fields. Athletic director Tom O'Brien estimated that more than $5,000 was collected.

It has become a custom for each member of the winning team to spend one day with the cup. Gill chose to use his to benefit Nashoba, where he played hockey, football and baseball before graduating in 1993.

"He called me out of the blue (to make the offer)," O'Brien said. "It's pretty nice of him. We're very grateful he's doing this."

The cup logs about 100,000 travel miles a year, according to Mike Bolt, who owns the title "Keeper of the Cup" for the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

Bolt, who was on hand yesterday, said the historic silver chalice - which has been awarded since 1892, although the current version was introduced

51 years ago - had just come from Michigan, where it spent the day with Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma. Today, it will be in Long Island, N.Y., with winger Bill Guerin, who - like Gill - is a former Boston Bruin.

Gill accepted a hockey scholarship at Providence College and was the 207th player taken in the 1993 NHL draft by the Bruins, for whom he played eight seasons.

He was signed in 2006 as a free agent by Toronto, was traded to the Penguins late in the 2007-08 season, and now, at age 34, has become a multimillionaire in the sport. He'll play this coming season for the Montreal Canadiens, who signed him to a two-year, $4.5 million free-agent contract this summer.

Fans began lining up at 7 a.m. yesterday, an hour and a half before Gill was scheduled to arrive. Dozens of people had to be turned away as the line stretched out the school's side door and around the corner, almost to the main entrance.

First in line was Valerie Connor of Lancaster and her 10-year-old son, Patrick. They arrived at 7 and waited almost two hours in a persistent drizzle before the doors opened at 8:50, some 20 minutes late.

"We just saw it in the paper and he (Patrick) had to be here," Connor said.

"Awesome," remarked Patrick, a fifth-grader at Mary Rowlandson Elementary School in Lancaster, whose eyes were bulging after the experience. "It was just amazing."

Euphoria and downright giddiness gripped youngsters and adults alike. One man actually was heard to remark: "I feel like I'm a better person since I touched the Stanley Cup."

Sisters Sarah and Anna Weber, both devout Penguins fans, drove four hours from their home in Cooperstown, N.Y., to be here. They arrived at 9 the night before and stayed in an area hotel.

"Sarah's been tracking it online to see where the cup's been going," said Anna, 18. "We meant to go down to Syosset (N.Y.) when (defenseman) Rob Scuderi brought it there, but we missed it. Then this just popped up on the Internet and we decided, `We have to go.' This is really exciting."

Folks paid $10 a head to get autographs and pose for pictures with Gill and the cup. The session lasted just over two hours before Gill, declining to meet with the media, blew out the door with the trophy.

Gill was scheduled to bring it to The Home for Little Wanderers in Boston and then show it later to friends in Boston's North End, where he lives year-round with his wife, Anne, and their daughters Isabelle, 5, and Sophie, 2. All were in attendance yesterday.

A family cookout was scheduled last night, according to Gill's mother, Barbara, who now lives on Cape Cod. Gill's father, Harold Gill Jr. of Bolton, also attended.

In an interview earlier in the week, Gill talked about how busy he has been since the Penguins upset the Detroit Red Wings in June to win the Stanley Cup.

"It's been hectic, but I'm not complaining," he said.

The crowning moment came when Gill donned a Nashoba Regional hockey jersey (No. 19) and posed for a picture with current members of the team and coach Steve Kendall around the cup.

ART: PHOTOS

PHOTOG: T&G Staff Photos/RICK CINCLAIR

CUTLINE: (1) Nashoba Regional High School graduate and Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Hal Gill, above left, poses Thursday for a photograph with Robert MacLeod's 4-month-old son, Brayden, sitting in the Stanley Cup. MacLeod, from Milton, is also a graduate of Nashoba. (2) At right, a line of hockey fans wraps around Nashoba to see the Stanley Cup and meet Gill. (3) Hal Gill signs a jersey Thursday for Will McKenzie, 11, of Attleboro, in front of the Stanley Cup. (4) Below, he signs a jersey for Gary Sclar and his 9-year-old son, Zach, from Harvard.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 14, 2009
Words:865
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