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Kitchener fans celebrate Tanner Pearson's homecoming

KITCHENER — Just six years ago, Tanner Pearson was a stick boy for the Kitchener Rangers.

On Sunday, the Stanley Cup-winning forward for the Los Angeles Kings hoisted the prize high above his head in the Rangers dressing room. What a difference a few short years makes. After his stop at the Aud, Pearson arrived at Kitchener City Hall with the Cup in tow to the cheers and applause of hundreds of fans who turned out for their hockey hero’s homecoming.

“It was a dream come true,” the Kings rookie said of his 12-point playoff run. “It’s an honour to be able to bring it back.”

Members of each Stanley Cup-winning team get to spend a day with the trophy.

As he spoke, Pearson was surrounded by a throng of fans young and old, happily posing for photos and signing anything thrust his way. “It’s pretty special to celebrate it with the people that you grew up with,” he said. “It’s a great turnout.”

Kitchener’s manager of special events, Jeff Young, estimated the crowd at close to 2,000.

The lineup for a photo with Lord Stanley’s Mug stretched through the plaza in front of city hall, along King Street and up College Street. Donations were being collected for Hamilton’s Ronald McDonald House.

Showers, heavy at times, didn’t seem to dampen any spirits.

“I’m a hockey fan,” said Kitchener’s Jason Scully, who brought his hockey-watching buddy — his five-year-old son, Keagan — to the event. “We had to come down and check it out.”

Dressed in a red Team Canada jersey, six-year-old William Birdsall proudly said he was going to be playing hockey starting next year.

His mother, Jennifer, said his son wants to play for the national team when he grows up.

“I think they work really hard in this area to give kids who want to play hockey the skills they need,” she said.

Pearson, 21, played minor hockey in Kitchener, spent time with the Waterloo Siskins and played for the OHL’s Barrie Colts.

He was drafted by the Kings in 2012 and played for their American Hockey League affiliate in Manchester, N.H., before suiting up for 25 regular-season games and 24 playoff games this season on the Kings’ journey to claim the Cup.

Kitchener Minor Hockey Association president Tom Graham said Pearson has made them proud.

“It’s been really fun watching Tanner play and grow,” he said.

Coun. John Gazzola, who volunteered with minor hockey for 30 years, said it’s wonderful to see a local player soar to these hockey heights.

“You only see this once out of every 5,000 kids that come through the system,” he said. “It’s really great to see.”

Along with stops at the Aud and city hall, Pearson said he’d had the Cup with him when he and some friends played ball hockey on Sunday.

“It was a pretty fun time,” he said.

Pearson’s teammate Kyle Clifford of Ayr gets a day with the Cup during the off-season as well. He brought it home after his first Cup win two years ago, parading it through the village with hundreds of excited fans looking on.

As a youngster, Pearson had the chance to see the Cup up close when Joe McDonnell, former director of amateur scouting for the Detroit Red Wings, brought it to Kitchener one year.

“Being a young kid, it was pretty cool,” Pearson said, surrounded by a swarm of happy young fans.

“I was one of these kids. Hopefully (they’ll) dream to win it one day.”

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