HALIFAX — A three-year-old girl battling leukemia could be a Pittsburgh Penguins fan in the making after Sidney Crosby placed her plush, toy pink kitten atop the Stanley Cup in her Halifax hospital room.
The NHL star welcomed the Cup to his native Nova Scotia for a third time this weekend, surprising fans of all ages as he made the rounds in Halifax with the trophy in tow.
Social media posts show the Pittsburgh Penguins captain showing off professional hockey's most prestigious trophy at a farmers' market, a veterans' retirement home and a children's hospital Sunday.
Robbie Hall said he and his three-year-old daughter, Harper Saunders, were taking a nap in her hospital room when a nurse woke him up to let him know that Crosby was on his way.
"She loves hockey, but she's too young to understand who (Crosby) is," Hall said in an interview. "She's kind of grumpy when I wake her up, so I told her, 'Do you want to meet a super hockey player?'"
Hall said Harper has been in and out of hospital since she was diagnosed with leukemia in May. He and Harper's mother, Reba Saunders, have been travelling back and forth from Woodstock, N.B., to Halifax for about a month while the toddler receives treatment at the IWK Health Centre.
Harper has been adjusting to a new feeding tube in recent days, Hall said, but she perked up during Crosby's visit Sunday, running in and out of her room as she waited for the ball-capped hockey star to make his way down the hall.
Hall said when the three-time Stanley Cup champion arrived, Harper seemed a little starstuck.
"She was a little shy, but she was excited at the same time," he said. "I tried to get her to stand beside the cup, because it's taller than her, but she didn't want to be on her own there."
Crosby tried to put her at ease by putting one of her favourite toys — a pink kitten named Sophie — on the Cup's rim, Hall said.
A photo of the encounter has been shared hundreds of times on social media, including the Helping Harper Facebook page.
"There's a lot of hockey fans where we come from, so they were all a little excited and jealous," Hall said. "They were happy to see it happen to her after everything that's been going on."
Crosby autographed a pint-sized hockey stick for the youngster, which Harper has been showing off to all the nurses, Hall said.
"It'll be a good story once she gets older," he said. "We just might have a Penguins fan."
Crosby will celebrate his 30th birthday on Monday by parading the trophy through Halifax and Rimouski, Que.
He has brought the Cup to his hometown of Cole Harbour, N.S., twice before, including in 2009 and last July.
Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press