Avalanche’s Stanley Cup hometown tour: Inside Nicolas Aube-Kubel’s Cup day in Sorel-Tracy

SOREL-TRACY, Que. — Amie Aube turned to see her son living the dream shared by children across Canada. Nicolas Aube-Kubel strode through the gate into the backyard with the most famous sporting trophy over his head. The Stanley Cup had arrived.

It was around 9 a.m. on Saturday, and more than 20 family members and friends had already gathered at Aube-Kubel’s childhood home, waiting for this moment. A member of the Stanley Cup winners Avalanche, the forward had his day with the trophy and launched the trophy’s international summer tour, which will see it go to a city of each player’s choice.

Amie called her feelings “hard to explain” as she watched her son carry the trophy into the backyard. Moments of joy can be exciting and overwhelming. A whirlwind.

“So many things that are positive in your brain,” she said. “Processing takes time”

The 26-year-old Aube-Kubel, who Colorado brought in from the Flyers in November on waivers, didn’t make much of a statistical impact in the playoffs as he didn’t score in 14 games. But he had a Plus-2 rating and mostly stayed out of the box, something he struggled with in Philadelphia. He brought a physical presence to the group of bottom six forwards that proved instrumental in the team’s championship run.

Aube-Kubel has put its stamp on the trophy in the truest sense of the word. After Colorado won Championship Game 6, Aube-Kubel – a healthy scratch that night – ran the trophy to teammates who gathered for a group photo. But as he got closer to the rest of the team, his blade caught a crack in the ice and he fell. The bottom of the mug hit the hard surface and broke away with a dent. Hockey Hall of Fame staffer Steve Poirier, who served as trophy babysitter on Saturday, said the trophy was being fixed in Montreal for this week’s NHL draft.

“Hopefully it stays undeformed and in good condition,” joked Aube-Kubel at the morning gathering.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel and the Avalanche celebrated with the Cup in Denver late last month. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

Dozens of family and friends wandered through the backyard on Saturday and trickled into the home that Aube-Kubel moved into when he was about 11 years old. Guests collected croissants, cheese and fruit from a table in the kitchen, and the house carried memories of Aube-Kubel’s exciting past years, which included monumental events on and off the ice. He proposed to his now-fiancé Madison Fidler this week, and a picture of him getting on one knee is in front of the stairs to the second floor. Nearby, a large print of him in a Flyers uniform hangs over a landing, and at the top of the wooden stairs is a large box containing the puck he potted for his first NHL goal, two pictures of the game and the black one Flyers jersey he wore this game.

Anie Aube immediately points out that the pictures show her son in the wrong uniform. Luckily there’s still room to work, room for an Avalanche Stanley Cup photo or two.

Outside, the holy grail of hockey sat on a table next to the family’s pool. Aube-Kubel’s two sisters, Alex-Anne and Gabrielle, were struck by the trophy’s paradox.

“You don’t realize it because there are so many names, but they’re just some of the very best hockey players,” said Alex-Anne.

Now their brothers will be among them.

Aube-Kubel’s grandfather, Jean-Yves Aube, walked through the sun-drenched courtyard and took in the scenery around him. The 79-year-old texts his grandson before every game, reminding him of the skills that brought him to the NHL: backchecking, skating hard and playing physically. Jean-Yves said after the Avalanche won Game 6, he got a FaceTime call from Nicolas. He cried and told his grandfather that it was the best day of his life.

“To be given up and win the Stanley Cup in the same year, that’s quite something,” Jean-Yves said Saturday while wearing a signed Avalanche championship hat.

A picture of Aube-Kubel waving the trophy aloft and an avalanche banner hanging on a line above the courtyard, and Aube-Kubel mingled with the guests, snapping photo after photo next to the trophy. Once he struck a martial arts pose next to a young girl who might have just graduated from a class and came to the party in full uniform. Even Chanel, Aube-Kubel’s French bulldog, was prepared for the occasion, sporting a burgundy Avalanche shirt with a sparkling 16 on the back. Mochi, his dainty black pug, was there too and allowed himself to be put in the bowl of the trophy for a photo. Around Aube-Kubel, loved ones, both dogs and humans, stood by his side.

“I appreciate that the most,” he said.

Getting friends and family together was just the beginning of Aube-Kubel’s stint with the trophy. The players don’t get the trophy for long, so they have to make the most of it.

“Wait till you see the whole day,” he said.

Sorel-Tracy may be a small town of about 35,000 people, but it has a strong hockey history. Pierre Mondou, three-time cup winner with the Canadians in the 1970s, hails from there. So did Francois Beauchemin, who won the cup with Anaheim in 2007 and finished fourth in the 2014 Norris Trophy voting. Fierce goalie Marc-Andre Fleury grew up less than 2 miles from Aube-Kubel’s childhood home, and Islanders forward Anthony Beauvillier was even closer: just a few blocks.

There is a basketball court in the neighborhood, which freezes over during winter floods and turns into a makeshift ice hockey rink. Aube-Kubel skated there as a kid, neighbor Eric Parenteau said, adding that when Aube-Kubel was in town last summer, he went stickhandle with local kids in the square.

So with the Cup in the city, Aube-Kubel wanted to share the experience with those around him. That didn’t mean he had to be perfectly on schedule. The downtown parade began at 12:30 p.m., half an hour behind the original schedule. Nobody seemed to mind.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel during his cup parade. (Peter Baugh / the athlete)

Les Éclairs de Quebec, a brass band in red and black uniforms, played “I Will Survive” and led the procession. Aube-Kubel followed a few vehicles behind, standing in the back of a light blue Ford truck, the Cup always within reach. A group of dancers followed, all wearing navy blue T-shirts with his name on the back. They jam to pop songs, including “All I Do Is Win,” which featured Aube-Kubel raising and lowering the trophy to the lyrics “up down, up down, up down.”

And of course, the parade playlist included “All the Small Things,” which has become an anthem for the Avalanche. The dancers sang along to the Blink 182 hit.

About an hour outside of Montreal, Sorel-Tracy is a town big enough that the parade felt like a party, but small enough that Aube-Kubel could stop the truck and snap photos with friends along the route. He even got out of the vehicle to take the trophy to three businesses close to his heart: a restaurant he grew up at and owned by a friend; the jewelers where he bought his fiancee’s engagement ring; and the barber shop where he’s had his hair cut since he was little.

“It was crazy,” said Aube-Kubel. “It’s a small town, a small town, and it’s cool how many people came. Even on short notice? That’s pretty awesome.”

During the course of the parade, Aube-Kubel shot five cans of beer or soda from the shotgun and reached out his arm to deftly catch a drink thrown in his path. He was also given a pitcher of a popular local drink that mixes tomato juice and beer and poured it into the Stanley Cup. Fidler helped him tip the trophy back so he could take a sip.

Aube-Kubel recalls when the trophy came to town during Fleury’s three wins with the Penguins, and the celebrations sparked an important thought in his mind.

“It’s the first memory of (thinking) ‘The cup in town would be so much fun,'” he said.

And it was. After the parade, he took the stage in front of a crowded downtown square. Alex-Anne hosted the ceremony and said in French that this was a historic day for Sorel-Tracy. (The Avalanche’s Sasha Kandrach helped the author translate into English.) She introduced the city’s MPs, and past cup winners from the region posed for photos with Aube-Kubel, including Eric Messier, who won the Avalanche in 2001 and his Cup day had in Sorel Tracy.

“To wear the Stanley Cup with someone who’s played[with the Avalanche]that’s special,” Messier said, adding that he would like Aube-Kubel to get a Stanley Cup tattoo to go with the piece by 2001 fits he has on his leg. “My heart will always be with Colorado.”

Just before signing the town’s guest book, Aube-Kubel spritzes the crowd with champagne and, finally picking up the microphone, jokes that talking isn’t his forte – especially after a few drinks. He then thanked the crowd and told attendees that he was proud to share this day with them. He was proud to be from Sorel-Tracy.

After the awards ceremony, crowds of fans lined up to pose for photos with Aube-Kubel. At one point, around 160 people lined up stretching around a Ferris wheel in town for Gib Fest, a local festival. Everyone wanted a piece of the local hero of the day.

A crowd gathers around Nicolas Aube-Kubel for photos. (Peter Baugh / the athlete)

Finally it was time to leave. And Sorel-Tracy has the perfect place for that: the water.

Aube-Kubel and his closest family and friends took a two-decker boat out onto the nearby river. He drank with his buddies and ate gibelotte – a traditional local soup – from a cup.

The cruise gave way to a party on land, and the event provided a surprise for Aube-Kubel. One of his close friends, Clarence Farley, told him he couldn’t make cup day because he was busy at a music festival in Quebec City. But Farley freed his schedule until the evening and he entered the party, hiding his face with a picture of Aube-Kubel. He went to his friend, he told the athletethen lowered the photo.

Aube-Kubel was surprised and pulled Farley into a hug. It was a reminder of a day full of them.

As Amie said, it can take time to process overwhelmingly joyful experiences. She was planning to leave for a beach vacation on the Maine coast on Sunday. When she gets there, she has a chance to relax with sea air around her. That’s when, she says, the craziness of the last few weeks – the magnitude of what her son has accomplished – might finally kick in.

(Photo above: Peter Baugh / the athlete)

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