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When You Least Expect It

Visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame is everything you would want it to be.

NHL: Calgary Flames at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

You should know that I’m a cryer.

Movies, music, and even one time a particularly magnificently cooked mushroom (yes, that’s really true). I’m an emotional person, and if I bottle, I explode, so I express. It should not be a surprise, then, that I found myself choking back tears on a bright but gray Toronto afternoon in the seat of hockey’s holy land, but the rationale was not what I had in mind.

Currently, trips to the Hockey Hall of Fame may get off to an inauspicious start. The main exterior entrance is permanently shut - it turns out the Stanley Cup lives right inside the front doors - and the lower level entrance is closed for construction. All the better, in my opinion, since it sits right in the middle of a mall food court.

The only way in is through the gift shop, and since that’s also the only way out, the Hall of Fame is double dipping in a way that would make Disney jealous. And yet from the moment you descend into the museum, you’re acutely aware that you’ve been transported.

There are national jerseys from every corner of the globe. If you’re ever suspicious that hockey may not be a global game, take a trip to Toronto and see the sweaters from the Japanese, Irish, South African, and Argentinean national teams.

There’s representation of countless women. One of the first pieces of memorabilia I spotted when coming down the stairs was a jersey of Hailey Wickenheiser’s. There are items from Cammi Granato and Meghan Agosta and Nana Fujimoto.

If you’re feeling athletic, there are spots for you try your luck stopping and shooting pucks. If your athleticism is limited to your thumbs, there’s a series of booths where you can play NHL 17.

Red Berenson’s six goal sweater lives there. A hat from the 1988 All Star Game. A Blues jersey from David Backes and, if you miss the Rivermen, a Peoria jersey of Brendan Buckley’s. There’s a poster of Alex Pietrangelo and a wall of hockey cards for you to find your favorites.

Upstairs, in the Great Hall, the vaulted roof and stained glass dome give the room the exact eerie peace you would want. The Cup dominates your view, of course, but the league’s other trophies are spread around the room for examination in glass cases that allow you to walk all the way around to see the names you want to see.

The Blues’ Trevor Nickerson and Chris Pinkert were engaged in precisely that task when I came into the room. They, with assistance from PR whiz Dan O’Neill, were painstakingly recording each instance of a plaque that named the St. Louis Blues, as well as the seemingly countless faces on the wall representing a player who wore the Note. And no, none of them touched the Cup.

So when did I turn into a blubbering baby? It was downstairs, in a gimmicky 50 seat theatre where I sat to watch a 20 minute 3D movie. If you’ve ever wanted to see James Duthie look like he’s jumping out of the screen and into your lap, you’re in luck.

You’re also in luck if you want to get caught up in the (admittedly thin) story of a group of rec league players competing for their own miniature Stanley Cup. There are thinly veiled and then revealed references to Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Bobby Orr. Yes, that Orr goal makes an appearance a few times.

Without spoiling the ending, the real Stanley Cup becomes the star and the center and the emotional heart of the piece. And it was then, at the end of a 20 minute commercial, that I felt myself welling up. I felt it because that unbridled desire and longing and ultimately joy can only be fulfilled by one thing, and that thing was right upstairs.

Someday, that thing may be in a parade in St. Louis. I really, really hope it is.