A seemingly endless stream of excited, joyful people — some decked out in Vegas Golden Knight jerseys — waited patiently in a line that snaked through the Plymouth Cultural Center Friday afternoon to get their photos taken with two celebrities: 23-year-old Paul Cotter and the 130-year-old Stanley Cup.
Cotter, who many believe is the first Canton native to win the Cup (he was a rookie forward for the 2022-23 NHL champion Vegas Golden Knights) smiled graciously as groups of families approached him and the iconic trophy to snap keepsake photos with the duo that they’ll cherish for decades.
The Cultural Center holds a warm spot in the Cotter family’s hearts as it is the place where 4-year-old Paul first learned to skate.
“When I was young, my family was driving home from church one day (in Canton’s Central Park subdivision) and my neighbor was playing street hockey in his driveway,” Cotter recounted. “I said, ‘Hey, I want to try that’, so my parents (Paul and Lisa) were like, ‘OK, we’ll sign you up.
“But I hated it from the start. It was awful. But my parents were like, ‘You know what, we paid for it, so you’re going to finish the session.”
Cotter stuck with the sport and — fueled by a top-shelf work ethic and love for the game — accelerated through the junior-hockey world before ultimately getting drafted by the Golden Knights in 2018.
“I was there at his first skating lesson,” reflected Tom Bryans, who coached Cotter for approximately five years beginning when he was 4.
“He couldn’t skate at all. But when he fell down, I taught him how to stand up. After about a month, he was zooming around the ice and crashing into the boards.”
Following the normal protocol, Cotter started in the yellow group, which was designed for beginners.
His ascension was fast
“After a while, we moved him up to the red group. When he started skating circles around them, we moved him up to the blue group, until he started skating circles around them.
“Paul just took to the sport right away. Once most kids are put in the yellow group, they stay there for the rest of the session. Not Paul.”
Shane Bryans and Marty Mills — Mini-Mite teammates of Cotter when they were 6 and 7 years old — said they remember how committed Cotter was to the sport at an early age.
“When he wasn’t skating with us, he was skating with the 98s before us and the 2000s after us,” Bryans said. “He was at the rink the whole day.”
‘Chills watching him raise the Cup’
Mills said it’s been surreal following Cotter’s career.
“When I saw him raise the Cup, I got chills,” Mills said. “I mean, to see someone you know like that reach the pinnacle of the sport, it’s hard to describe.”
The Cotter family — mom Lisa, dad Paul and sister Mileena (brother Jack is currently playing junior hockey out of state) were busy during the two-hour event greeting and hugging longtime friends and Paul’s former teammates.
“It’s just so nice seeing Paul being surrounded by people who love him, support him and acknowledge him,” Lisa Cotter said. “I’m not sure he realizes yet the impact he has made on so many people — friends and family as well as total strangers.
“This entire experience has been so surreal; there are no words to describe it. I love seeing all this joy because the world needs more of it.”
Prior to the start of the public meet-and-greet with Paul and Stanley, the Cotters revisited the spot on the Cultural Center ice where Paul took his first spill as a 4-year-old.
This time, he was embracing the Stanley Cup.
It was a moment that proved no matter how rough an endeavor may start, good things can happen if you never give up.
Ed Wright can be reached at 734-664-4657 or socialhousenews.com.