DERRY — Cindy Sanford recalled the moment on the ice at the TD Garden in June.
Her son, Zach Sanford, had just scored a goal for the St. Louis Blues, helping them to a 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins to clinch the Stanley Cup.
“After Game 7, we were just down on the ice, the Bruins’ ice, where he grew up idolizing them,” Cindy Sanford said. “He was just shaking his head, asking, ‘did this really just happen?’ It was just amazing.”
He won the Cup at home and, nearly two months after, the Pinkerton Academy grad brought it home to his high school, putting it on display for an enormous crowd, filled with so many people who were proud of what he’d accomplished.
“It’s awesome to come back to Pinkerton,” Zach Sanford said. “Pinkerton was a huge part of my life. A lot of my best friends were met here and a lot of my best memories were made here, too. It’s just awesome to come back to Pinkerton and share it with all these people.”
At least 15 minutes before the event was supposed to start, a line of more than 100 people had wrapped around the Academy Building at Pinkerton, such was the anticipation for Sanford’s (and the Cup’s) arrival.
Among the crowd was a mix of Bruins and Blues shirts, as some fans clearly wanted to make their allegiances known. Sanford said he got a few comments from some sour Bruins fans, but most were tounge-in-cheek as a lot of people from around his home were proud of him.
“There were a lot of those jokes,” Sanford said. “You know, like, ‘I’m happy for you, but I still hate you.’ It’s been awesome coming home, though. Most everyone has been so happy for me and for our team. There are a lot of Bruins fans who weren’t too happy, but to feel that support and encouragement when I’ve been home is awesome.”
Sanford played for three years at Pinkerton before playing junior hockey, then attending Boston College. He went on to join the Washington Capitals, who drafted him in 2013. The Capitals traded him to the Blues in 2017, and since winning the Stanley Cup he signed a two-year contract to remain in St. Louis last month.
Former Pinkerton head coach Casey Kesselring, who was in charge when Sanford was an Astro, said that, regardless of how good Sanford was — which, according to the coach, was so good that his teammates were “almost fans of his” by his final year — even he couldn’t foresee the accomplishments the 24-year-old has already forged for himself.
“At that age, you’re never going to say he’s going to play in the NHL, and I thought he was going to be a Division 1 hockey player at least,” Kesselring said. “But, he was a special player. ... He was obviously a special kid and was fun to coach. Guys like that make coaches look good.”
Pinkerton assistant coach Jim Fletcher, who also taught Sanford, said he wanted to drive home the point that Sanford is experiencing something few ever will.
“Some guys play their entire career, playing for 20 years, and never win a Stanley Cup,” Fletcher said. “He’s 24 years old and he’s already won one. It’s special.”
Both Sanford and his mother said the turnout surprised them, but in a good way, as the pride the community has in one of their own justified the decision to return home with the Cup.
Cindy Sanford said she’s just proud that her son wanted to share his achievement and “let everyone know you can live the dream.”
That dream is something that isn’t escaping her son any time soon.
“The past month or two, I’ve kind of settled down and it’s become a reality,” Zach Sanford said. “But this morning, they showed up with the Cup again and it was right back to feeling like a dream again. Today’s been pretty fun. I’m just excited to hang out with the Cup, some friends and family.”