Each season the Stanley Cup, originally named after Lord Stanley of Preston, is awarded to the team that wins the NHL Championship. The team that reaches 16 post-season wins becomes the Stanley Cup Champions, and during the ensuing summer, the most prominent and high-ranking members of the organization have the opportunity to spend quality time with the trophy, unlike any other championship in sports.
Arguably the most recognizable trophy in all of sports, it is only appropriate that the silver chalice, certainly better traveled than the average human, has its own escort. The Cup’s main escort, known as The Keeper of the Cup, is Phil Pritchard.
Pritchard has been looking after the Cup since December, 1988, and is embarking on his 26th year with the Hockey Hall of Fame, which serves as “home” to the Cup on the rare day it is not traveling. His official title is Vice President, Resource Centre and Curator for the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“Like any kid in North America I would have loved to win the Stanley Cup playing hockey as a kid, but that didn’t work out, so I guess hanging out with it might be the second or third best thing, so that’s okay,” admits Pritchard, who has appeared in numerous commercials with the Cup.
The Stanley Cup begins its championship summer each year during the Stanley Cup Final. The trophy is present in both cities where the Stanley Cup Final is played, but until there is a Cup-clinching game, the Cup makes various non-public sponsorship and media appearances. The Cup is intentionally kept away from the teams for as long as possible.
During Game 4 of this year’s Final, when the Kings had the chance to win the Cup in New York, the Rangers were leading the entire game, so Pritchard and Craig Campbell, Pritchard’s associate who accompanies him to present the Stanley Cup, were waiting in a mini van with the Cup, listening to the game on the radio. The Cup never even made it to rink level that night.
The reason for this tactic is that the possible clinching team doesn’t want anything to do with it if they aren’t to win that night, and the other team doesn’t want it nearby at all.
“When the game is over, we’re also the first ones out of there and on a plane heading back west for Game 5,” explains Pritchard.
Back in LA for Game 5, the Cup didn’t even make it into STAPLES Center until the end of the second period, as the Kings were trailing for much of the game. At that point, Pritchard and Campbell hid the Cup as well as the Conn Smyth Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player in the playoffs, in the referees’ locker room, where they were able to watch the broadcast on a television. Due to the delay of the broadcast, Pritchard was able to hear the result of the game before seeing in on TV.
“Before the puck went in on TV, we already knew [the Kings] had won, and we were in motion. It was organized chaos behind the scenes,” Pritchard revealed.
“Then as you saw in LA, the red carpet they had was unbelievable. That walk – I remember it from a couple years ago – was probably the longest red carpet walk we’ve ever done, but at the same time it was probably the best because the hometown fans loved it,” continued Pritchard, drawing on the fact that depending on the layout of each arena, the red carpet walk is different. “To walk along the interior of one end and around the boards and all those fans at the boards clapping and banging, it was amazing.”
After the Cup is won, the Hockey Hall of Fame works in conjunction with the winning team to come up with a schedule for the team to spend its 100 days with the Cup. Wherever the Cup goes, either Pritchard or one or more of his associates must accompany it. This summer, Pritchard himself was in seven different countries with the Cup – Sweden, Finland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Russia, Canada, and the United States – to visit a member of the Kings organization.
Having seen so many Cup adventures in his time, Pritchard certainly possesses a unique perspective when it comes to what he believes are special moments.
One of the things he remembers most from this summer is being with Kings center, Anze Kopitar, in Slovenia. Kopitar had the Cup at a friend’s party, and they were dancing to Slovenian music blaring over the speakers, celebrating.
“You’re thinking ‘what a great game this is.’ Here it is played all over the world now and here’s a guy who won with the Los Angeles Kings who’s taken it back to his little hometown in Slovenia, and they’re dancing Slovenian-style to these songs around the Cup, and you’re thinking ‘wow, this is what it’s like to bring it home and say ‘thank you’ to all your friends and invite them to this Stanley Cup party,” Pritchard shared.
Pritchard was quite impressed with the weekend he spent with Dean Lombardi, Kings president/general manager, in Napa Valley. Part of Lombardi’s weekend was a last-minute fundraiser for earthquake victims, after an earthquake rocked the area just one week before the event.
“A week before, that wasn’t even in the plans. The impact the Stanley Cup has on cultures and cities and events is amazing,” Pritchard commented.
A very unique scenario for Pritchard this summer was forward Jordan Nolan’s party in Garden River, Ontario. This is Jordan’s second Stanley Cup win as a member of the Kings, and his father, Ted, is currently the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres, but has never won himself. Both father and son had friends together to celebrate the Cup.
“He got in all the photos, but he never touched [the Cup],” said Pritchard of Ted, who joked that he would warn his players not to touch his son when the Sabres play the Kings this season.
The tradition of allowing winning personnel to have time with Cup began in 1995, and one would think that after nearly 20 years of working Cup parties, celebrations, traditions and the like, things could get boring. But one conversation with Pritchard and you would think this was his rookie year on the job.
“It’s the greatest trophy in professional sports, it’s the oldest trophy in professional sports,” Pritchard remarked. “It inspires those that play the game and even those that don’t play the game to see what happens when you achieve ultimate success in a team sport.
“To be part of that whole situation is pretty amazing. Even though it’s in a small part and we don’t play the game and we didn’t win it, we’re actually part of it. It’s really special for all the guys that travel with the Cup and it makes their days unique.”
They say that a man who loves his job never works a day in his life…Pritchard definitely qualifies.
Join the conversation on Twitter with the NHL, LA Kings and the Hockey Hall of Fame for their summer with Stanley by using the hashtag #StanleyCup