Anyone who has seen the Stanley Cup up close and personal knows that Stanley never travels without his entourage.
The 35-pound silver trophy, symbolic of the NHL Championship, is always accompanied by at least one person, possibly more, who is affectionately known as the Keeper of the Cup. While Phil Pritchard, vice president, Resource Centre and curator for the Hockey Hall of Fame, is the most recognizable Cup Keeper, he has several regular helpers who all take turns escorting the trophy from destination to destination.
This means at least one of them is present at every parade, every Cup party, every charity event, and every promotional appearance. Their priority is to see that the Cup is safe from harm and that the Cup is respected.
What a job, eh? For those wondering how to apply for such position, the truth is, you really can’t.
Mike Bolt is a long-time Keeper of the Cup as is Walt Neubrand, who started working at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto about 20 years ago. Neubrand began working part-time, doing odd jobs for eight dollars an hour, primarily because he was a huge hockey fan. After doing that for a year-and-a-half, he was approached by Pritchard and asked to be one of the Cup’s escorts. He was elated, jumped at the opportunity, and had his first assignment just a few days later: the Cup party for Scotty Bowman, head coach of the Detroit Red Wings.
“I’m thinking, ‘What?! My first person is the one who has won the most games as a coach in NHL history?’ I was a bit overwhelmed, but honored that Phil had that confidence in me,” recalled Neubrand.
Howie Borrow, another Cup Keeper, began as a volunteer at the Hall in 2004. By 2005 he was working part-time in the museum, and in 2009 was approached by Pritchard and asked to be a Cup Keeper. Borrow currently travels with the Cup about 200 days of the year.
While Neubrand played hockey as a boy growing up in Canada, Borrow has only played for the last 20 years or so. Although neither of them have had the chance to win the Cup, both are well aware of the privilege they now have, being able to travel with sports’ most iconic trophy.
“It gives me a sense of pride that I’m being trusted with an artifact that is such a huge part of hockey, and Canadian culture,” shared Neubrand, who met his wife while touring with the Cup.
This summer, the Keepers of the Cup saw some very familiar faces, as the LA Kings won their second Stanley Cup in three seasons. One of the highlights for both Neubrand and Borrow was a visit they happened to be on together, which was in Vancouver, British Columbia, to visit former Kings defenseman, Willie Mitchell. Mitchell chose to take the Cup fly-fishing in a remote area near Vancouver, which they accessed via helicopter.
“This was just a little more intimate with some of his good buddies. It was out in the middle of nowhere, and it was something that is way different than what you would normally think of when it comes to a Cup party,” explained Borrow, who did not catch any fish on the trip. “It was a great experience.”
Another highlight for Borrow, who visited about 25 Kings personnel in total this summer, was the trip to Viking, Alberta, for Head Coach Darryl Sutter. Borrow had accompanied the Cup to Sutter in 2012, but what made this year special was that all seven Sutter brothers were in attendance at the same time.
“It’s very rare to have a family that had six brothers playing in the NHL at the same time, and to still have everybody around and all their families and to be able to coordinate for everybody to get together when they all have their busy lives, it’s a very special time for the Sutter family to be able to celebrate a Stanley Cup,” said Borrow, who thinks very highly of the Sutter family and their hospitality.
In general, the Cup Keepers feel extremely welcome and are very well taken care of by their hosts and their family and friends. They are always allowed to help themselves to any food or beverage offered throughout the day at all the parties, and while this sounds like it would be a job perk, it is also sometimes viewed as a challenge.
“When you are traveling to a player’s place, the food that tends to be served a lot are foods that aren’t the healthiest,” Neubrand admitted. “When you are eating them for seven to 10 days in a row, it’s not good.”
The Cup Keepers also find it difficult to eat regularly, as sometimes a day is so packed with events and activities that there is no time to eat, and binge eating fast food is often the result.
“You just kind of pick and choose and make sure you’re making healthy choices, that’s all. I just try to be careful with that,” added Borrow.
Fatigue is another enemy of the Cup Keepers, as scheduling is kept very tight to ensure the most effective use of time. In 2009 a midnight curfew was imposed on the Stanley Cup, and even now, it isn’t easy for the Keepers to find solid rest.
“By the time you get to your hotel or your bed to when a player wants it the next day, there’s not much sleep time, especially if you have the first flight out to your destination,” Neubrand explains. “I think you’re lucky to get five hours sleep a night on average.”
There’s really no argument that the positives of being a Keeper of the Cup far outweigh the negatives, and despite being seasoned veterans at what they do, the Keepers are never bored or tired of their roles.
“I try not to take the job or the experiences for granted because I know I’m very fortunate to be privy to these events, especially when you consider that we are partaking in a family’s very special day,” Neubrand said. “We’re only with them for perhaps 16 hours but they are 16 hours that they’ll never forget in their life, and we’re part of it.
“How many people would love to be us for a day or a week?”
Let’s consider that a rhetorical question.
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
LA Kings: @LAKings
LA Kings PR: @LAKingsPR
Cup Keepers: @KeeperOfTheCup
Hockey Hall of Fame: @HockeyHallFame
Deborah Lew: @by_DeborahLew
For photos of the Kings’ summer with Stanley, view the Hockey Hall of Fame’s ‘Stanley Cup Journal’ CLICK HERE
You can also check out the Stanley Cup on Facebook at Facebook.com/StanleyCup and Facebook.com/TravelsWithStanley