PHILADELPHIA -- Before it was hoisted, before it was kissed, before it was passed from one champion to another, before it was filled with champagne, before it boarded a flight to Chicago and an all-night party at Harry Caray's, the Stanley Cup spent its final day at large this season largely at rest. Which made sense.
After all, the most coveted championship trophy in sports had a pretty big night ahead of it. The kind of night on which grown men cry and little boys and girls marvel in wonder -- all at the mere sight of its 36 inches of sparkling, sterling silver, never mind the chance to touch or even lift it. A night a mere 49 years in the making for a proud Chicago Blackhawks franchise that now has a Cup to go with the return of its roar.
So before it made its way to the Wachovia Center to be presented by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and begin a whirlwind, player-accompanied victory tour of the globe that is unlike anything else, the Cup just chilled.
CHECK-IN: Tuesday afternoon, June 8.
Having entered the city of Philadelphia a little past 2:30 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, Stanley arrived at the Downtown Marriott at 2:49. Its chaperone, Hockey Hall of Fame Vice President and Curator Phil Pritchard, had driven it down the New Jersey Turnpike in a white SUV from an appearance at the National Hockey League's offices in midtown Manhattan.
Normally, Stanley wouldn't stay at the same hotel as the international media covering the Final series that is its namesake. But there weren't many rooms available in Philly, so it had to make do.
Pritchard was not concerned. Neither did he nervously peer over his shoulder to make sure it was still in sight when, having wheeled it into the hotel's busy lobby, he was told to leave the unmarked case outside the roped-off check-in area by the clerk who had no idea as to its contents.
"I'm a big traditionalist guy," Pritchard said. "I believe in the respect of it. And there are a lot of great hockey fans out there. In most cases, when they see us pushing the case, the true hockey fans know what it is right away. The so-so hockey fans, after they're told, usually say: ‘Wow! It's here!' So I don't think there's a fear factor."
Fact is, a man reading a local sports section nearby while wearing a Flyers hat never gave the Cup's case a second glance. A woman entering the lobby did a double-take, but she never broke stride. Even cognoscenti such as former NHLer Ray Ferraro and TSN analyst Bob McKenzie passed right by without noticing.
That enabled Pritchard -- after some negotiating at the front desk to get an adjoining room for the yet-to-arrive Conn Smythe Trophy and its chaperone -- to wheel Stanley to the elevators undetected. Moments later, Pritchard opened the door to Room 2228, showed Stanley to a cozy corner of the room by a window that provided a spectacular view of the statue of city founder William Penn that stands atop the iconic City Hall building, and declared: "That's where it will stay until we take the Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy out tomorrow night to give them a polish before we head over to the rink."
COMPANY ARRIVES: Tuesday evening
Flying solo -- or, more accurately, lying on his side ensconced in his case solo -- for the entire afternoon and evening, Stanley finally got some company at 10:35. That was when Craig Campbell, Manager of the Resource Center and Archives for the Hall, toted the Conn Smythe trophy (its case has no wheels) into the Philadelphia Downtown Marriott.
RISE AND SHINE – Wednesday evening, June 9
Since this could be the night, but might not be the night, this courtesy is extended to the team that can't win the Cup tonight: It will not leave the hotel until after the puck is dropped and therefore will not enter the building until well after play has begun.
If this were a Game 7, in which a Cup-winner was guaranteed, Pritchard would get rolling sooner. Since it was a Game 6, Pritchard didn't even remove Stanley for his traditional big-night cleaning until 7:44 p.m.
"The only fingerprints that'll touch Stanley between now and the captain's are Commissioner Bettman's."
-- Phil Pritchard
Pritchard then repaired to the bathroom, grabbed a hotel wash rag and one of those little bottles of hotel shampoo, wet the rag and poured a drop of shampoo onto it and was ready to go. No special cleaners or monogrammed shammies for Stanley. However, Pritchard did don his white gloves to handle and buff his special cargo.
While watching the Game 6 pregame show on the NHL Network, Pritchard went about his work, gently erasing the oils and smudges left by the many hands that had touched Stanley in recent days.
"The only fingerprints that'll touch Stanley between now and the captain's are Commissioner Bettman's," Pritchard declared. Then, admiring his handiwork, he added: "All ready for the greatest tradition in all of sport."
Donning his own white gloves, Campbell then shined up Conn Smythe. And the dapper foursome -- Pritchard and Campbell in their matching shirts, ties and HHofF jackets and Stanley and Conn Smythe sparkling atop their cases -- settled in to watch NBC's pregame show and the drop of the puck for Game 6 while awaiting the call from NHL Vice President/Events Dean Matsuzaki to begin the ride to the rink.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Matsuzaki having given the go-ahead, Stanley and Conn Smythe are loaded back into their cases -- Conn Smythe stacked atop Stanley, who has the wheels -- and rolled out of Room 2228 at 8:26 p.m. The television shows a scoreless game with 7:40 gone as the double-decker cases head toward the elevator.
A hotel guest emerges from his room, sees the cases and puts two and two together. He heads back to his room, grabs a camera and catches up with Stanley and Conn Smythe in the lobby, snapping photos as other heads begin to turn.
Fans watching the game in the lobby bar figure, nah, it can't be. But then they see the jackets Pritchard and Campbell are wearing and figure it out. A small procession follows the trophies out the front door, where Pritchard and Campbell load them into the white SUV for the ride to the Wachovia Center.
CENTER CITY TO SOUTH PHILLY
With Pritchard at the wheel and Stanley and Conn Smythe occupying the trunk and a back seat, the trophies' rental car turns right onto Filbert Street and then left onto 11th.
At Vine Street, it takes a right and then bears left onto the Interstate 95 on-ramp. Pritchard is talking hockey and listening to the game on the radio. Which probably explains why, when the highway splits, he's still in the lane for 95 North. As Game 6 is being played in Philly, not New Jersey or New York, that is not the direction in which the trophies need to head.
The Stanley Cup (Getty Images)
Calm and collected, as always, Pritchard cuts across the painted divider and steers the vehicle back toward its appointed rounds.
He exits at Packer Avenue and then takes a right on Pattison Avenue. At 11th Street, he makes a left and the Wachovia Center and the old Spectrum are on the right while Lincoln Financial Field is on the left. Halfway down the block, a right turn takes all concerned into Gate E, where a brief chat with the guard gains passage down the ramp toward the loading dock.
It is 8:56 p.m. And the Stanley Cup has arrived at the Wachovia Center.
READY FOR ITS CLOSE-UP
Stanley cools his heels in the back of the SUV for a while, as the NBC crew that will serve as the pool camera is summoned and gets into place.
At 9:22, the loading dock door is raised and the most storied trophy in sports is wheeled into the building by Pritchard and Campbell. It takes a right turn at the top and then another right at the Zamboni corner for the short roll into the officials' room.
Standby referee Dan O'Halloran and linesmen Pierre Racicot and Greg Devorski have worked hundreds of games -- including three in this Stanley Cup Final. But when Pritchard takes the Stanley Cup out of its case and places it on the black-clothed table in the officials' dressing room, they transform into awestruck fans.
Each dons his on-ice uniform -- even Devorski, who was in street clothes because he was not the stand-by linesman -- to take photos with the Cup.
And, as this is at once the people's approachable Cup as much as it is an object of adoration, Pritchard is only too happy to have as many security guards and arena staffers as so desire pile into the room to have their pictures taken with Stanley. Oh yeah, and that line about no fingerprints other than the commissioner's touching the Cup before the winning captain's? Forget it. Stanley is going to need another touch-up before the hockey world gets to see him.
While he is getting all the attention, Matsuzaki and NHL Manager/Events Nick Gennarelli carry the Conn Smythe case into the room. Campbell takes the Conn Smythe Trophy out of its case and, with no place else to rest it in the tight officials' quarters, places it atop the cooler that is holding all of the officials' water bottles and sports drinks. Any port in a storm.
The second period comes to an end and the Game 6 officials return to their room to find a couple of glittering visitors. Suffice to say, even in the middle of as exciting and strenuous an evening's work as can be imagined, referees Stephen Walkom and Kelly Sutherland and linesmen Jean Morin and Steve Miller light up when they see Stanley.
Leading 3-2 in games and 3-2 on the scoreboard, the Blackhawks are closing in on their first Cup since 1961. So preparations must be made.
At 10:28 p.m. Bettman enters the room, shakes hands all around and settles in to watch the final 6:47 of regulation. Four minutes later, Stanley is placed on the floor as his table is taken out to the Zamboni door to be whisked onto the ice at game's end.
Bettman is informed that Jonathan Toews has been voted the Conn Smythe Trophy winner and is getting ready to perform the annual ritual he admits still gives him chills. But not quite yet.
Scott Hartnell's goal with 3:59 left in regulation ties it. As the roar of the Wachovia Center crowd reaches the officials' room, Bettman marvels: "This Flyers team refuses to be counted out."
At 11:06 p.m., Patrick Kane fulfills the childhood dream of every boy and girl who ever picked up a hockey stick -- he scores the Stanley Cup-winning goal in overtime. While Kane is dashing from one end of the rink to the other and NHL's Hockey Operations Department is launching an instantaneous video review to make sure his shot entered the net, the trophies and their handlers scramble.
Campbell carries the Conn Smythe Trophy out to the table that is sitting at the end of strip of red carpet, and Bettman strides out there to announce that Toews is the playoffs' MVP.
Then, at 11:14 p.m., come the words and the sight that have been standard since 1994. P.A. announcer Lou Nolan states: "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Stanley Cup!" Pritchard and Campbell carry it out to its perch.
Most of the Flyers fans who were booing Toews moments before can't help but cheer or at least silence their voices in respect at a glimpse of the trophy that hockey fans covet almost as much as hockey players. The mere sight of the Stanley Cup has a visible effect on people-- and the crowd at the Wachovia Center is no different.
After congratulating the owners and management that transformed the Blackhawks from also-rans to champions with remarkable speed, Bettman declares: "Jonathan Toews, come hoist the Stanley Cup."
Before hoisting the Cup, Toews must pose for a photo with the commissioner. But Toews is so excited, so overcome with emotion, that his hands are shaking as he and Bettman hold the Cup together. Finally, it is his -- finally, it is Chicago's again -- and Toews thrusts it skyward.
He then begins another of the great traditions surrounding the awarding of the Stanley Cup: its handing from one teammate to another.
Toews, only 22, exhibits the wise touch of an elder statesman by first handing the Cup to Marian Hossa, the classy star who had played on the losing team in each of the previous two Finals. Hossa, exults upon receiving it and then hands it to one of the longest-tenured Blackhawks and a former Flyer -- Patrick Sharp.
The several hundred Blackhawks fans in the crowd erupt when owner Rocky Wirtz gets the Cup -- they start a very different "Rocky!" chant than is normally heard in South Philadelphia.
At 11:26, the Cup is set down on the ice just inside the blue line the Hawks defended in the first and third periods, right in front of the words "Stanley Cup Final" painted on the ice. The Hawks pile around it for their triumphant team photo.
Once that is done, the ice is thrown open to the media and Chicago staffers and family members. Each and every one either takes a picture with the Cup or hoists it. And more than a few times, it appears as if Stanley, all 35 pounds of him, is about to go crashing to the ice. But winning apparently gives people strength. And Stanley remains un-dinged.
OFF THE ICE, INTO OFFSEASON: Thursday morning, June 10, 2010
At 12:15 a.m., Sharp finally decides it is time to take this party inside the locker room. After snatching the Cup from a teammate, he parades it close to the team benches, behind which the delirious Blackhawks fans in attendance still are pressing down toward the glass.
Sharp then carries it down the runway to the Wachovia Center visiting dressing room, where the celebration is more intimate but just as raucous.
Toews, as captain, gets responsibility the Cup for the first night. And Pritchard powwows with the young captain to make a plan:
They'll meet up again at noon Thursday at the United Center, at which point Pritchard will check to make sure Stanley is in one piece and begin planning its summer adventures with each and every player.
First, though, Stanley will spend some time in Chicago, making public appearances, feeling the love of fans that had waited since 1961 to claim it again and serving as the guest of honor at a parade that has been in the planning stages for 49 years.