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Stanley Cup Final

Game 6 caps busy day for keepers of Cup

Brave Nashville traffic to deliver hockey's ultimate prize to Penguins

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

NASHVILLE -- The GPS suggested that it was a six-minute drive from the downtown hotel to Bridgestone Arena, despite the usual traffic.

Not that there was anything usual about Music City on Sunday night, tens of thousands of Nashville Predators fans clogging the streets, hoping their team could force a seventh game in the Stanley Cup Final.

In the end, even the formidably strong vibes they sent to the Predators through their ferocious support wasn't enough to win the night, the Pittsburgh Penguins successfully defending their Stanley Cup championship with a 2-0 victory.

 

[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Penguins series coveragePenguins join historic company with fifth Stanley Cup championship]

 

I arrived with a four-man NHL Network crew on Sunday at the hotel-room door of Phil Pritchard, finding the curator of the Hockey Hall of Fame and the so-called "Keeper of the Cup" buttoning his shirt, preparing for Game 6. 

Craig Campbell, manager of the Hall's Resource Center, would join us, and the TV crew would shoot Pritchard from many angles as he gave the Stanley Cup a final polish to a high gloss before he locked it in its hard black case.

As he knotted his tie, Pritchard spoke of the one blank space on the bottom band of the Cup, now to be filled with the 2017 champion Penguins this summer by trophy engraver Louise St. Jacques. Next spring, the top band, celebrating the 1953-54 Detroit Red Wings through the 1964-65 Montreal Canadiens, will be retired to be displayed in the Hockey Hall of Fame, four remaining filled bands sliding up and an empty band placed at the bottom.

On his jacket, Pritchard wore a special gift that recently had been given to him and Campbell by Toronto NHL off-ice official Bill Wellman -- a shiny Canadian quarter bearing the likeness of the Stanley Cup, introduced three months ago by the Royal Canadian Mint, that had been fashioned into a lapel pin. 

With the case of the Conn Smythe Trophy stacked on the larger case of the Cup, Pritchard and Campbell would navigate their precious cargo down the hotel hallway into an elevator and through the hotel lobby.

Al Young, the senior security manager of the NHL, helped load the trophies into the back of a black SUV for what turned into a 15-minute drive to Bridgestone Arena, just "Al Young, two vehicles" spoken to the guard at the security checkpoint was enough to open the arena door to his SUV and a van behind us. The latter would be used postgame to get Pritchard and Campbell back to their hotel with the trophies, should they not be won. In that case, the pair had plans to fly Monday to Toronto, from where they would return by car to Pittsburgh on Tuesday for Game 7 on Wednesday. 

Those plans changed with the Penguins' victory that further cemented the legend of Sidney Crosby and broke the heart of Nashville fans, whose famous love of their team wasn't even scratched by the loss. 

Wearing their crested Hall of Fame blazers and their white gloves, Pritchard and Campbell would perform their time-honored duty once more. The pair walked the Stanley Cup, conceived 125 years ago last March by Lord Stanley of Preston, to a black curtain at the Zamboni doors of the rink, then carried it out to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman for presentation to Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.

Together, Pritchard and Campbell have been toting the Cup onto the ice since 1998, parking it for presentation by the Commissioner. Pritchard had worn the white gloves solo from 1989, the year after he joined the Hall of Fame, until Campbell joined him nine seasons later.

Sunday was the 24th time Commissioner Bettman has presented the Conn Smythe Trophy to the playoff MVP and the Stanley Cup to the captain of the winning team, having first handed hockey's holy grail to Guy Carbonneau and the Smythe to goalie Patrick Roy, both of the Montreal Canadiens, on their Forum ice on June 9, 1993. He had been in office for four months at the time. 

Video: The Stanley Cup and its keeper travel to the arena

The Penguins victory Sunday marked the first time since 1997 and 1998 that the Cup has been presented to the same captain in consecutive seasons -- Steve Yzerman with the Detroit Red Wings a decade ago, Crosby now. And it was the second straight season that Commissioner Bettman has handed Crosby the Conn Smythe.

Awarding the Cup is the best part of his job, the Commissioner has often said. He has presented it to 13 different champions in 19 different cities since 1993, handing it off six consecutive times to the home team from 2001-07.

One of these years, he might even present the Cup to the Penguins on their own ice, all five of their championships having come on the road.

While plans were fluid late Sunday night, it seemed that the Stanley Cup, escorted by Pritchard and Campbell, was headed for a Penguins team party, and then a flight back to Pittsburgh on Monday and a victory parade in the days ahead.

As the Cup was circling the ice, players and family, friends and relatives shuffling joyfully about, the Conn Smythe was nowhere to be seen.

It was sitting in an NHL office at that moment looking shiny and bright, and almost lonesome. As proud of it as Crosby is, he is the consummate team player, and this night was all about his team and the priceless sterling trophy out on the ice that was theirs, as a group, once more.

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