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Presentation of Cup still magical for its keepers

Pritchard, Campbell relish opportunity to hand off trophy to victors

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

All dressed up with nowhere to go. Except to California, where it would party into the wee hours of Monday in a San Jose hotel ballroom, the guest of honor of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And let it be said the Stanley Cup can hold its champagne.

The Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy were ready for presentation to the Penguins in Pittsburgh last Thursday. But it took until Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, played at SAP Center in San Jose on Sunday, before they came into public view, both presented to Penguins captain Sidney Crosby by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

On Thursday, the two priceless, polished, historic trophies had made it into Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center but never saw a single player. Had the Penguins defeated the San Jose Sharks in Game 5, both trophies would have emerged from their steel cases, having been carried with white gloves to center ice for presentation.

Bettman would have handed Crosby the Stanley Cup, as he did in 2009 and again Sunday, and given the Conn Smythe to the individual (Crosby) voted by a media panel to be the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Instead, both trophies left the building before midnight still shiny and dry, soon to head to California for Game 6. 

Ultimately, the Stanley Cup alone would be invited to the Penguins team party at their San Jose hotel, Crosby asking that the Conn Smythe, an individual award, be tucked away for the night.

With anticipation at a fever pitch Thursday in Pittsburgh, I sat in a hotel near Consol Energy Center with Hockey Hall of Fame employees Phil Pritchard and Craig Campbell, who eventually carried the trophies onto SAP Center ice.

Pritchard, the shrine's curator and vice-president of the Hall's Resource Center, and Campbell, manager of the Resource Center and Archives, are recognized as the men who wear crested navy blazers and white gloves to carry the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy onto the rink when it's time.

Video: PIT@SJS: Crosby, Pens celebrate fourth Stanley Cup

Together, Pritchard and Campbell have been doing this since 1998, the spring the Detroit Red Wings defeated the Washington Capitals.

As we spoke Thursday, the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe sat in their non-descript steel cases in a corner of room 1929. Pritchard remembered the door, as he always does, by attaching the numbers of Hall of Fame players. 

On this day:

"(Larry) Robinson and (Ken) Dryden," he joked of the Montreal Canadiens legends whose (Nos.) 19 and 29 are retired, hanging from Bell Centre rafters.

In a few hours, the trophies would be polished with mild detergent and warm water, any fingerprints removed, "and they will look spectacular, as always," Pritchard said with pride.

And then, at some point during Game 5, the two men would arrive at Consol Energy Center with their priceless cargo and prepare for a ceremony that ultimately did not happen.

They would have to take a bit of a detour, not driving down Washington Place, which runs beside the arena. That avenue was choked with thousands of fans gathered for a viewing party, so Campbell wisely suggested to Pritchard that they change their route, against the flow of traffic, to reach their destination.

"Part of that is tradition, superstition; part of the history," Pritchard said of the Stanley Cup's mysterious arrival in the arena. 

On Sunday, reached by phone when he was leaving SAP Center en route to the Penguins hotel at 11:30 p.m. PT, Pritchard said he and Campbell, in order to avoid the huge street fair outside SAP Center, had the Cup and Conn Smythe in the arena before the teams and fans had arrived.

Video: PIT@SJS, Gm6: Crosby receives Conn Smythe Trophy

"The players know the Stanley Cup is on the line," he said Thursday. "They know it's in the building, but no one wants to know it's in the building. If the Cup is won, they're all thrilled to see Craig and me. If it's not, they don't want us there. 

"Every time, for me, is magical. The red carpet, one of the greatest things that Gary (Bettman) and the NHL came up with … when the announcement says, 'Ladies and gentlemen, the Stanley Cup!' and Craig and I are that close to it? As a Canadian kid dreaming of winning it, this has got to be up there.

"It's memory. It's 123 years of hockey history right there, and it comes to life in a 35-pound, 36-inch trophy that is unmatched anywhere."

With Pritchard, and by himself, Campbell has escorted the Stanley Cup, and other NHL trophies, to many parts of the world. And the reaction the star attraction gets never ceases to amaze him.

"No matter where the Cup is on display, whether because of its shape or the circular table it usually sits on, people always stand in a circle around it," Campbell said. "Then it's almost like a seal is broken. Once someone walks forward, everybody walks forward. But there's that reverence to it. They're happy to stay away and have an artificial buffer, and then they might go up. It's a living history. Different generations look at different parts of the Cup."

There is much to the Cup, very much the people's trophy given its accessibility to so many over a century and a quarter.

"It's respect, it's tradition, the aura, reverence, superstition, it's all of that," Pritchard said. "If the Stanley Cup could talk, just think of the stories. It would be a bestseller."

Pritchard's first Cup-presentation duties were performed in 1989, the year after he joined the Hall of Fame.

"Calgary vs. Montreal, two Canadian teams, and you're standing there, thinking as a Canadian kid, how do you beat this?" he said. "Fast-forward 27 years, and it's bigger now than it was then. Hockey is played in 75 countries. Everyone wants to put on a pair of skates, pick up a stick and play in the greatest League in the world, the NHL, and win the Stanley Cup. It's so well documented and preserved for the people, but the smiles it brings, the emotions, are so powerful. It's magical."

Had the Penguins won Thursday, Crosby would have been extended "captain's privilege," that is, he'd have had the Cup that night to do with as he pleased, wherever that might be.

Sunday, in the glow of victory, Crosby told Pritchard and Campbell only the Stanley Cup was to join the team party, no disrespect to the Conn Smythe.

"Tonight was pretty special," Pritchard said Sunday. "For Sharks fans, this was their first time in the Final. I was really impressed how many of their fans stuck around after the game to see the celebration.

"And I was equally impressed that when the Penguins won, Sidney skated pretty much the entire ice with it, which was great."

The triumphant team, their two sterling guests and both Pritchard and Campbell would charter back to Pittsburgh on Monday, expected to arrive late in the afternoon.

A parade was to be planned, as is a summer of celebration. Every player, coach and other members of the organization get to enjoy a day with it, after both trophies are displayed at the NHL Awards on June 22 in Las Vegas.

Pritchard and Campbell know the Stanley Cup will find itself in some unusual situations during the summer before it finally finds its way back to Montreal in September to be cleaned and/or repaired, engraved with the winners' names and polished once more.

"The players have a ton of respect for it," Pritchard said of the Cup. "On their day with it, when they take it home and friends are all there and they want to have a celebration, that's part of their day. Hockey is a great team sport and the guy knows it's going to his teammate the next day. He wants to make sure it's a good day and have a ton of fun with it, but it's all done with respect."

Campbell is forever impressed by the joy the Cup brings everywhere it goes.

"No matter where you are, player to player, city to city, it's just the smiles, to be close to the Stanley Cup," he said. "You'll hear, 'I've never seen it in person before,' but it travels so often. To see a player take it to a hospital, to a minor hockey rink that was a formative part of his career, maybe with some of his first coaches there, those kinds of things… There's a real community pride, no matter who the Cup is with, player or coach or scout. They're so respectful of the history of the game, and they respect the town and people who helped them get where to they are."

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