The Stanley Cup turned 125 last Saturday and I had the privilege of speaking to the man who has been following the most prestigious trophy, Philip Pritchard.
Known to hockey fans as “The Keeper of the Cup”, Philip is curator at the Hockey Hall of Fame, where he looks after the artifacts and the displays. But one of the biggest parts of his job is to follow the Stanley Cup around.
“Promoting the game of hockey is an integral part of the whole position and there is no better way to promote the greatest sport in the world than with the greatest trophy.”
One question that has been on my mind since seeing the man in the white gloves walk out with the glamorous trophy for the first time was: How do you get that job?
“If you ask my wife, she’ll tell you I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Pritchard said chuckling, “I graduated from Sheridan College and went to Durham in sports administration. From there I got an internship with the Ontario Hockey League and through contacts I came to the Hockey Hall of Fame. One day they asked who wanted to bring the Cup to Newmarket and I raised my hand. I’ve been raising my hand ever since.”
The Stanley Cup is arguably the hardest trophy to win in sports, but it’s also a tradition, making it so special.
“The tradition of the Cup makes it so unique. The players win as a team, get their names on the Cup as a team and they celebrate as a team. For players to win something they’ve worked their whole life for, to reach their peak in their pro lives and have the opportunity to bring it home, the feeling must be out of this world.”
But when the clock strikes zero, Philip says the emotion of the players is unbelievable.
“It’s a bit of everything. Happiness, relief, gratification. Think of some of the captains, they are so exhausted yet so relieved. They skate around in front of 18,000 plus fans. When they get to the dressing room, they become kids again, they look at the names of the guys on the Cup and that’s when it hits them.”
Before all the on-ice celebration begins, Philip is tasked with carrying the Stanley Cup onto the ice.
“I get nervous every time. With the ice and the red carpet out there, we don’t want to become a Youtube moment,” said Pritchard, laughing. “Once I walk on that red carpet, I’m very humbled to a part of the sport I grew up loving. I’m very fortunate.”
When a team wins the Stanley Cup, they get 100 days with it. They choose how they divide it. The trophy goes to players, coaches, staff, management and the owners. Normally coaches, vets and captains get two days with it, while others get one. These 100 days also include the team parades and sponsors.
Of course, with great power comes great responsibility. The Cup travels to many different countries and Philip is the one that ensures that the silver trophy reaches its destination safely.
“Damage is a big concern, obviously we try and keep it in the best shape as possible. But more than anything, we try to fly direct, because we all know luggage can get lost during a connection. I remember once in 1999 it got lost during a connection in Czech Republic. Thankfully there are a lot of hockey fans out there.”
With the victory, comes the celebrations. After all these years, there is one player whose time spent with the Cup stands out from the rest.
“Teemu Selanne,” said Pritchard with absolutely no hesitation. “Anaheim only had two European players on their team, Selanne and Bryzgalov. Since the flights didn’t go to Bryzgalov’s home every day in Russia, Selanne got some extra time with it and it was spaced out incredibly. He included everybody, it was massive. He’s a great guy, people love him. He should really be a movie star; he’s got it all going for him. It was a great day.”
Traditions are different no matter what country you visit. Philip recalls some unusual parties and locations he’s gone to with Cup.
“I remember Kimmo Timonen’s day in Finland. Saunas are a big part of his life and of the culture there, so he had a big sauna party. It might be a little weird for us, but to them it’s normal, it’s home,” said Pritchard, “we’ve brought it fishing, rock climbing, all sorts of places.”
Sometimes it isn’t all fun and games. Usually, players will bring the Cup to a cemetery to visit lost loved ones.
“It’s a very powerful moment. I usually sit back and let the player have his moment because it’s a special one. It really makes their day and the families day.”
Being the Keeper of the Cup, Philip has more than enough stories to go around. He recalls one that Kimmo Timonen told him.
“Kimmo was telling me, in the sauna, that at the morning skate the day Chicago won the Cup, captain Jonathan Toews skated up to him and said ‘Kimmo when we win the Cup tonight I’m giving it to you first.’” Kimmo said his knees buckled and he said to himself “Now I know why this guy is captain.”
Timonen also has a charity called “Kime 4 kids”, and gave Philip a rubber bracelet with the name of the charity on it. It’s the only thing he has on his wrist.
Philip has several memories with the Cup, but not one stands out more than the other.
“I like it every time I go out with it. It’s another chapter. I don’t think I could narrow it down to one, every time I go to a new place it’s special for me.”
And how would he celebrate if he was a player?
“I grew up in Burlington and still hang out with my buddies there, so they would be a part of it. My family would be a huge part of it too. I wish my dad was still around to see it so there would be a moment there. I would share it the ones I love.”
For any hockey player, winning the Stanley Cup is their dream. Taking a sip from it is the only thing a young player can think about while growing up with the sport. Some say only the players who won should be allowed to sip, because they’ve deserved it. This is what Philip believes in.
“I have taken a sip, and it’s totally against anything I believe. I believe only players who won can drink from it,” said Pritchard. “But in 1997, the Cup was brought to Russia for the first time, and part of the celebration was to drink Russian vodka out of it. Igor Larionov asked me to drink from it. I declined at first but Igor insisted that I was part of this moment, part of history, so I took a sip. Larionov made me part of it.”
With everything he has done, I think Mr.Pritchard has earned a sip from the treasured trophy. He is one of the most humble people I have ever had the chance to talk to and took some time out of his schedule to talk to me.
Hopefully as fans we will continue to witness historic moments.
Happy 125th Lord Stanley.