‘Imperfectly Perfect’ Stanley Cup Trophy Awaits a Sunbelt Winner
Phil Pritchard raised his hand when nobody else did.
During his first week on the job as a 27-year-old staffer with the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Pritchard offered to escort the Stanley Cup to a minor league event in north Ontario, since other staffers weren’t too keen on making the trip to the boonies. Little did he know that one volunteer excursion in 1988 would become the first of countless trips on a three-decade odyssey with North America’s oldest pro sports trophy.
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Since then, the 130-year-old Cup—named for Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley, Lord Stanley of Preston, who bought the original trophy in 1892 to give to the “the champion hockey team in the Dominion of Canada”—has traveled to more than 30 countries, including Afghanistan and Slovenia. Pritchard, a Montreal Canadiens fan, once dreamed of hoisting the Lord Stanley trophy as a player. But today he lives out that dream as the Keeper of the Cup, a position he’s maintained for the last 35 years. He has vivid memories that include Cup-winning players using the hallowed trophy as a vessel for chocolate milk, beer baths, baptisms—and lobster bisque.
“I just hang out with the winners,” Pritchard, the Cup’s main escort, said in a phone interview. “It’s a pretty lucky position to be in.”
The Stanley Cup Finals start on June 3, 2023, with the Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, Dallas Stars and the Vegas Golden Knights all vying to be the next team to etch 52 names of their players, owners and trainers on the prized 37-pound silver and nickel alloy. The Stars are looking for their first title since 1999, while the Hurricanes haven’t won since 2006. The Knights, who were founded in 2017, and the Panthers are aiming for the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
And when the season’s final horn sounds and a new team is crowned, Pritchard will be joined by another keeper, Craig Campbell, to deliver the trophy on the red carpet to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who will present the trophy to the winning team captain.
The Cup presentation is perhaps the most anticipated in North American pro sports, given the prestige around the trophy. It’s the only one of its kind; there’s not a new one made every year as in other leagues.
This history has generated much superstition around the Cup; non-winners don’t touch it while certain teams restrict the trophy from entering their arenas until they’ve clinched. The last NHL team standing will enjoy 100 days this summer with the beautiful yet flawed trophy, which has several misspelled names of teams and former winners.
“Perfectly imperfect is the line that I would use,” another Cup keeper, Mike Bolt, said in a video interview. “We handle it with white gloves, but it has some character, and it doesn’t hide behind glass. It has had more adventures than most people have had in their lifetime.”
The well-traveled trophy will lie low as the final four playoff teams—all from the U.S. Sunbelt—fight for the right to lift it. As the finals get into the deciding games, the Cup will be placed inside arena corridors, waiting to be unveiled by the keepers at the right time, for the right team.
As Pritchard prepares to escort the trophy out on the red carpet once more next month, he’s soaking it all in, with no plans on retiring from his longtime duties.
“If you wake up in the morning and love what you do, you have the greatest job in the world,” he said. “As long as I keep doing that, I’d love to keep doing this.”
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