Phil Pritchard, the official keeper of the Stanley Cup, said the reaction is almost always the same. But there are a few reactions that really stand out.
There was the time the trophy made its way to upstate New York to visit a little boy named Noah Doran, whose father was making his third round of service with the Army in Afghanistan. His father surprised him with a Skype call. But that was only after the Stanley Cup had arrived at Noah’s house in a limousine.
Then there was the time when a woman walked up to Pritchard and mistook the Stanley Cup for a coffee urn. “I don’t know if she ever got her coffee but she’s a hockey fan now,” Pritchard said.
And then there was last week, when Pritchard, along with the National Hockey League and Discover, surprised the U.S. Naval Academy’s hockey team with the sport’s biggest and most famous prize. The Midshipmen completed their most successful season with a 29-7-2 record and ended the season ranked eighth nationally. Whether it’s the NHL Finals or a surprise visit to a youth hockey practice, when the Stanley Cup is rolled out onto the ice, each time is special.
“It’s amazing,” Pritchard said. “When they see it for the first time or the fiftieth time, it’s always the same.”
There’s awe and amazement and reverence for a trophy that’s 121 years old, 36 inches high, and weighs 35 pounds. It’s the only trophy in sports that isn’t recreated each year. That’s part of what makes the Stanley Cup so special. There is only one and each time someone sees it they are reminded a time in their own personal sports history – of watching hockey games, falling for their favorite player, and watching the Stanley Cup Finals.
It started in 1989. Pritchard was on his first week at a new job working for the Hockey Hall of Fame when he was asked to take the Cup north of Toronto, and up to Colin Patterson, then a member of the NHL champion Calgary Flames. “I kind of sheepishly put up my hand and it went from there,” Pritchard said. “I really haven’t put my hand down since I guess. [But] to be that close to what is the greatest game in the world is pretty special.”
At that time there was no precedent for players taking a turn keeping the Stanley Cup. Now the winner of the NHL championship keeps the Cup for much of the summer. The Cup then travels for nearly 300 days of the year.
“If you ask my wife, I was in the wrong spot at the wrong time,” Pritchard said, adding that she would rather he didn’t have to trasverse the world with the NHL’s grand prize.