Sports | March 22, 2019 5:00 am

The Keeper of the Stanley Cup on the Series’ 125th Anniversary

Phil Pritchard has been the "Keeper of the Cup" for 31 years.

keeper of the cup
15 Aug 1997: Phil Pritchard of the hockey Hall of Fame (Ezra O. Shaw /Allsport)
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It’s not yet time for the puck to drop on center ice for the 2018-2019 NHL playoff season, but one evening in the not-too-distant future, Phil Pritchard will walk the Stanley Cup out onto a postgame red carpet and present it, with his stark-white gloves, to this year’s championship team.

“It is the most unique trophy in all of sports,” Pritchard wrote about the NHL’s top honor in 2015 for the Players’ Tribune. “It has an aura that can’t be explained unless you understand what it means to hockey players.”

Pritchard has been the “Keeper of the Cup” for 31 years — just a shade under the league’s 125-year history of playoff seasons — and has been responsible for its well-being not only at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto where it resides, but across the world during its offseason travels, too.

“I never get tired of seeing the reaction the Cup gets,” he told ESPN in 2016, “There’s pure exhaustion, joy … every emotion possible.”

Pritchard’s duties began during his first week on the job at the Hockey Hall in 1989 when he volunteered to take the Cup up to Toronto to Colin Patterson, then a member of the NHL champion Calgary Flames, he told Men’s Journal.

“I kind of sheepishly put up my hand and it went from there,” he 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.”

That same trip the Cup took to a champion’s home was its first, kicking off  a beloved tradition for professional hockey. Now, after the Cup is presented to its new owners, the real adventure begins for roughly 300 days of the year.

And it’s Pritchard’s job to serve as chaperone.

“If you ask my wife, I was in the wrong spot at the wrong time,” Pritchard told Men’s Journal.

keeper of the cup
Keeper of the Cup for the Hockey Hall of Fame, Phil Pritchard, carries the Stanley Cup on the red carpet at the 2018 NHL Awards. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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One of his favorite uses for the Cup was when Tomas Kopecky of the Chicago Blackhawks took the trophy to his native Slovakia in 2010 to “eat his mother’s homemade soup out of it.”

He told ESPN, “We have had soup, lobster, chocolate, jello, ice cream, all sorts of drinks,” dumped into the cup along its travels. “It all seems weird, but when you hear why they want to do it… it all makes sense!”

The Cup has faced its fare share of unfortunate mishaps along its travels, according to Pritchard, but, thankfully, nothing too extreme. It is, after all, the only trophy in sports that isn’t recreated every year.

“Dings, dents,” he admitted to ESPN, “but I guess when [we’re] 123 [years old] we might have some dings and dents as well!”

Pritchard and the 35-pound, 36-inch tall Cup have been to over two dozen countries [“and counting”] by his own estimate. “Being part of different cultures and traditions is always great,” he said.

Together, they’ve been to the top of Vancouver Island’s Mount Waddinton with the Los Angeles King’s Willie Mitchell, Finland, Russia and Detroit, to name a few championship locations, but the duo has never been south of the equator.

But despite the number of places he’s been and the experiences he’s had as the Keeper of the Cup, the biggest thrill for Pritchard is the honor of the job itself.

“Walking out on the red carpet on the ice on the night it’s about to be presented is always special,” he told USA Today in 2018. “The announcer says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the Stanley Cup.’ It’s pretty amazing to be standing at center ice with the Stanely Cup on the table, and there’s 20,000 people going crazy… chills go up my spine every time I carry it because I’m walking around with sports’ greatest trophy.”