In 1988 Phil Pritchard left his job Canadian Hockey League Services, where his boss was former Komet Dave Norris, to start a new career at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. During his first week on the job, he was told to take the Stanley Cup to New Market, Ontario for a minor hockey association fundraiser.
He's rarely been home since.
Now the vice president and curator at the Hall of Fame, Pritchard is known as the ``Keeper of the Cup.'' That means he's grown adept at sleeping on airplanes and is mostly responsible for traveling with the Stanley Cup wherever it goes. That includes making sure it's in place and ready to be awarded to the National Hockey League championship team at the end of the playoffs.
Ironically, Pritchard, 50, won't be here Tuesday night when the Stanley Cup makes its second-ever appearance in Fort Wayne (the first was at the 2004 United Hockey League All-Star Game). He'll be speaking in Florida for the NHL Fan Club Association meetings, though he said he loves coming to games in Fort Wayne. He regularly came to Memorial Coliseum during the early 1990s to watch buddy Dave Smith play center for the Komets.
The cup will on display from approximately 5:30-7:30 p.m. at HOPE for Animals, 1333 Maycrest Dr. Because of the Los Angeles Kings won it on June 11, Kings scout and former Komets player and coach Rob Laird gets to spend a day with it. He has elected to host the cup in Fort Wayne that day and wants to share it with fans at his wife Madeleine's place of business.
The Komets are also sponsoring the event and including the Central Hockey League's Presidents' Trophy and two of the International Hockey League's Turner Cups in the display. Current and former Komets will also be on hand to sign autographs and greet fans.
Mike Bolt who has worked for the hall of fame since 2001 will take Pritchard's usual role in Fort Wayne. There are four people who travel with the cup bearing the official title of ``Keeper of the Cup,'' providing 24-hour supervision and only handling it while wearing white gloves. The ``Keeper of the Cup'' crew has been known to go through 24 pairs of white gloves per season.
The cup is requested for more than 700 appearances each year, traveling almost 300 days, and Pritchard was away from home for 174 days last year. Each summer, the championship team is allowed 100 days for the cup to be shared among players, coaches and other members of team management.
The NHL, the team and the hall of fame try to design a schedule based on geography to streamline the process. Players are contacted and asked for a wish list of what they'd like to do with the cup before the schedule is put together.
``Every event we go to, people have a smile on their faces,'' Pritchard said. ``I don't know how many jobs there are around the world you can say that about. There's not that many out there were no one is ticked off at you. We could show up late and people are still thrilled you are there.''
Players started to receive a day with the cup in 1995. The cup is almost always trested with utmost respect, especially by the players and people who have won it. Really, no one wants to be known as the person who messed up the cup with some stupid stunt.
``The best part about it is they have spent a lifetime toward this so the respect that the guys who have won it have is unbelievavble,'' Pritchard said. ``Not a lot has happened to it, ever. More than anything, it's all up to the player what they want to do with it. They are not going to do anything that is to disrespectful to the NHL, the Kings or their community. We don't say, `No,' but sometimes we may say, `Why do you want to do that?' or `Are you sure that's what you want to do?' They all want the next guy to be able to have as much fun with it as they do.''
There's also a six-page set of regulations regarding the cup which the host must sign. Included are details about background displays, a prohibition of corporate logos and that it must be displayed on a round table. No other non-NHL trophy is allowed to be displayed within 12 feet of the Stanley Cup.
``All Rob has to worry about that day is having a good time and celebrating his victory,'' Pritchard said. ``We're there to make his day the best it can be.''
No, Laird's name will not be on the cup yet. When the traveling celebrations are done, the cup will be engraved, a process that takes 10 days. Then it will be taken to a private Kings' celebration where all the players and management members can see it together with their names on it.
There are also two Stanley Cups. The original, the one the players hoist on the ice, is the one that travels. When it travels, there is a duplicate on display at the Hall of Fame. Every 13 years, the bottom band is replaced and put on display in the hall of fame, meaning Laird's name will be on the cup for the next 59 years.
Though almost no one who has to travel for a living enjoys every part of their job, Pritchard said the ability to see how the cup has touched and changed people's lives is amazing.
``To meet the people and go to the places and see the smiles is awesome,'' he said. ``It's someting you could do forever. I would do anything for me to have won it and have brought it to me. It's absolutely amazing. I get my sleep whenever I can and it's great being part of the whole thing.''
Stanley Cup marginalia
* Was first presented in 1893; therefore the Cup is 119 years old.
* Is the oldest trophy competed for by professional athletes
* Logged more than 800,000 miles in travel since the 2000-2001 NHL season, including trips to Russia, Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland, Japan, Austria, Germany, Italy, England, Belarus, Ukraine, Alaska, the Arctic Circle, Belgium, Afghanistan, Dubai, France and the Bahamas
* Has raised more than $7.2 million for charity over the past seven seasons
* There have been several names mispelled, only some of which have been corrected. Jacques Plante's name has been misspelled, (including "Jac," and "Jacq" ); Bob Gainey was spelled "Gainy" when he was a player for Montreal in the 70s; Ted Kennedy was spelled "Kennedyy" in the 40s; New York Islanders was spelled "Ilanders" in 1980/81; the Toronto Maple Leafs was spelled "Leaes" in 1962/63; the Boston Bruins was spelled "Bqstqn" in 1972.
* One name has been scratched out, "Basil Pocklington," father of former Edmonton Oilers owner, Peter, who put his dad's name on the Stanley Cup in 1983/84. Today on the Cup one can see a series of "Xs" over his name.
* The cup is allowed to be on display at a sponsor event a maximum of four hours.
* It can not be displayed in a commercial space, mall or retail outlet.
* The cup has a $100 per day per diem