Hockey Hall of Fame - Stanley Cup Journals: 33
The Stanley Cup Journal

Walt Neubrand and the Stanley Cup look out over Boston's Fenway Park from a vantage point up on the Green Monster.
Close your eyes for a moment, clear all thoughts from your mind, sit back and envision the greatest job in the world………… serving banana daiquiris to a bathing suit convention on a sun-drenched beach in Hawaii? Great, but not amazing. Or how about a taste tester in a chocolate factory? I like that, but you'd get tired of it after awhile. Let's see, how about taking the world's greatest trophy around the world to celebrate the successes of hockey's world champions? Yeah, that's it! That's the greatest job in the world!

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The Stanley Cup is always accompanied by a handler -- one of several who rotate -- supplied by the Hockey Hall of Fame. On the surface, being 'keeper of the Cup' is an incredible job, but underneath the shiny veneer are many nights with no sleep, grabbing meals on the run as you race through the airport to make connecting flights, and extended travel that takes the keepers away from family and friends over long periods of time. Would he trade the opportunity for any other job in the world? "No way," says Walt Neubrand, one of four principals who share the responsibility of accompanying the Stanley Cup on its rounds.

Walt Neubrand was born in Mississauga, Ontario, just west of Toronto, and learned his hockey on the frozen surface of the Credit River. Although always a hockey fan first and foremost, Neubrand also played baseball through his childhood and teenaged years. After graduating from the University of Waterloo, Walt joined the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995, working as a guest services associate. Two years later, he got his first taste of working with the Stanley Cup. It was following the Detroit Red Wings' 1997 Stanley Cup championship, and Walt was asked to accompany the Stanley Cup to Scotty Bowman's home in New York State.

Neubrand left the Hall of Fame in 2000 to become a police officer. Although he graduated from the academy, Walt realized that being a police officer was not for him, and returned to hockey. Although mild-mannered and easy-going, Walt's police training comes in handy should any incidents occur that involve the Stanley Cup. "I've never had a problem," Walt admits. "Everyone who comes to see the Cup has been nothing but respectful."

But being one of the Keepers of the Cup has additional advantages. While accompanying the Stanley Cup to the NHL All-Star Game in Tampa in 1999, Walt met a volunteer from Detroit who would later become his wife. The two introduced themselves, and in 2003, Walt and Laura were married, settling into life in Hamilton, Ontario.

Spending so many days on the road with the Stanley Cup, Walt has seen the trophy in hundreds of different situations. "My favourite trip was taking the Stanley Cup to Rankin Inlet in Nunavut. It was for a hockey tournament," explains Neubrand. "I love the wilderness, and this was an area above the tree line where there were no roads. People in the area are so passionate about hockey that some drove 250 miles by snowmobile just to see the Cup! It was really neat!"

Now that the Stanley Cup travels have wound down for another summer, Walt Neubrand has returned to being an elementary school teacher in Mississauga, although he will occasionally travel with Lord Stanley's legacy through the school year. "Being the Cup Guy is a great job to have," Walt confirms. "As long as they allow me to do it, I'm honoured to accompany the greatest trophy in sports -- the Stanley Cup."

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Mike Bolt (left) relaxes with the 'Canes Andrew Ladd and the object of both their affection -- the Stanley Cup.
Mike Bolt spends as much time in the air as Superman. In fact, with the frantic travel schedule he faced this summer, Mike is the Hockey Hall of Fame's own version of Superman - faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings…okay, maybe not that last one. "This was the most hectic travel schedule I've experienced since I started," he admits.

Mike was born and raised in the Leaside area of Toronto, and played organized hockey in an area rich in hockey heritage -- former Leafs Bob Davidson, Cal Gardner, George Armstrong and Carl Brewer have all called the area home. After managing his own cowboy boot and western wear store, Bolt joined the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995, working on special events and as a guest services associate. His first adventure with the Stanley Cup was a four-hour trip in 1997 to the downtown Toronto headquarters of Canada's public broadcaster, the CBC, just a couple of blocks down the street from the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Mike's many memorable experiences with the Stanley Cup include the 24-hour period the Stanley Cup spent with Ray Bourque in 2001. "Ray's enthusiasm really illustrated how much the Cup means to players," Bolt relates excitedly. "He really went to town. He had a party at the golf club he belongs to. He had special bottles of wine made for the occasion. They were labeled 'Vintage 77' (Bourque's sweater number). He had an ice sculpture fashioned after himself holding the Stanley Cup in the air and each of the table settings had a mini-Stanley Cup. It was amazing!"

In 2002, Mike joined Chris Chelios after Detroit's Stanley Cup win. "Chris had a great time with the Cup and included me in his celebration, which really made me feel great. There were a lot of interesting characters at his party," smiles Bolt, as he reels off names like Kid Rock and actors D.B. Sweeney and John Cusack. Chelios took the Stanley Cup to his golf tournament the next day, although neither he nor Mike Bolt golfed. "We were just hanging out at the ninth hole, and Chris had a band playing. Well, Kid Rock came over and started jamming with the band. Unbelievable! He plays concerts for 20,000 people, and here he is performing for Chris Chelios, me and a handful of friends!"

The affable Cup Keeper may very well put Martin Brodeur's 2000 Stanley Cup celebration at the top of his list of Cup memories. "Martin Brodeur really captured the dream of every kid growing up in Canada when it was his turn with the Cup. In 1995, he got all his childhood buddies together again to play road hockey, just like they used to when they were kids. On the same street, too. And just like years before, they played for the Stanley Cup — except this time, they really did! Brodeur's road hockey team lost that year," Mike laughs as he retells the story. "Well, in 2000, when the Devils won the Stanley Cup again, Brodeur called for a rematch. He got the same guys together and formed the same teams. He pulled out the same old battered net — it was held together with duct tape and had been through the wars and then some. This time, Brodeur's team won. But Martin told me the irony of the street hockey game. When he was a kid, the neighbours used to yell at them to get off the street, sometimes the cops would be called and his Mom tried to get him to throw the net out. Here he is twenty years later using the same net, the cops have blocked off the street so the guys can play and the neighbours are all out on the street cheering them on. Hilarious!"

The summer of 2006 may have been exhausting, but Mike had a terrific time. "The Carolina Hurricanes are such a great organization to work with. Everything was first class," he mentions. Although refusing to pinpoint a single highlight, Bolt expressed great delight in taking the Stanley Cup to Oleg Tverdovsky in Omsk, a city located in southwest Siberia, 2,700 miles from Moscow and an 11-hour time difference to his Toronto home. "Every one of the guys made me feel welcome," he smiles. It's impossible not to like the guy who brings you the Stanley Cup, but Mike is a special guy, and although he takes his job seriously, makes the days fun for all those involved.

Mike Bolt sums up his role as the custodian who accompanies the Stanley Cup, saying, "Every day is a special day when you're with the guys who have won the Stanley Cup. It's been every kid's dream, and the players are no different than any of us; they are living that dream. Watching them with the Stanley Cup is amazing. That part of the job never gets old!"

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After a game of street hockey in the Czech Republic, Josef Vasicek and Bill Wellman (right) decide to call it a draw and share the Stanley Cup.
Although a newcomer this year to attending the Stanley Cup, Bill Wellman is no rookie at the Hockey Hall of Fame, having joined the staff in 1993 just a few months before the legendary hockey attraction moved into its new location at Yonge and Front streets in Toronto. But Bill's ties to the Stanley Cup go back even further. "My grandparents lived not far from the old Hockey Hall of Fame when it was on the Exhibition Grounds, and each time we visited them, which was often, I begged my Mom and Dad to let me stop at the Hockey Hall of Fame, just for a minute, so I could look at the Stanley Cup," he smiles. "My grandfather, God rest his soul, used to say, 'One day, my boy, you'll be polishing that thing.'" Sure enough, one of Bill's proudest roles once he started at the Hall was to keep the Stanley Cup gleaming.

Toronto-born and raised, Wellman played hockey through his teens and had a real passion for the game when he was hired at the Hockey Hall of Fame. Once there, Bill occasionally traveled with various NHL trophies, including the Stanley Cup, but he didn't join the exalted ranks of Cup Keeper until the summer of 2006. "I can't begin to tell you how thrilling it was to travel to Europe with the Cup," Bill says, recalling a trip that took him and Mike Bolt to Switzerland the Ukraine, Russia, the Czech Republic and Sweden. "To see the way people react to the Stanley Cup in countries that seldom see NHL hockey was mindboggling, and made me appreciate even more the impact this trophy has on people."

One of the many good guys who populate the hockey world, Bill Wellman is regularly the one who keeps the mood light at the Hockey Hall of Fame, but when it comes to accompanying the Stanley Cup, he's all business. Among his many summer adventures was a suitcase that went AWOL, leaving Bill in Europe with only his carry-on luggage and the clothes on his back, yet he never missed a beat or an assignment, traversing Europe on borrowed clothes and using hotel sinks as a daily laundromat. It's all in a day's work for the Cup's keeper. "What can you do? Honestly," laughed Wellman. "You can complain all you want but I had a job to do and no one needed to know or hear about my misadventure."

Wearing the requisite white gloves, above all else, Bill enjoyed hearing the adulation of hockey fans, cheering when he arrived at a destination with the Stanley Cup. "I know it wasn't for me, but deep down, I was just so proud to be bringing the Stanley Cup to fans who often had waited for hours, sometimes even a lifetime, to see the Cup. That's the greatest feeling in the world!"

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Exactly what does the person who accompanies the Stanley Cup do? If you have thirty seconds, and have seen MasterCard's award-winning 'Priceless' commercial featuring the Stanley Cup and Phil Pritchard, you get a pretty good idea -- wherever the Cup goes, the keeper goes. It's that simple -- or that complex.

Here's Phil Pritchard, polishing the Stanley Cup during the Carolina/Edmonton final, ready for the winners to claim their prize.
Phil Pritchard is the Vice President of the Resource Centre and Curator of the Hockey Hall of Fame, and teaches a college credit course in hockey's history at Toronto's Seneca College. Born in Oakville, Ontario, Phil's hockey career began later than that of most Canadian boys. His British-born parents weren't raised with Canadian customs like hockey, so after playing road hockey with his pals for a number of years, Phil was finally able to convince his Mom and Dad to register him for ice hockey, and at 13 years of age (six or seven years later than most of his peers), he began playing Bantam. Pritchard had discovered his passion, and now not only works in the hockey industry, but plays ice hockey and ball hockey several times a week all year round.

Phil distinctly remembers the genesis of his love for hockey. "In 1969, there was a Boston/Montreal game on the radio. I was listening to it and loving it, but my Dad taped the game too. I still have that tape at home," grins the Hall of Fame's curator. Phil's first brush with the Hockey Hall of Fame occurred shortly afterwards. "In 1971, I dragged my Dad to the (Canadian National) Exhibition so I could go to the Hall of Fame. Phil Roberto was signing autographs that day and the Montreal Canadiens had just won the Stanley Cup. I stood in line with all the other kids and met Phil Roberto. I've kept his autograph too, and ran into him not long ago. I told him the story and he laughed. He remembered the day — it was the only day he ever signed at the Hockey Hall of Fame!"

On September 24, 1988, Ben Johnson won the gold medal in the 100m sprint at the Seoul Olympics. "No one can take it away from me," said the sprinter with more than just a bit of irony at the time. But the following Monday, the Olympic committee did just that, stripping Johnson of his gold medal. "I'll never forget that day," mentions Pritchard. "That was the day I started at the Hockey Hall of Fame." Phil was one of eight employees, and the Marketing Administrative Co-ordinator found himself working at reception, in the gift shop and doing anything he could to promote the Hockey Hall of Fame. "In October 1988, Jeff Denomme (now the Hockey Hall of Fame's president and COO) and I took the Stanley Cup to the Newmarket Minor Hockey Association's annual banquet. People were thrilled. That was the first time I ever held the Stanley Cup." Since then, Pritchard has been around the world, traveling more than a hundred days each year with hockey's most cherished prize. "History is being made every time the Cup goes out, and I am honoured to be part of that history," admits the modest Pritchard. Often, Phil is almost as well known as the subject he's traveling with. "Mom, look. It's the guy with the Cup from the commercial," kids announce, and Pritchard graciously, if not shyly, has his picture taken with the children or shakes their hands. Many want to know where his white gloves are, and Phil readily pulls a pair out from his pocket. "I go through a lot of gloves each year," he smirks.

It is near impossible for Phil Pritchard to isolate a single trip with the Stanley Cup that was more meaningful than the others, but he does show a genuine enthusiasm for the Stanley Cup's first trip to Russia. "After the Red Wings won the Cup in 1997, plans were made for Igor Larionov, Slava Kozlov and Viacheslav Fetisov to take the Stanley Cup to Russia for the first time. When we got there, the players took the Cup off the plane. It was a rainy, dreary day, but there were thousands of people there to see the Stanley Cup. Fetisov walked the Cup over to the chain link fence, and people stuck their fingers through it to touch the Cup. It was absolutely amazing! These people knew their hockey inside out and really appreciated the legacy of the Stanley Cup. We were in Russia for five days, and visited Lenin's Tomb, Red Square and a lot of historic places." Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov admitted, "I am not a hockey expert but I am sure that the Stanley Cup is one of the most prestigious awards in the world of sport." Phil continues, "We took the Cup to Larionov's hometown of Voskresensk too."

Pritchard has never lost his boyhood excitement for either hockey or for the Stanley Cup. "No matter whether it's little kids or adults playing a kids' game, the reaction is the same," states the Hall's VP. "In today's world, it is wonderful to be able to do something that makes people smile. Whether it is a visit to a player's hometown or taking the Stanley Cup to Sick Children's Hospital, it is the greatest feeling in the world to know that what you do makes someone smile. Everyone has a special place in their heart for the Stanley Cup!"

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On Tuesday, you'll read about the engraving of the Stanley Cup in the Stanley Cup Journal. And next Friday, the final chapter will reveal itself, as the Journal takes you to the raising the Stanley Cup championship banner at the RBC Center.

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Kevin Shea is proud to be affiliated with the Hockey Hall of Fame, and to call
each of the Cup Keepers not only his colleagues, but his friends.
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