Hockey Hall of Fame - Stanley Cup Journals: 37
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The Stanley Cup is always accompanied by a handler, one of several who rotate, and is supplied by the Hockey Hall of Fame. On the surface, being 'keeper of the Cup' is the greatest job in the world, but underneath that shiny veneer, it truly is one of the great unheralded jobs -- too many nights with no sleep, too many meals eaten on the fly racing through the airport to make a connecting flight, and extended travel that takes the keeper away from family and friends over long periods of time. Yet, there's not a hockey fan we've met yet who wouldn't trade his or her soul for the chance to accompany the greatest trophy in sport — the Stanley Cup.

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Mike Bolt spends almost as much time with the Stanley Cup as the NHL's championship team. Crisscrossing the continent, Mike ensures that the rights and privileges that accompany winners of the Stanley Cup are both enjoyed and upheld, doing so in a firm yet most entertaining way. Loved by both players and management, Bolt is a hockey fan first and foremost, but treats his job with the seriousness it demands. Even NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman once took him aside and said, "You've got an awesome job."

Born and raised in Toronto, Mike dreamed of one day hoisting the Stanley Cup just like every other hockey-playing youngster. After all, the Leaside area in which he grew up was rich in hockey heritage -- former Maple Leafs George Armstrong, Carl Brewer, Bob Davidson and Cal Gardner all called the area home. But life took a different turn early on, as Mike's career saw him managing a cowboy boot and western wear store. It wasn't until 1995, when he joined the Hockey Hall of Fame working on special events and as a guest services associate, that the path veered back towards hockey. Mike's first foray with the Stanley Cup was a quick jaunt down the street from the Hockey Hall of Fame to the studios of the CBC, Canada's public broadcaster, in 1997.

Cup Keeper Mike Bolt's hectic travel schedule in the summer of 2007 featured a visit to Cranbrook, British Colombia where this time, both brothers Rob and Scott Niedermayer celebrated as champions. (HHOF Archives)
Among Bolt's most memorable experiences with the Stanley Cup was the day spent with Ray Bourque and the Stanley Cup in 2001 after the All-Star defenceman finally won the Cup while a member of the Colorado Avalanche. "Ray's enthusiasm really illustrated how much the Cup means to players," Mike recalled. "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, after the Detroit Red Wings' championship, Mike took the Stanley Cup to Chris Chelios. "Chris had a great time with the Cup and included me in his celebration, which really made me feel great," smiled Mike. "There were a lot of interesting characters at his party," laughed Bolt, reeling off the names of celebrity celebrants like John Cusack and D.B. Sweeney. Although neither Chelios nor Bolt participated, the Stanley Cup was taken to a golf course. "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!"

Another prominent memory for Mike was Martin Brodeur's Stanley Cup celebration in 2000. "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 tells the story. "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. 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 him 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!"

The summer of 2007 was as enjoyable as any he had previously enjoyed, but Mike can't remember being so exhausted at the end of the celebrations. "This was the most hectic travel schedule I've experienced since I started," he admits. Among the highlights of the summer for this Keeper of the Cup was visiting the Cranbrook area and taking the Stanley Cup to Ottawa with Sean O'Donnell. "Watching the Niedermayers enjoying themselves so much with the Stanley Cup was phenomenal," said Bolt. "This was clearly a very special few days for the brothers, and they took advantage of every second." Mike recalled with equal enthusiasm Sean O'Donnell's visit to Rideau Hall with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. "Here we are with one of the most powerful men in Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and he's talking hockey with us like we're friends," said the incredulous Bolt. "He really amazed both me and Sean with his hockey history. He really knows his stuff!"

"Every one of the guys made me feel welcome," he stated. It's impossible not to like the guy who brings you the Stanley Cup, but although Mike takes his job seriously, he keeps the days fun for all those involved.

Mike 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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Keeper of the Cup Walt Neubrand (right) and Chris Pronger (left) pose for a photo prior to the Ducks' defenseman's backyard celebration party held in his Californian home. (HHOF Archives)
Would Walt Neubrand trade the opportunity of being the Keeper of the Cup for any other job in the world? "No way," he said.

Walt Neubrand was born in Mississauga, just west of Toronto, and learned his hockey on the frozen surface of the Credit River. Although always a hockey fan first and foremost, Walt was also a baseball player up through his 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. During the Detroit Red Wings' 1997 Stanley Cup championship, Walt was asked to accompany the Stanley Cup to Scotty Bowman's home in New York State.

Neubrand briefly left the Hall of Fame in 2000 to become a police officer, but after graduating from the academy, he realized that being a police officer was not for him, and returned to hockey. But the training comes in handy should any incidents occur that involve the Stanley Cup. "I've never had a problem," Walt admitted. "Everyone who comes to see the Cup has been nothing but respectful."

Being one of the Keepers of the Cup has certain 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. They are currently expecting their first child.

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 for a hockey tournament," explained 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!"

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 confirmed. "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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Cup Keeper Bill Wellman (left) kicked off his summer travels with a stop by Anaheim Ducks defenseman Sean O'Donnell's (right) home in Orange County. (HHOF Archives)
This was just the second summer attending the Stanley Cup for Bill Wellman, although he's been with the Hockey Hall of Fame since 1993, joining the staff just a few months before the legendary hockey attraction moved into its new location at Yonge and Front streets in Toronto.

Toronto-born and raised, Bill played hockey through his teens and has always had an intense passion for the game, even before being hired at the Hockey Hall of Fame. Once there, Bill occasionally travelled with various NHL trophies, including the Stanley Cup, but 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 that summer," Bill said, recalling a trip that saw him take the Stanley Cup 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."

Bill Wellman is usually 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 with only his carry-on luggage and the clothes on his back, yet he never missed a beat or an assignment, wearing borrowed clothes and using hotel sinks as a daily laundromat. "What can you do?" laughed Wellman. "You can complain all you want but I had a job to do and no one needed to hear about my bad luck."

Wearing the requisite white gloves, Wellman never tires of observing the adulation of hockey fans, cheering when he arrived at a destination with the Stanley Cup. "I was just so proud to be bringing the Stanley Cup to fans who often have waited for hours, sometimes even a lifetime, to see the Cup. That's the greatest feeling in the world!"

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Hockey Hall of Fame Vice-President and Resource Centre and Curator Phil Pritchard prepares the Stanley Cup for presentation during the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals. (HHOF Archives)
Several years back, MasterCard produced a well-remembered commercial that featured the Stanley Cup and its keeper, Phil Pritchard. In 30 seconds, the commercial explained the role of the Cup Keeper, and pushed the shy Vice President of the Resource Centre and Curator of the Hockey Hall of Fame into the spotlight.

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. My Dad taped the game too. I still have that tape at home," he grinned. 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. The following Monday, the Olympic committee did just that, stripping Johnson of his gold medal. "I'll never forget that day," mentioned 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," admitted 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 smirked.

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."

During the summer of the Duck, Phil thought for a moment when asked for his 2007 highlight, and then responded, "I guess I'd have to say taking the Stanley Cup to Manitoulin Island during Randy Carlyle's time with the Cup. It's always phenomenal to take the Cup to a place it's never been to before, and to watch at how appreciative the fans are!"

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," stated 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 Friday, you'll feel like you're looking over the shoulder of Louise St. Jacques as she engraves the Stanley Cup with the names of the 2007 Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks. Come back and join us here at the Stanley Cup Journal.

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Kevin Shea is one of the contributors to 'Travels With Stanley' by The Keepers of the Cup, a book of geography and history lessons taught through the travels of the Stanley Cup (Fenn Publishing).

All Photographs are property of the Hockey Hall of Fame and may not be reproduced without prior written consent. For more information regarding use of our photographs please contact us.

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