Hockey Hall of Fame - Stanley Cup Journals: 2009, 27

Born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Mike Bolt first official accompaniment with Stanley was in 1997. (HHOF Archives)
The Stanley Cup is always accompanied by a handler from the Hockey Hall of Fame. On the surface, being 'Keeper of the Cup' is the greatest job in the world, but beneath the shiny surface, it truly is one of the great unheralded jobs &ndsash; too little sleep, too many meals eaten on the run and extended travel that takes the Cup 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 &ndsash; 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 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's Leaside area, Mike Bolt was no different than most other hockey-playing boys &ndsash; he, too, dreamed of one day hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head. But his career path took a different turn early on, and instead of a hockey career, Mike managed a cowboy boot and western wear store in Toronto. It wasn't until 1995, when he joined the Hockey Hall of Fame 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.

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 as 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 labelled '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."

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 recalled. He chuckled as he recalled the addendum to 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 2009 was highly enjoyable for Bolt, who spent his twelfth year accompanying the Stanley Cup. "Every one of the guys made me feel welcome," he stated. "I can't point out one highlight of the summer because every one of the players, coaches or trainers I was with this summer celebrated in his own special way. 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 &ndsash; 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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This was Bill’s fourth summer as Keeper of the Cup. (HHOF Archives)
This was summer number four as Keeper of the 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 mind-boggling, and made me appreciate even more the impact this trophy has on people."

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. 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!"

While a lot of work, the summer of 2009 was highly regarded by Bill. He cited two very different highlights from the Penguins' victory tour. "Going back to the Summit Series in 1972, I have always thought the Russian national anthem was very good, very moving. Standing with Evgeni Malkin and hearing the Russian anthem played in Russia was definitely moving and definitely a highlight." And his other? "You have no idea how good the crepes were that Kris Letang's mother made for us in Montreal," he said. "Apple and cheese crepes better than any I've ever tasted. Unbelievable!"

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Stanley Cup Cup Keeper Walt Neubrand and Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik
Stanley Cup Cup Keeper Walt Neubrand and Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik. (HHOF Archives)
Would Walt Neubrand trade the opportunity of being Keeper of the Cup for any other job in the world? "No way," he replied.

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' Stanley Cup championship in 1997, Walt was asked to accompany the 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, realized that that life 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 any real 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, where they are now parents of a little girl with another child on the way.

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 has returned to being an elementary school teacher, although he will occasionally travel with Lord Stanley's Cup through the school year when time allows. "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 &ndsash; the Stanley Cup."

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Born in Oakville, Ontario the Vice President of the Resource Centre and Curator of the Hockey Hall of Fame Phil Pritchard easily goes through hundreds of white gloves per year. (HHOF Archives)

The glove-wearing Keeper of the Cup has become an icon in the sporting world, so much so that the Hockey Hall of Fame uses the imaging as the basis of marketing campaigns, including contesting and television commercials. The popular commercial featured the Stanley Cup and its well-recognized Keeper, Phil Pritchard. In 30 seconds, the commercial followed a day in the life of the Vice President and Curator of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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 recalled. 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 &ndsash; 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 as 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." In the twenty-one years since then, Pritchard has been around the world several times, 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 laughed.

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."

The summer of 2009 introduced wonderful new Cup highlights to Pritchard. "Truthfully, every story with every player is great. Sidney (Crosby)'s days with the Cup reconfirmed just how huge this game, its players and the Stanley Cup can be. That was an incredible couple of days. But one I want to mention is Coach Dan Bylsma's day with the Cup. He is a great, down-to-earth guy and packed his day with the kinds of things that are special to him. I can't imagine anyone enjoyed their day with the Cup as much as Dan Bylsma."

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 visit kids in the 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 look over the shoulder of Louise St. Jacques as she engraves the Stanley Cup with the names of the 2009 Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Come back and join us here at the Stanley Cup Journal.

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Kevin Shea is the author of 'Summer With Stanley', a chronicle of the Pittsburgh Penguins' championship summer.

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