Hockey Hall of Fame - Stanley Cup Journals: 13
The Stanley Cup Journal

Monday, July 7 -- Saturday was an incredible day in Magog, Quebec. The skies were all but cloud-free, the air fresh and fragrant and a slight breeze kept the temperature from feeling too sticky. But better yet, the Stanley Cup was in town courtesy of Coach Pat Burns of the championship New Jersey Devils.

Hail to the Cup! Coach Pat Burns raises the Stanley Cup During a police-escorted drive through Magog, Quebec.
By mid-afternoon, a police escort arrived at Burns' beautiful, country home and led a procession to Cantine du Lac on Rue Principale. Pat was in the back of a pickup truck, with the Stanley Cup gleaming in the bright sunshine right behind him. One hundred and fifty guests were waiting for the guests of honour to arrive. Pat had arranged for placement of a New Jersey Devils' towel and a 2003 championship puck at each place setting as a souvenir. The food was outstanding, and each of the invited guests posed for a photograph with Pat Burns and the Stanley Cup. After the dishes had been cleared, a DJ spun music in the background. While coaching in Toronto, Pat often played guitar with popular recording act The Good Brothers, and many at the party wondered if the Coach might pull out his guitar. 'Hmm, let me see, 'Devil with the Blue Dress?' Nah! 'Devil or Angel?' Nope. How about 'The Devils Went Down to Georgia?' Pass.'

The evening was subdued, with conversations between friends as warm as the Magog air. At one junction, Pat introduced his cousin and great friend, Robin Burns. Robin is a character. He is president of I-Tech Sports Products but also a former NHL player. Robin Burns made his NHL debut as a Penguin during the 1970-71 season. After three seasons in Pittsburgh, he was selected by the Kansas City Scouts in the 1974 Expansion Draft and enjoyed two solid seasons wearing Number 13 with the fledgling franchise. Now, if you follow the path of succession, the Kansas City Scouts moved to Colorado and became the Rockies in 1976-77, but struggled and evolved into (voila!) the New Jersey Devils in 1982-83! Pat had a Number 13 New Jersey Devils' sweater made up for his cousin, who he introduced to the guests from the front of the room. After presenting the sweater, Pat barked, "Give that thing a big hoist," and pointed to the Stanley Cup. Choked up, Robin lifted the Stanley Cup to the sky, the tears streaming down his face. Like most NHLers, past or present, there is an unwritten code of honour that prohibits players from touching the Stanley Cup unless they have been blessed with winning it as part of a championship team. "When Pat told me to lift the Cup, I just had to do it," explained Robin. "It was such an honour, especially when Pat explained that as a Kansas City Scout, I was actually part of the extended New Jersey Devils' family!" By 1:30 in the morning, the party slowly broke up. Within hours, the Cup Keeper had packed the Stanley Cup, driven it several hours north and placed it in the arms of Pascal Rheaume, the Devils' star leftwinger.

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.

Philip Pritchard is the Vice President of Hockey Operations at 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 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.

Hockey Hall of Fame curator Phil Pritchard helps hoist the Stanley Cup with the Russian-born Red Wings in front of St. Basil's Cathedral in 1997.
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 chainlink 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 V-P. "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!"

Wednesday at Stanley Cup Journal, Devils' winger Pascal Rheaume gets a surprise he didn't expect!

Kevin Shea is a hockey journalist and historian based in Toronto.

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