VANCOUVER – It has cradled newborn babies and bid farewell to the dying, stood tall in the middle of a war zone and gazed down upon Paris from the heights of the Eiffel Tower.
Since its birth close to 120 years ago, the Stanley Cup has travelled more kilometres than a diplomat, wandering the world as professional hockey’s most-famous ambassador, greeting heads of state and commoners, amassing tales — perhaps, even a few secrets along the way.
“If it could talk, I mean, you’d be better off interviewing it than us because it’s like an inanimate object that is almost human in a way,” said Phil Pritchard, the cup’s keeper, in a phone interview from Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame.
“It’s so revered and so respected and people are such in awe with it. It’s amazing, and I don’t think Lord Stanley back in the 1890s ever imagined or ever knew what would happen not only with the game of hockey but his own trophy.”
Sometime, in the next week, the cup will travel in a non-descript but very secure case to the hometown of the 2011 Stanley Cup champions — either Boston or Vancouver.
From there, it will begin the next chapter of its storied life, a life Pritchard has seen up close during the past two decades.
He travels around the world with the cup, purchased from a London, England silversmith in 1893 and awarded to the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association later that year by Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley, Canada’s governor general at the time.
While on Pritchard’ watch, the cup has travelled to some remote locations, like Kandahar, Afghanistan and Yekaterinburg, Russia, the latter being about 1,667 kilometres northeast of Moscow and hometown to Pavel Datsyuk, a member of the Detroit Red Wings’ 2007-2008 championship team.
Despite its remoteness, he said, Yekaterinburg’s residents were not unfamiliar with the cup.
“We could have been in Northern Ontario; we could have been in Minnesota,” said Pritchard. “I mean, people had Red Wings’ shirts on. They had pucks, you know, they had mini sticks to get signed. Other than the language, you wouldn’t know where you were.”
Two years later, in August 2010, the cup travelled to Paris, France, thanks to Cristobal Huet, a member of the Chicago Blackhawks’ winning team.
According to the Hockey Hall of Fame’s website, the Eiffel Tower opened early so Huet, a native of Grenoble, France, could make the trip to the top.
When Huet emerged below at the tower’s base, said Pritchard, a crowd of fans wanted photos with him and the cup.
Back across the Atlantic, the cup has also travelled to some impressive heights.
Andrew Ladd, who played for Chicago in 2010, rode a helicopter with the cup to the top of Crown Mountain, north of Vancouver, just to watch the sunrise.
To the east in Toronto, the cup has even welcomed royalty.
Pritchard’s not sure whether or not Canada’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, has actually seen the cup up close, but Sweden’s king and queen, Carl Gustav and Silvia, have during a 2006 visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“They are big hockey fans in Sweden. Their national team is very close to the hearts of everyone in Sweden including the king and queen,” said Pritchard.
Some visits add a touch of seriousness and urgency, though, like trips to children’s hospitals and hospices, where it can bring smiles to the face of the sick and dying.
“When you go to a place like that…it helps everyone just a little bit,” said Pritchard.
The cup has also greeted newcomers to this world. Brent Seabrook, who was also on Chicago’s 2010 winning team, took a photo of the cup, which held a newborn baby, in Delta Hospital.
When asked about the interesting food and drink it has held, Pritchard said he’s seen people eat traditional Slovakian soup, perogies, breakfast cereal, and even baby lobster from the bowl.
After such occasions, he’s used mild detergent and warm water to clean the cup.
Not always is the cup so easy to clean or even fix, especially when it goes missing as airline baggage or is dropped accidentally and damaged, Pritchard said.
Asked to comment on a unique Stanley Cup fact most may not know about, Pritchard paused for a second, before talking about people’s reaction to seeing the cup for the first time, the engraved names of its winners, its history and grandeur.
“It’s revered and held in awe and in a special place in everybody’s heart…especially those two teams that are playing right now.”