Magazine article Insight on the News

NHL's Keepers of the Cup

Magazine article Insight on the News

NHL's Keepers of the Cup

Article excerpt

Over the century, the Stanley Cup has been hijacked on many occasions, forcing the National Hockey League to assign chaperones who travel with the trophy everywhere it goes.

The Stanley Cup has been nicked, dented, stolen and lost. It has served as a flower urn, baptismal font and chamber pot. Hockey's signature prize has been used for many things, but contrary to a well-known ESPN commercial, it has never been used for a Jell-O mold. "I don't recall anyone ever doing that," says Paul Metzger-Oke, one of the cup's three chaperones; since 1995, the prize trophy never travels without protection. "But you can be sure someone will ask for something wild and wacky at some point."

The 108-year-old cup, soon to be awarded to this year's champion of the National Hockey League, or NHL, is the best-known trophy in team sports -- not to mention the most well-traveled and (sometimes) well-abused, thanks to a long-running tradition that allows the winning team to keep the chalice each summer.

For example, after the Dallas Stars won the cup last year, center Mike Modano appeared with it on The Late, Late Show. In 1997, three Russians who played for the Detroit Red Wings brought "Stanley" to Moscow. But thanks to a stop at an infamous New York strip club, it no longer goes anywhere without a guardian. The NHL and the Hockey Hall of Fame assigned full-time chaperones to accompany the cup at all times to protect its reputation and keep dings and dangers to a minimum.

In 1996, Washington Capitals forward Chris Simon (then with the Colorado Avalanche) took his grandfather, his girlfriend, the cup and a chaperone fishing on a lake in Wawa, Ontario. "We didn't catch anything," says Phil Pritchard, curator of the Hockey Hall of Fame and the chaperone on Simon's trip, "so I don't know if you'd call that fishing or looking like an idiot with a rod in the water. But afterward, Chris told me he'd been able to fulfill a lifelong dream. It was great."

Not every chapter in Stanley's crazy-quilt history is quite so benign. Donated in 1893 by Lord Stanley, the sixth governor-general of Canada, the cup endured one of its earliest indignities in 1905 when a member of the Ottawa Silver Seven drop-kicked the trophy into the (fortunately) frozen Rideau Canal.

On at least two other occasions, poor Stanley hasn't been as lucky: In 1991, it was found at the bottom of the swimming pool of Pittsburgh Penguin Mario Lemieux, a feat later duplicated by Avalanche goalkeeper Patrick Roy.

In subsequent years, the cup has been dismantled, stolen, urinated in, left on the side of the road, used as an ashtray and pressed into duty as a chewing gum receptacle for a Montreal bowling alley. In 1980, New York Islander Clark Gillies allowed his dog to eat from it. In 1996, Colorado's Sylvain Lefebvre baptized his daughter in it.

And then there's the 1994 New York Rangers, who celebrated Gotham's first championship in 54 years with a dizzying display of stupid cup tricks:

* Ed Olczyk took Stanley to the Belmont racetrack and let 1994 Kentucky Derby winner Go for Gin eat from it.

* Mark Messier hauled it to Scores, a notorious East Side strip club, where it reportedly became a part of the on-stage show.

* Brian Noonan and Nick Kypreos appeared with the cup on MTV's Prime Time Beach House, dressed it in a T-shirt, baseball cap and fake mustache and allowed it to be stuffed with raw oysters.

"There are all sorts of stories," Pritchard says. "In downtown New York, it was put out in the middle of the road so taxi drivers could see it. It went to the Meadowlands. New York is the media capital of the world, and it seemed like every other day the cup was on the front page."

Partially as a response to the Rangers' hijinks, the NHL and the Hall of Fame assigned the cup chaperones. Today, cup keepers Pritchard, Metzger-Oke and Walter Neubrand take turns shepherding Stanley through a crowded itinerary of charity events, arena appearances and summer victory tours. …

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