The Stanley Cup has been nicked, dented, stolen and lost. It’s partied away countless nights, crisscrossed the globe and served as flower urn, baptismal font and chamber pot.
It’s gone fishing, gone swimming and, thanks to a stop at an infamous New York strip club, it no longer goes anywhere without a guardian. In 1995, the National Hockey League 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.
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,” said Paul Metzger-Oke, one of the Cup’s three chaperones. “But you can be sure someone will ask for something wild and wacky at some point.”
Undoubtedly. The 108-year-old Cup, which will be awarded to the champion of the ongoing NHL playoffs, is the best known trophy in team sports not to mention the most well-traveled, well-used 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. And 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,” said 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, he was found at the bottom of Pittsburgh Penguin Mario Lemieux’s swimming pool, 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.
Kypreos, Messier and Brian Leetch brought the Cup to New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner’s box at a Yankees game. When a Rangers public relations man wanted to place the Cup in the row behind his seat, Leetch reportedly told him “No, let it watch the game.”
“There are all sorts of stories,” Pritchard said. “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.
“It’s a great job, but during the summer you’re constantly on the go,” said Metzger-Oke. “You don’t eat very well and you don’t get a lot of sleep. The logistics can try your patience.”
Because each player and each member of management on a championship team is entitled to between 24 and 48 hours with the Cup, Pritchard said a chaperone’s main responsibility next to keeping Stanley safe is making sure the Cup is in the right place at the right time.
And though Stanley has never been mistakenly sent to Bolivia a la a popular FedEx commercial that task can be nerve-wracking.
“Last year, when we were traveling from Dallas to Los Angeles with Mike Modano, I checked the Cup in about two hours before our flight,” Metzger-Oke said. “And they moved the plane from one terminal to another. Unfortunately, the Cup wasn’t moved along with it.
“So about five minutes before takeoff, the head baggage handler comes on the plane and tells me the Cup is not aboard. So I tell Mike, ‘I have to leave. I can’t be on the plane without the Cup.’ And as I’m walking back into the terminal, there was the Cup coming across the tarmac.
“So I ran back down the jetway, and just as the plane was starting to pull out, I managed to get the pilot’s attention. He brought the plane back in and I hopped on. I made it with about a minute to spare.”
In addition to wearing a suit in Stanley’s presence, chaperones are also required to handle the Cup with white gloves. The only exception, Pritchard said, occurs when the Cup is used as a receptacle for food or drink.
(FYI: Champagne is Stanley’s beverage of choice, followed closely by alcohol of all kinds. Pirogies and Caesar salad have been consumed from it, and Dallas goalkeeper Ed Belfour once considered eating his Saturday morning corn flakes from the Cup before deciding against it.)
“You get beer, champagne. In Russia, it was vodka,” Pritchard said. “So every day, we put on a different hat and become Cup cleaners. Before we go to each player’s house, we shine it up for them.”
When a player receives the Cup, he’s free to celebrate with it in any fashion he chooses, provided he doesn’t: 1) put the Cup in harm’s way; 2) take it somewhere sleazy; 3) use it for commercial purposes.
The Stanley in those ESPN ads? He’s an impostor.
“There’s a lot of leeway,” Metzger-Oke said. “The players can pretty much do anything they want with it, as long as they’re not going to damage the Cup physically or damage its reputation. It’s not allowed to go to places of ill-repute, casinos and exotic-dance clubs.”
Metzger-Oke doesn’t have to play bad cop very often. According to Pritchard, most players are happy simply showing Stanley off to friends and family back home. Last summer, Belfour brought the Cup to his hometown of Carman, Manitoba, for an impromptu parade; three years earlier, Colorado’s Peter Forsberg took the Cup to his hometown of Omskoldsvik, Sweden.
“With Joey Kocur of the Red Wings, we got to spend time in his hometown in Saskatchewan,” said Metzger-Oke. “It’s a town of about 900 people, and we had 3,000 people at his Cup party. People were coming from four, five, six hours away to see the Cup.”
Even with the new rules, eccentric Cup behavior has continued to thrive. In 1996, Colorado’s Uwe Krupp strapped Stanley to the back of his dog sled. The following year, Red Wing Martin Lapointe took the Cup bowling, Darren McCarty took it golfing, and team captain Steve Yzerman showered with it.
McCarty also brought the Cup to a tomato field and with no one around save a bemused Cup chaperone strummed his guitar … while singing to Stanley.
What made him do it? Only the Cup knows for sure.
“The older the trophy gets, the more stories are made,” Pritchard said. “And if the Cup could talk, it would be a best seller.”
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