- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Oh, the places you’ll go when you win the oldest trophy in professional team sports.

The Washington Capitals will bring the Stanley Cup to seven countries by the end of the summer, one shy of the record for the most countries it has visited in one offseason, Phil Pritchard confirmed to The Washington Times.

Pritchard, the vice president and curator of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, is more commonly known to NHL fans as the “Keeper of the Cup,” whose duty it is to travel with the trophy and arrange the itinerary of offseason player visits.

Capitals players, coaches and scouts have already brought the Cup to locations in the U.S., Canada, Russia and the Czech Republic this summer. Upcoming visits to Denmark, Sweden and Germany will push the number to seven.

“They have a good United Nations of a team this year. They have guys from all over the place,” Pritchard said.

Lars Eller, the first Danish player to win a Stanley Cup, will bring the trophy on its first trip to Denmark on Aug. 8. It will be the 26th country on the Cup’s proverbial passport.

If Australian rookie Nathan Walker brought the Cup down under, the Capitals would have tied the record with eight countries. However, Walker did not play enough in either the regular season or the Stanley Cup Final to meet the NHL’s internal regulations for who gets a personal day with the Cup, Walker’s agent told The Washington Times.

The Cup has never been to Australia — or anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere, in fact. But that trip could come before hockey fans know it.

“It’s amazing how the game is growing now, because it’s now a common thing that we’re going to Germany, Sweden, Finland,” Pritchard said. “Hockey is played in over 80 countries around the world now. And they all arguably want to play in the best league in the world, the National Hockey League, and win hockey’s greatest trophy. So who knows where it will go down the road.”

The 2004 champion Tampa Bay Lightning visited eight countries with the Cup thanks to trips to unusual European destinations like Belarus and Ukraine.

The Cup’s latest stop was Braden Holtby’s hometown of Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, for a peaceful day with his family. Last week, T.J. Oshie and Todd Reirden brought the Cup to Minnesota and Indiana, respectively. Alex Ovechkin paraded the Cup through Red Square and took it to a World Cup match in Moscow in early July.

After some more time in Canada this week for Tom Wilson, Devante Smith-Pelly and video coach Brent Leonhardt, the trophy will embark on a second European leg, which Pritchard said was unusual to normal scheduling. He and the winning team try to knock out Russia and the rest of Europe in one swoop.

Though the Capitals retained almost all of their championship team, the two major departures were coach Barry Trotz and backup goalie Philipp Grubauer. But they don’t forfeit their days with the Cup — which are both still to come, Aug. 13 in Germany for Grubauer and Aug. 22 in Manitoba for Trotz.

Pritchard has been around his share of players who have changed teams in June between winning the Cup and getting their days, but makes it sound like it is not as awkward as it seems.

“That’s the way sports and business is,” Pritchard said. “But they won it as a Washington Capital and they’re going to celebrate it as a Washington Capital.”

It was Pritchard’s first week working at the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988 when the Cup needed to go to a Friday appearance at a minor hockey tournament’s registration banquet north of Toronto. No one else wanted to work on a Friday night, so they had the new guy do it.

“It kind of kept happening, and now I don’t put my hand up to volunteer. It’s just part of the whole regimen now,” Pritchard said.

The 1995 New Jersey Devils officially started the tradition of one-day visits for players and important members of the organization, so Pritchard’s role evolved. While the winning team foots the travel bill each year, Pritchard shares the responsibility of organizing the schedule.

Counting in-season and offseason trips, the Cup is on the road about 300 days a year. When Pritchard needs a break from the road, another “keeper” from the Hall of Fame stays by the trophy’s side. The colleagues split the responsibilities, but Pritchard likes to go when a player specifically requests him and considers it an honor.

In his 33 years of Cup travels, Pritchard said he sent a postcard to his wife everywhere he went. She’s kept each one, a total eclipsing 3,200 postcards stored somewhere in the Pritchard abode reflecting the Keeper’s unique life.

“But I think if I had the chance, I’d trade it any time for my name to be on the Cup and someone bringing the Cup to me,” Pritchard said. “Without a hesitation.”

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