MONTREAL -- If the names of players and teams that have won the Stanley Cup were perfectly aligned on its barrel, if the task of etching those names for posterity were left to a heartless machine, the Cup would still be distinctive but it would be too perfect, more likely to be admired from afar than embraced.
If neat rows of letters marched around the bands of a spotlessly gleaming trophy, eager hands might be hesitant to touch it and trace names that are both strange and familiar. If the Cup were flawless, fans might be afraid to hug it or to plop bewildered infants in its bowl for pictures.
The names are uneven in places and there’s a blotch of unsightly XXXXs among the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers where owner Peter Pocklington’s attempt to include the name of his father, Basil, was obliterated. But those imperfections make the Cup approachable and generate great stories, history coming alive on a 35-pound trophy that has been triumphantly hoisted atop mountains, dropped carelessly to the bottom of a swimming pool and reverently taken to the graves of winners’ departed loved ones.
That the names are still added by hand is an important facet of the Cup’s charm. Louise St-Jacques, who began engraving the NHL’s trophies in 1988 in a silversmith shop in Montreal, takes her responsibility so seriously that she has become part of the Cup’s mystique even though she’s reluctant to talk about it.
“My immediate family is aware of what I am doing but not aware of when I am going to do it,” she said. “This is a good precaution for any unnecessary advertising.”
She’s also so wary of losing her focus that she doesn’t allow reporters or photographers to observe her while she works. She agreed to answer questions about her unique job only via email.
“I was extremely nervous on my first stamping as this is NHL history and remains forever,” she said. “Being nervous might allow a mistake, so my full concentration is paramount.
“While stamping, I do not take any calls and remain by myself with absolutely no distraction.”
She did misspell one name — she initially inscribed Colorado’s Adam Deadmarsh as “Deadmarch” in 1996 — but later fixed it. Older mistakes have been left intact. However, old spelling errors were corrected on the replica Cup, which was commissioned in the early 1990s and remains at the Hall of Fame. The Cup that’s awarded on the ice and spends time with the winning coaches, players, executives and other team staffers is known as the Presentation Cup, and that’s the one St-Jacques works on first.
After traveling with the Kings this summer to Slovenia, Russia, western Canada, the eastern United States and many points in between, the Cup was delivered to St-Jacques last Thursday. Besides adding the Kings’ names to the bottom band she will freshen it up and smooth out the damage done by long months of the Cup’s being carted around to get hugged, kissed and used as a cereal bowl.
The names of 13 teams fit on each band, and when a band fills up it is moved upward and the top-most band is retired to the Hockey Hall of Fame. The first team currently displayed on the top band is the 1953-54 Detroit Red Wings.
Although she’s usually referred to as the Cup engraver, St-Jacques actually hammers the letters in after the Cup is taken apart.
“Each band is removed from the Cup and then I proceed with the bottom one. I then place it on a steel form for the stamping,” she said.
“The list of 52 names are given from the winning team to the NHL for approval and then passed on to me. My job is to follow the order as given to me, keeping it within the allotted space on the band.”
First, she maps out the names to determine how many can fit onto each line and she rechecks the spelling. She uses special implements for her work.
“Absolutely, the tools for stamping the Stanley Cup and replica are exclusively for these two trophies,” said St-Jacques, who also works on the NHL’s other major awards.
She has found it best to work on the Cup in short, intense sessions and usually needs at least four or five days to finish. The Kings are scheduled to have it back in early October, and each letter of every name will surely look perfect to them.