Very soon, Philip Pritchard will know where he’s spending summer vacation. You see, Pritchard is lucky enough to have a front-row seat to sports history as the “keeper” of the Stanley Cup.
He’s had what some might say is one of the world’s best jobs since 1988, when at age 27 he started working for the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
“In my overall real job, I am the curator and vice president of the Hockey Hall of Fame,” Pritchard, of Burlington, Canada, explained in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. “The keeper of the cup is just a nickname we kept, given to us by the fans, and it’s wonderful.”
As keepers, Pritchard and four others ensure the integrity of the Stanley Cup and also act as security and travel agent for the trophy, duties Pritchard doesn’t seem to mind. The cup-winning team gets the trophy for 100 days and decides who gets to spend time with the trophy and for how long. Most players get a single day. The keeper accompanies the cup on its travels.
“It’s probably the best trophy in all of sport,” he said. “The tradition of it, there’s probably nothing that compares to it.”
Pritchard has spent the last 26 years with the Stanley Cup, which turns 121 this year. He has seen it pass through the hands of hundreds of players and has traveled with it to 20 of the 24 countries it has visited, including Canada, the United States, England, Mexico, Switzerland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Finland, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Japan, Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates, Italy and France.
“If you ever want to go from Ukraine to Belarus, let me know. I have air miles,” Pritchard said with a laugh.
He knows the cup inside and out. Pritchard rattled off the history of the cup like parents rattle off their kids’ accomplishments at school.
He told us how the cup has grown to 36 inches high and now weighs a hefty 35 pounds. How every 13 years a new ring is added to the bottom while the top ring graduates and moves on to its place at the Hockey Hall of Fame. How if you win the Stanley Cup, your name will stay on it for about 65 years before its ring moves on. And how every single team is still represented on the cup.
“Nothing against the other sports, but they make a new Super Bowl trophy every year, a new World Series trophy every year, a new NBA championship Larry O’Brien trophy every year,” Pritchard said, “but the Stanley Cup is the same one, and I think that’s what sets it apart from any other sport.”
Pritchard knows the cup trivia, of course. Here’s his favorite stat: “The cup fits 14 bottles of beer.” When asked how much champagne it would hold, Pritchard quietly muttered the math under his breath, “Ahh ... they are 26-ounce bottles so just under seven bottles.”
And although it’s traditional for players to drink from the cup, Pritchard has sipped from it just once: on its first trip to Russia, in 1997, following a win by the Detroit Red Wings.
“They were all pouring the vodka in and drinking out of it. And the players were like, ‘Oh come on, have a drink,’ and I said no, and they were insisting,” Pritchard said. The players kept goading him until finally he caved and had a single shot of vodka from the cup.
Amid the whirlwind travels from player to player, Pritchard also gets to witness the emotional power of the cup and its meaning to the players who won it.
Since players usually get to keep the cup for just one day, they usually try to make the most of it by celebrating with friends and family. Other players, Pritchard said, take it as a moment of quiet solitude to thank those who helped them along the way.
Pritchard has witnessed emotional scenes such as players who “go back to their towns and some loved ones have passed away and they take it to a cemetery. They are basically saying thanks for helping them along the way.”
To Pritchard, the cup is just as much for fans as it is for the players. Because of that, he has opened up about his years with the cup through his Twitter account, @KeeperOfTheCup. The account has amassed more than 41,000 followers thanks to his willingness to share both his hockey knowledge and his travels with fans.
“To have 41,000 people follow us is pretty unbelievable, but again it goes back to the fanatical fans,” he said. “It’s neat when the winning team comes up and says, ‘Hey I follow you on Twitter,’ and I say. ‘I follow you too.’ ”
When asked whom he was rooting in this year’s Stanley Cup -- the Los Angeles Kings or the New York Rangers? -- Pritchard said it didn’t really matter. “As keeper of the cup, we get to hang out with the winner, so to me it doesn’t really matter. It’s always fun and it’s always a great experience.”
It’s a dream job, and Pritchard knows it. “The best thing to do, I guess, would be winning the cup,” Pritchard said, “but the second best, I guess, is kind of hanging out with it, so no complaints. To be right there and see history happening is pretty amazing.”