Sheridan business alumnus Phil Pritchard may have the official title of Vice President, Resource Centre and Curator of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, but to most Canadians he’s better known as his twitter handle suggests — Keeper of the Cup. In a country where hockey is a national pastime if not an unofficial religion, Pritchard just might have one of the coolest jobs on record.
Anyone who has ever watched the NHL playoffs will have seen him wearing his white gloves, carrying the Stanley Cup across the red carpet to the winning team in waiting. While others might let the fame and fanfare get to their heads, this affable, self-proclaimed kid-at- heart continues to be humbled by the task, despite the incredible perks that come with the territory.
Pritchard began working at the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988. At the end of his first week, he made his first official trip with the cup, bringing it to an Ontario Minor Hockey League game in Newmarket, Ontario – in the trunk of his Austin Marina GT. Since then, the cup has been to almost 30 countries, traveling upwards of 310 days per year. “Hockey is played in 75 countries – it’s the greatest sport in world,” declares Pritchard. If he has his way, the cup will get to each one of them before he retires.
Much of this travel takes place over the summer, when each Stanley Cup champion assumes possession of the trophy for 24 hours. As Pritchard will tell you “every visit is special and all players celebrate in a way that’s meaningful to them.”
Pritchard recounts the cup’s travels with the same spirit as someone who’s recapping a long-anticipated vacation. His tales include taking the cup into Tuukka Rask’s firewood-powered hot tub in Finland after Boston’s 2011 win. He describes in great detail a daring adventure by helicopter to lower the cup along with Scott Niedermayer of the New Jersey Devils to the top of a mountain peak outside Cranbrook, B.C. so that Niedermayer could recreate his feeling of being on top of the world after his team won the playoffs.
Other memorable visits include reaching the top of the Eiffel Tower – despite an out-of-service elevator – so that Christobal Huet of the Chicago Blackhawks could live up to the media’s expectations for the cup’s first visit to France. Closer to home, he watched Dave Andreychuk of the Tampa Bay Lightning suffer through the unbearable July heat while wearing his jersey to carry the cup alongside Mickey Mouse in a Disney World parade, all in the spirit of pleasing his three young daughters. He also talks about two very memorable trips to a small town near Thunder Bay, Ontario during which time a proud Mrs. Staal organized a visit to the Legion for lunch and family photos with the cup – first when her son Eric won with the Carolina Hurricanes and again a few years later when his brother Jordan won with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I’ts behind the scenes that hockey history is told” – Phil Pritchard
“As much as the players are happy to have their turn with the cup, many are just as happy when we leave,” reveals Pritchard. “Hockey players are team players at heart and they don’t always like to be the centre of attention. They get keys to the city and thousands of people lining the streets for their chance to see them. After a while it wears on them.”
As Pritchard believes, “it’s behind the scenes that hockey history is told.” It’s a philosophy that suits him well, given that the other part of his job is working with leagues and players from around the world to help collect and curate the memorabilia that fills 75,000 square feet at the Hockey Hall of Fame. “Each item tells a story because hockey history happens every day,” he says.
What doesn’t fit at the Hall gets stored in 18,000 square feet of climate and humidity controlled archives found at the D.K. (Doc) Seaman Hockey Resource Centre. A quick tour of the space reveals a wall of 4,000 hockey sticks, thousands of film reels, videos, slides, and negatives, rows of hockey-related paintings and books, obscure trophies dating back to the 1890s, and shelf after shelf of pucks, jerseys, skates, gloves and goalie helmets from around Canada and beyond our borders.
For Pritchard, there’s also a story to be told in the way that the cup continues to change over time. While it used to be hollow at the bottom, a plate was added in the 1980s to seal off this nook after it was discovered that the young Edmonton Oilers champions “who worked for a lot less than players do today” used it to smuggle cheap liquor to Alberta from the U.S.
If ingenuity makes an impression on Pritchard, the same can be said for tradition and artistry. He deeply admires the craftsmanship of Louise St. Jacques, who gets the cup for 10 days each year to hand stamp the names of the winning players onto one of five rings that covers the base. Every thirteen years when the rings are full, the top ring is removed, the remaining four rings slide up and a new one is added at the bottom. The changeover creates the context for yet another tradition – inviting those people whose names are coming off to be a part of the ceremony.
“I have the pleasure of working with hockey every day and actually getting paid to do it. It makes me the luckiest guy in the world” – Phil Pritchard
By sharing stories and artifacts, or spending his days deepening his knowledge by keeping up on the latest hockey news, Pritchard is doing his part to preserve and share the sport’s rich history. “I have the pleasure of working with hockey every day and actually getting paid to do it,” he says. “It makes me the luckiest guy in the world.”
Pictured at top of page: Phil Pritchard with the Stanley Cup. Photo by the Hockey Hall of Fame Archives.
Written by: Christine Szustaczek, Director of Communications and External Relations at Sheridan.