Philip Pritchard, the Keeper of the Stanley Cup

Hockey Hall of Fame
Hockey Hall of Fame

When most people go to the airport, they make sure they have two hours to get through security and to the gate. But when Philip Pritchard needs to fly somewhere, he makes sure he gets to the airport even earlier than that, because everyone wants a picture with his very special cargo.

Pritchard is one of the Keepers of the Stanley Cup (he's got the Twitter handle to prove it), traveling with it to appearances and, in the summer, to the homes of hockey players whose team has taken the sport's top prize. "Craig Campbell [and I] walk the Cup out on the red carpet the night it is presented," Pritchard says. "During the summer, myself, Mike Bolt, Howie Borrow and Walter Neubrand travel with the Cup around the world."

When he’s not squiring the Cup around, Pritchard is the Vice President and Curator of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. We called him at his office to find out what it’s like to be Keeper of the Cup.

How did the Cup tradition get started?   

Lord Stanley of Preston donated the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup to amateur hockey in Canada in 1892; the first winners were in 1893. The tradition of the Cup going player to player evolved over a number of years, and in 1995, the New Jersey Devils were the first team that had every player on the team get a chance to take the cup home for a day.

Upper Deck released a limited run of cards of the guys who are considered Keepers of the Cup.

Where is the Cup when it’s not traveling around?

It’s on display in the [Hockey Hall of Fame] museum. It’s probably less [often at the museum] because besides the summer, when the guys get it, the National Hockey League and the Hall of Fame do a lot of promotions and charity work for different charities and promoting the game of hockey and minor sport across Canada and North America—so it’s on the road quite a lot.

[When the Cup is on the road,] we have a double that’s on display. The staff will say this is a duplicate; the real one is in LA today or wherever we happen to be. We didn’t have a duplicate up until 1993. Probably the first 100 years of the Stanley Cup, there was only one. The real one is the one that travels all the time. When you see it out there on the road, that’s the real Stanley Cup.

How do you decide where the Cup will appear? Can just anyone book it?

The Hockey Hall of Fame works closely with the NHL on appearances. We get over 1000 requests a year from teams, leagues, charities … where possible, we try and assist when we can, especially with promoting the game and raising money for charities. Anyone can put in a request, except for corporations or businesses that are not partners.

How do you travel with it?

[Before 9/11], we used to have that opportunity to carry it on. I prefer that the airline take it from us and put it in a special spot underneath the plane—it’s called special services, and violins and bikes go there as well. But in Europe, the airlines will let us bring it on still. It gets its own seat—but the problem is that the flight attendants aren’t very happy because people keep getting up to get photos with it. It’s much better for the airplane [crew] if it goes underneath. When we check it in, they know we’re coming. We’ve already arranged it with the airline and security at the airport. One person from the airline is dedicated to taking and putting it on the plane and then meeting us and saying it’s on the plane, when you get off come to special services, or this guy will meet you.

It is a VIP luggage section, so we get treated very well there. We always get there half an hour sooner than we should be because everyone wants photos.

I can’t even imagine getting through security with it.

[The TSA] scans it, obviously, but then once you open it up, suddenly the person has gone from being a TSA security guy to a hockey fan who wants to get a photo of it. It’s great—it’s promoting the game and everything, but at the end of it all, to me, it’s the greatest trophy in all of sports and to be there half an hour early, to make some guy’s day, it’s pretty cool.

How do you pack the Cup for traveling? Do you have a special case for it?

Yeah, we do. We have a special case that’s very similar to a musician’s case. It’s all form fitted. If you open the case and the Cup’s not in it, it actually looks like the Stanley Cup in there. It’s all secure in that way. And then we can go to the airlines, the police, security, and it’s always in good hands.

Cup keepers Walt Neubrand, Howie Borrow, Phil Pritchard and Mike Bolt.

What's the most insane Cup-related travel story you have?

Flying from Paris to Stockholm once, [the airline] wouldn't allow it on the flight because of its size. It took a lot of talks with managers and then we lifted the Cup out of the case and placed it on the table, and two people from Minnesota—tourists—just happened to be walking by and started freaking out and getting photos. Then I think the airline realized the importance of it. France is traditionally not a hockey country, however one player on a team that won the Cup was from France.

Do the players get the Cup before or after their names are chiseled on it?

They get it before, actually. It takes about 10 days. What we do is, we try, when they go back to training camp, to get the Cup engraved so when it comes back into the town for their home opener celebration week, their names are on it. And that’s a special party itself, when they actually see their names on it for the first time.

Can you tell me a little bit about how the process works when it’s going around to players? Are you really there with them and the Cup at all times?

When a team wins the Cup, they get 100 days with it—from when they win until their home opener, which is October sometime. During those 100 days, the players, the coach and staff, the owners, the scouts, they all get that opportunity with it. We work closely with the team and the NHL to set up a schedule that is basically done geographically around the world. Looking at the Rangers' and Kings’ rosters, both teams—they have guys in Canada and the U.S. The Rangers have Czechs, Norway. The Kings have Russians, Slavs. Whoever wins this year, it will be a world tour. And someone is with it all the time.

It sounds like that would be so awkward, to show up at a stranger's house and have to spend all day there. What's it like for you?

The first 20 minutes is kind of socially awkward. We show up and everybody is so excited and they’re getting their photos and they’ve got their family members there and then all of a sudden it’s “Oh yeah, Phil’s here.” Once that happens, they make you feel like you’re family for the day. It’s unbelievable. The whole [hockey] team is a family, but then you go to their real families, and you become part of that family for the day. Then you move on to the next family. And so on.

Are they grilling you about the Cup’s history, or are they mostly just enjoying their time with it?

It’s both. Obviously, they love their time with it, and the players thank you. After a while, they want to start knowing about the history. I remember when the [Los Angeles] Kings won, we were finishing off Dustin Brown's day, and he said, “If I ever get the opportunity to win again, I wanna have all the Cup keepers over at my house and we’ll have a big bonfire and we’ll just trade hockey stories. That’s all I want to do.”

All the guys, they have so much respect for what the Cup is and what it represents, and when they’re coming back to their small town, wherever that may be—Canada, U.S., Slovenia, Russia, wherever—they are understanding that they are part of a Stanley Cup winning team. They are part of the National Hockey League and they have a great honor and a great privilege to take the Cup home to say thank you to all of those people who helped them along the way.

I think they would understand as much anyone that a team is more than who’s on the ice. It’s their moms and dads and sisters and grandparents and favorite shop in town. On their day, we see them all. “Oh, we gotta go here. This is where I used to eat pizza. This guy is great!” It’s an emotional roller coaster for the day. Unfortunately, in some cases, when some people bring it home, their loved ones have passed away and they go to a cemetery and they sit there. It’s very powerful, very emotional for them. They've achieved their highest goal, but they’ve lost someone along the way.

What’s the weirdest thing you have seen done with the Cup?

We’ve had christenings out of the Cup. It’s been mountain climbing, it’s been fishing in canoes, it’s been to sauna parties, it’s had specialty foods eaten out of it. In saying all that, when I break each one down and explain who it was and why, it all has to do with the guy and his culture and his upbringing.

Saunas are huge in Finland, so every time a Finnish guy wins, they end their day in a sauna. It’s just part of their culture. So Teemu Selänne [of the Anaheim Ducks], when he finished his day, we were in a sauna with all his buddies. And for Finns, that’s the greatest thing ever. When you’re out in British Columbia area, the Rocky Mountains are a big part of their world. They’ve grown up in the Rockies, so they want to kinda celebrate with the Rocky Mountains. [Scott] Niedermayer rented a helicopter and took it to the top of the Rocky Mountains. Tomáš Kopecký, his family is deep into the culture of Slovakia and they have this special soup that’s from their region—it translates to "inside of a cow’s stomach" soup. He ate the soup out of [the bowl of the Cup]. He said, “It was a big part of my upbringing and this is part of what I want to do.”

So all of these things, they sound weird, but when you explain it or they explain it to you, it’s very satisfying for them—it’s very respectful of their upbringing, culture, and traditions.

Pritchard (center) with Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (bottom) in Finland.

I’m amazed something like eating soup out of the Cup is allowed.

It is, and I go back to that word respect. [The players] would never do anything that would damage it. So when they’re eating the soup out of it, it’s kind of like in a Tupperware™ container, inside the bowl, so they’re not actually touching the Cup with their fork or scratching it or anything. They know they’ve become part of this fraternity of a Stanley Cup winner. They’re so proud and they’re not going to do anything to damage not only the Cup, but their name or the team or the league or the game of hockey itself. Every day, we clean it before we go out on the road so it looks spotless when we’re ready to go.

Is there anything that a player has wanted to do with the Cup that you've had to veto?

Most players are all respectful of what it is and what it represents. However, their buddies view it differently, and that’s when we have to step in.

I read that the Cup has a midnight curfew. Is that true?

In today’s world of social media—YouTube and Tumblr and Vine and all this—it’s probably the safest for the players, and the Cup itself, that we’re kind of out of the public eye and ready for the new day [by that point]. It’s actually a blessing in disguise for the guys because, though they love it when we show up in the morning at 8 or 8:30 a.m.—they are so thrilled—the whole day they're the focal point. The whole community is looking at them. They play a team sport and they are used to team things. So by midnight, when we’re saying our goodbyes, they are physically and mentally exhausted. They love seeing the Cup and love hanging out with it, but at the end of the day, they kind of are thankful for their time alone again.

You mentioned that you clean the Cup every day. How do you clean it? 

During the season, and during the summer because we’re day to day, we typically use a soft shampoo and warm water to get the fingerprints off it. We use the cheap hotel shampoo because it’s mainly water and detergents. But it’s great for the Cup because it gets the fingerprints off. We couldn’t use silver cleaner every day. It would probably take away the engraving on it. Twice a year, that gets done professionally, but when we’re on the road, it’s basically just hotel shampoo and warm water and a soft cloth.

Are you wearing the white gloves just so you don’t get fingerprints on the Cup? And then when you’re not in public, maybe you can handle it without the gloves?

It’s funny, in a way, because we work in a museum here. At an art gallery or a rock museum, they all wear white gloves because basically you don’t want to get the oils on your fingertips on the artifacts. We started wearing the white gloves about 20 years ago now, kind of out of respect, and it’s just become a status thing. Basically any curatorial staff in any museum anywhere wears white gloves.

We have hundreds of pairs here at the museum. But people freak out when they see the guy put white gloves on. It’s very bizarre because people want to get pictures with the Cup and they want us to have the white gloves on.

Craig Cambell (left) and Pritchard with the Cup.

How many pairs of gloves do you have?

You should be asking my wife on this one because I’ve kept every pair at home. I don’t know why I started—maybe because I work in a museum and you just kinda collect things—but now I can’t stop. I have no room for my socks. Every time we’re out on the road, I have at least half a dozen pairs with me.

Are they made of something special?

They’re just cotton archival gloves. But people want to buy them off of me. It’s crazy.

They’ve touched the Cup! I totally get it. Have any Cup-related mishaps happened on your watch?

I guess when you and I are 121 years old, we'll have some dings and dents on us. The same thing happens to the Stanley Cup—unfortunately, sometimes things happen.

How do you keep the Cup safe during public appearances?

We are usually within 10 to 15 feet of the Cup at all times. When it's on display, we have extra security and stations for crowd control.

You obviously spend a lot of time with the Cup, and I’m sure you spend a lot of time just looking at it. Do you have a favorite fact about the Cup or a favorite detail about it?

People come up and say “Where does this thing say ‘Stanley Cup?’” It doesn’t, because that’s not its name. It’s the Dominion Hockey Challenge Bowl. It was donated by Lord Stanley of Preston, so it has just become the Stanley Cup. It's a nickname.

The bowl itself holds 14 twelve-ounce bottles of beer. The players say “Can I drink out of it?” I say sure. “Well I’m gonna pour some beers in it.” “Well you need 14 of 'em.” And they go to drink out of it and it comes out like Niagara Falls.

The most amazing thing of all is when the guys win it and they fill it up with champagne, and when the first guy drinks out of it, and he gets to the bottom of the bowl and he sees the names in the inside of the bowl—I think that’s when reality sets in for the guy—that “Holy crap. My name is going on this and here’s a guy from 1907 on there already.” That’s what really brings it all into reality and perspective for these guys when they see the names of the Montreal Wanderers on the inside of the bowl.

Do you have a personal favorite thing you've done with the Cup?

I think it's great when the winners bring it home to their old coaches and teachers and knock on their door with the Cup and say, "Hi, do you remember me? I would like to say thanks for your help and get a photo please.” It is so special and means so much.

There’s no other trophy like the Stanley Cup, period—and especially in that each team member gets to have a day with this very special object that has its very own chaperone. Have you ever heard from other officials from the NFL or the NBA saying, “This is insane, you guys are crazy”?

First of all, [other sports leagues] make a new trophy every year. The Pittsburgh Steelers win the Super Bowl, and the next year, Tiffany’s is making a new Super Bowl [trophy] that a new team is winning. So it’s a totally different tradition than in hockey. However, when some NBA and some NFL players have seen the Cup, they literally freaked out. “Look at our Super Bowl [trophy]—you can’t even drink out of it. It’s just there! It’s just a football.”

I’m not taking away from any other sport, [but] hockey has done this great tradition. You get it for a day and that’s it. I think more than anything, hockey has this team atmosphere—that it’s not about you, it’s about the team. I think the whole team getting it, I think that’s the whole story right there.

Mike Bolt (left) and Pritchard with the Cup.

What's the biggest challenge of being a Cup keeper?

All of us wish that we had won it, but that didn’t work out. I guess this is the next best thing to it. In saying that, at the end of one Stanley Cup party, the winner goes to bed while we go on to the next party, so sleep and time management are very important. However, the most important thing is making sure the winner enjoys his time with the Cup.

All images courtesy of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Running Just Once a Week Is Linked to a 27 Percent Drop in Risk of Early Death

lzf/iStock via Getty Images
lzf/iStock via Getty Images

A new study suggests that even the occasional light jog could help you live a longer, healthier life.

Runner’s World reports that researchers compiled data from 14 previously published studies to determine if running was associated with lower the risk of early death. Their findings, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, show that among a pooled sample of 232,149 people whose habits were monitored from 5.5 to 35 years, those who ran had a 27 percent lower risk of early death than those who didn’t.

Causes of death included cardiovascular disease, cancer, and everything in between—and while the study doesn’t guarantee that running will lower your risk of early death, it does show that there’s at least a link between the two.

Furthermore, the results suggest that you don’t have to be a particularly dedicated or serious runner in order to reap the health benefits. The researchers found that those who ran for less than 50 minutes a week, only once a week, or at speeds below 6 mph still ranked with more intense intense runners when it came to lower early death rates than non-runners.

“This finding may be motivating for those who cannot invest a lot of time in exercise, but it should definitely not discourage those who already engage in higher amounts of running,” Željko Pedišić, a professor at Victoria University’s Institute for Health and Sport and a co-author of the study, told Runner’s World.

In other words, there’s no reason that avid marathoners and competitive tag enthusiasts should lessen their running regimens—but if you spend most of your time sitting in front of your computer or television, you might want to consider adding a 45-minute neighborhood jog to your weekly to-do list. According to Pedišić, it could help keep high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer at bay.

And if you’re avoiding running to protect your knees, toenails, or something else, you probably don’t have to—read up on the truth behind eight common running myths here.

[h/t Runner’s World]

Kitty O'Neil, Trailblazing Speed Racer and Wonder Woman's Stunt Double

PHOTO COLLAGE BY DAMON AMATO, MINUTE MEDIA. MOTORCYCLE/CAR/DIVINGBOARD, ISTOCK VIA GETTY IMAGES. PORTRAIT, MIDCO SPORTS MAGAZINE // YOUTUBE
PHOTO COLLAGE BY DAMON AMATO, MINUTE MEDIA. MOTORCYCLE/CAR/DIVINGBOARD, ISTOCK VIA GETTY IMAGES. PORTRAIT, MIDCO SPORTS MAGAZINE // YOUTUBE

Kitty O’Neil could do it all. A stuntwoman, drag racer, and diver, the legendary daredevil's skills were once described by the Chicago Tribune as “full and partial engulfment in fire; swimming; diving; water skiing; scuba diving; horse falls, jumps, drags, and transfers; high falls into an air bag or water; car rolls; cannon-fired car driving; motorcycle racing; speed, drag, sail, and power boat handling; fight routines; gymnastics; snow skiing; jet skiing; sky diving; ice skating; golf; tennis; track and field; 10-speed bike racing; and hang gliding.”

During her lifetime, O’Neil set 22 speed records on both the land and sea—including the women’s land speed record of 512 mph, which remains unmatched to this day. Through it all, she battled casual sexism and ableism, as she was often not only the lone woman in the room, but the lone deaf person on the drag strip or movie set.

"It Wasn't Scary Enough for Me"

O’Neil was born on March 24, 1946, in Corpus Christi, Texas. Her father, John, was an Air Force pilot and oil driller, while her mother, Patsy, was a homemaker. When she was just a few months old, O’Neil contracted mumps, measles, and smallpox, an onslaught of illness that damaged her nerves and caused her to lose her hearing. Patsy, who had packed her in ice during the worst of the fever, went back to school for speech pathology so she could teach her daughter how to read lips and form words. She placed the young girl’s hand on her throat as she spoke, allowing her to feel the vibrations of her vocal cords.

Feeling those sensations helped Kitty learn to talk, while the sensations associated with engines would teach her something else. At the age of 4, O’Neil convinced her father to let her ride atop the lawn mower in what would be a transformative experience. “I could feel the vibrations,” she told the Associated Press. “That’s what got me into racing. When I race, I feel the vibrations.”

But racing wasn’t her first thrill ride. As a teenager, O’Neil showed such an aptitude for diving that Patsy decided to move the family to Anaheim, California, where O’Neil could train with the two-time Olympic gold medalist Sammy Lee. She was on her way to the qualifying rounds for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics when she broke her wrist, eliminating her from consideration. Soon after, she contracted spinal meningitis. Her doctors worried she wouldn’t walk again.

She recovered, but found she was no longer interested in diving. “I gave it up because it wasn’t scary enough for me,” she told the Chicago Tribune.

Motorcycle racing proved to be a better adrenaline rush, so she began entering competitions along the West Coast. It was at one of those races that she met another speedster named Ronald “Duffy” Hambleton, who offered his assistance after O’Neil crashed her bike, severing two fingers. Once she had gotten stitched up, the pair began a professional and romantic relationship. O’Neil moved onto a 40-acre ranch in Fillmore, California, with Hambleton and his two children from a previous relationship.

Hambleton would act as O’Neil’s manager, often speaking to the press for her after stunts or record attempts. However, O’Neil later alleged that he stole money from her and physically abused her during their partnership. In 1988, a Star Tribune reporter would describe O’Neil’s scrapbooks as containing a photo of Hambleton with his face scratched out; she had also written “not true” in the margins of newspaper clippings touting his profound impact on her success.

The Need for Speed

O’Neil wanted to go fast and she didn’t care how. So she expanded her scope beyond motorcycles, setting a new women’s water skiing record in 1970 with a speed of 104.85 mph. Her national breakout arrived six years later, when she drove a skinny three-wheel rocket car into the Alvord Desert. The hydrogen peroxide-powered vehicle was dubbed “The Motivator,” and it was the work of William Fredrick, a designer who normally created cars for movie and TV stunts. When O’Neil got behind the wheel of The Motivator, she quickly smashed the women’s land speed record. Her average speed was 512 mph, over 1.5 times faster than the previous 321 mph record held by Lee Breedlove since 1965.

She believed she could beat the men’s record of 631.4 mph, too, which should’ve been great news for her entire team. Fredrick and his corporate sponsors were gunning for a new record, and O'Neil had already reportedly hit a maximum speed of 618 mph in her initial run. But before she could take The Motivator for a second spin, she was ordered out of the car.

As O’Neil would discover, she had only been contracted to beat the women’s record. Marvin Glass & Associates, the toy company that owned the rights to the vehicle, wanted Hollywood stuntman Hal Needham to break the men’s record. The company claimed it was purely a business decision, as they had a Needham action figure in the works. But according to Hambleton, the company reps had said it would be “unbecoming and degrading for a woman to set a land speed record.”

“It really hurts,” O’Neil told UPI reporters as she choked back tears. “I wanted to do it again. I had a good feeling.” She earned the immediate support of the men’s record holder, Gary Gabelich, who called the whole incident “ridiculous” and “kind of silly.” She and Hambleton tried to sue for her right to another attempt, but she wouldn’t get a second ride in The Motivator. Needham wouldn’t break the record, either, as a storm dampened his chances. Not that he was especially polite about it.

“Hell, you’re not talking about sports when you’re talking about land speed records,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “It doesn’t take any God-given talent … even a good, smart chimpanzee could probably do it. Probably better—because he wouldn’t be worried about dying.”

As the messy legal battle dragged on, O’Neil focused on her budding career in stunt work. According to The New York Times, she completed her first stunt in March of 1976, when she zipped up a flame-resistant Nomex suit and let someone set her on fire. For her second job, she rolled a car, which was practically a personal hobby. (She liked to tell people she rolled her mother’s car when she was 16, the day she got her driver’s license.) O’Neil eventually became Lynda Carter’s stunt double on Wonder Woman, where she famously leapt 127 feet off a hotel roof onto an air bag below. “If I hadn’t hit the center of the bag, I probably would have been killed,” she told The Washington Post in 1979.

Her work earned her a place in Stunts Unlimited, the selective trade group that had, until that point, only admitted men. O’Neil continued racking up credits with gigs on The Bionic Woman, Smokey and the Bandit II, and The Blues Brothers. Although few stunt doubles achieve name recognition, O’Neil was a media darling who inspired her own 1979 TV movie starring Stockard Channing and a Barbie in her trademark yellow jumpsuit.

A Pioneer's Legacy

But by 1982, feeling burned out after watching the toll the work had taken on colleagues, O'Neil decided she was finished. She retired from the business at the age of 36, packing up and leaving Los Angeles entirely. She wound up in Minneapolis and then in Eureka, South Dakota, a town with a population of fewer than 1000 people. She would live out the rest of her days there, eventually dying of pneumonia in 2018 at the age of 72.

O’Neil lived her life as a never-ending challenge—to go faster, jump higher, do better. She always said that her lack of hearing helped her concentrate, eliminating any fear she might’ve felt over the prospect of breaking the sound barrier, let alone self-immolation.

“When I was 18, I was told I couldn’t get a job because I was deaf,” she told a group of deaf students at the Holy Trinity School in Chicago. “But I said someday I’m going to be famous in sports, to show them I can do anything.”

O’Neil did exactly that. Over her the course of perilous career, she carved out a name for herself in a space that was often openly hostile towards her, setting records and making it impossible for anyone who doubted her to catch up.

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