Hockey Has Its Globetrotter
By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 9, 1998; Page C08
The Stanley Cup has frequented strip clubs and elementary schools, toured the White House and Kremlin, sunk to the bottom of Mario Lemieux's swimming pool and gone fishing with Chris Simon.
It is the oldest trophy in professional sports and arguably the world's best known. Shaped like a wedding cake that's topped with a fluted punch bowl, it's as tall as a yardstick and stands without peer in both form and function.
Unlike the NFL's Vince Lombardi trophy, which is ensconced in a trophy case, the Stanley Cup is as rough and ready as hockey itself.
It summers with members of the NHL's championship team, each of whom is allowed to take it home for a day or two. Much of the rest of the year, it tours North America as the game's goodwill ambassador, making appearances at shopping malls, ice rinks or wherever fans gather. On its rare days off, it resides at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
To hockey players, it represents immortality. That's because the trophy bears the name of every coach and player who has won it since 1893. And that explains an oft-used quote from past champions: "When I die, don't give me a gravestone. Just look on the Cup. I'll be there."
Said Capitals goaltender Bill Ranford, who won the Cup with Edmonton in 1988 and 1990: "One day I'll take my kids to the Hockey Hall of Fame to show them their dad's name on it. It's something that will always be a highlight in my life."
Hockey's famous trophy started out as a silver bowl crafted in Sheffield, England. It was bought in 1892 for 10 guineas ($48.67 at the time) on behalf of Lord Stanley of Preston, then Governor General of Canada. Father to hockey-playing sons, he wanted to donate something to heighten the stakes of the amateur game and perpetuate his own legacy in the process. The first Stanley Cup was presented the following year to the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association.
In its early years, players added their names themselves, scratching the letters with a knife or nail. Those names are professionally engraved on the silver chalice these days, and include managers and team staff.
Consequently, the trophy has grown over time. To make room for successive championship rosters, silver bands were added to the bottom of the bowl. In 1948 it was rebuilt as a two-piece trophy, with a base shaped like a barrel. It has been a one-piece structure since 1958.
Time has also taken a toll on the original silver bowl. Deemed too fragile to travel, it retired to the Hall of Fame in 1969, replaced by a faithful replica.
The present-day trophy is guarded by its own security force. Known as "Cup protectors," five employees of the Hockey Hall of Fame take turns accompanying the Cup wherever it goes. Dressed smartly in dark blue NHL blazers, they field questions about its history, look out for its safekeeping and can't help but note its effect on fans.
Craig Campbell, one of the Cup's guards, recalled an instance in Philadelphia last year. "I was just keeping an eye on this gentleman we're very aware of who is around it and he started to break down," Campbell said. "A tear welled up in his eye and came down his cheek. We made contact and talked just briefly. He'd been a hockey fan since the mid-'70s when Philadelphia won two Stanley Cups. It was just a moment of his childhood that he was going over again. It was something else."
The Cup travels to Detroit for Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup finals and will be in Washington for Games 3 and 4. Should the series extend, it will be at the rink each game thereafter waiting for its cue to take the ice.
Tradition dictates that the captain of the championship team hoist the Cup overhead and skate a victory lap around the rink before passing it to assistants, veterans and the younger players. That first touch is magic.
"It's like when your child is born and the doctor hands you the baby," said Washington assistant coach Tim Hunter, a captain of Calgary's 1989 championship team. "It is a defining moment in your life. It brings tears to your eyes once you have your hands on it, and you really think about the accomplishment."
Hunter kept the Cup for three days that summer, hosting a backyard barbecue for 100 relatives and friends in its honor. "The coolest thing on earth is to be able to drive down the street with the Stanley Cup beside you with a seat belt on it," Hunter said.
When the Washington Capitals' Simon got to take the Cup after Colorado won it in 1996, he opted for the quiet reflection of Lake Wawa, his favorite spot in his Ontario home town. "I went fishing with it because I love to fish," Simon said. "It sat in the middle of the boat with me and my grandpa and a couple of friends."
Not long ago Capitals Coach Ron Wilson asked players who had won the Cup to tell their teammates what they did with it. "When I said, 'I took it fishing,' everybody sort of looked at me," Simon said. "Joe [Juneau] said, 'I'm the only guy that relates to you.'"
The Cup's original dings and dents have been precisely copied on the replica. The imperfections attest to a life fully lived.
In 1905 the Cup was drop-kicked into Ottawa's Rideau Canal, retrieved the next morning only because the canal was frozen. The Cup has been used to pot geraniums, serve oats to a thoroughbred horse and ply countless players with beer and champagne.
More recently, it has been feted by New York in a ticker-tape parade down Broadway, made a guest appearance on David Letterman's show, visited the White House during the Bush and Clinton administrations and attended Opening Day at Yankee Stadium.
Last summer it made its first trip to Russia, accompanying the Russian members of the 1997 champion Detroit Red Wings.
The Cup will likely get a few more stamps on its passport should the Capitals win it. The team boasts players from nine countries.
For Simon, being part of that 1996 Stanley Cup championship team was the realization of a dream. "It was the thing we used to play in the street for," he said. "It was pretend, but it was still always something we thought about."
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