Four members of the Capitals held Alex Ovechkin, his feet in the air and his face submerged in the Stanley Cup’s bowl as he sucked beer from it. As he was flipped back onto his feet, the crowd that had gathered at the Georgetown waterfront started chanting, “O-vi!” and Ovechkin pumped his fist along. By the end of the day, both forward Tom Wilson and defenseman Brooks Orpik had similarly been held upside down to chug beer from the hulking silver chalice.
It was June 9, 2018, just two days after Washington won a franchise-first championship. It was also the day of another first, when a tradition of using the 126-year-old trophy for keg stands — or Cup stands — was born.
What perhaps the Capitals didn’t even realize at the time was that, for all the Stanley Cup’s wild encounters in its storied history — it has been used for a baptism, deposited at the bottom of Mario Lemieux’s pool and accidentally used as a receptacle when nature called for a newborn child — no player had ever attempted a keg stand over it before that summer afternoon in Georgetown, according to the Hockey Hall of Fame minders who guard the trophy.
“[Keg stands] haven’t really been that popular in the hockey world, I guess,” said Philip Pritchard, who has been taking care of the Stanley Cup for the past 30 years.
Ovechkin and goaltender Braden Holtby even helped host Jimmy Fallon do a Cup stand during an appearance on “The Tonight Show.” But as Pritchard and the two other keepers of the Cup traveled over the past two months from Siberia to Saskatchewan as part of each Washington player and coach’s day with the trophy, Cup stands at each stop became cause for concern. Parents, friends and even a 7-foot referee all took their turns, some holding onto the base of the trophy or even the more delicate bowl as they lowered their head into it.
Pritchard repeatedly praised how the Capitals have reverently handled the Cup, but he said he has been “advising” them to quit the Cup stands for fear of damage. Still, there were at least two instances as recently as forward Chandler Stephenson’s day with it Aug. 24 and former assistant coach Lane Lambert’s on Aug. 26.
“We ask them politely not to do it,” Pritchard said. “We’re trying to preserve the history of the Stanley Cup. We don’t want any unnecessary damage to it or a person, in case they drop the person or he presses too hard or something.”
Before the Capitals even get their names engraved on the Stanley Cup, they might have already made their mark on it, as potentially the first and last team ever to use it for keg stands. Future champions could be prohibited from replicating Washington’s trademark celebration.
“We’ll see what happens as we move forward with the Cup,” Pritchard said. “At the end of September, the Cup is going in to get engraved and updated and cleaned and everything, so we’ll see how it is because we have to take it apart then and everything. We’ll know probably more then, in early October, once it’s back for the home opener. Our biggest thing is respect for it.”
This wouldn’t be the first time the rules surrounding the Stanley Cup have evolved. It used to be that only the team captain could hoist it on the ice, but now the tradition is that every player, coach and front-office member gets a turn lifting it above his head. Prior to 1995, not every player on the team had the opportunity to spend a day with the trophy. There’s a Stanley Cup stationed at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, but that one was created in the early 1990s, and it’s the 126-year-old original that travels the world. While that makes any encounter with it more meaningful, it also necessitates the need for caution.
“It’s probably the biggest thing they’ve wanted to achieve in their hockey or professional world,” Pritchard said. “They want to treat it with respect because they want it to be around, and I think they want to win it again.”