It is the sporting world’s most iconic trophy. It has inspired awe and reverence from Port Hardy to Prague. Grown men have wept at the mere sight of its argentate resplendence. It has been filled with Froot Loops, allegedly damaged in strip clubs,
drop-kicked into the Rideau Canal, left at the bottom of a swimming pool and visited war zones.
I’m talking, of course, about the Stanley Cup. Lord Stanley’s prized chalice is the stuff of dreams for hockey-playing youngsters long before they can even think of attempting a hideous playoff beard.
Raising the trophy above your head is the culmination of a lifetime of effort, a remarkably difficult journey which bonds a group of teammates together forever as champions.
Or, if you have the burning passion for the game, but not the prerequisite skill, you could make use of a brief window in time to spend some alone time with the Cup.
I wasn’t very long into my first real newspaper gig here in Duncan. Outside of being bitten by an ostrich that had no interest in posing for a photo and doing a story on a drunken dude who stole a street cleaner and was driving it around town at 3 a.m., there hadn’t been a ton of excitement.
But on this particular morning, I was abuzz. The Stanley Cup was coming to town.
A travelling hockey exhibit was making its away around Western Canada and was in town for a short stop. I had made arrangements to chat with one of the people in charge of the exhibit and made my way over to the car dealership where it would be displayed (with my buddy, also a freakish hockey fan, in tow).
We were met by exhibit guy and a dealership employee. Things were mostly set up — pictures of former legends and what not — but the big prize was nowhere to be seen.
Then, the case was opened. There it was… the Stanley Cup. Even on its side and encased in foam, it was majestic.
We said no words. We couldn’t.
Then, opportunity presented itself. Exhibit guy was either hungry or wanted a coffee or something along those lines. We directed him to a spot just down the road. He said he’d be right back and we could then do the interview and get some pics.
Perfect, I said.
He was gone about eight seconds when we came to an interesting realization. There, in all its unlocked-case glory, remained the Stanley Cup.
What do we do? Can we touch it? Is there some sort of alarm?
We moved closer, checking out all the familiar names etched into the silver bands.
It was suggested we pick it up for a better look. No way… what if we get caught?
Within seconds, caution was thrown to the wind. We took turns taking surreptitious snapshots with the big silver mug (black and white, the newspaper film of the day). Emboldened, we moved from simple poses to more creative efforts — pretending to drink out of it, hoisting it high and (not in my case, I must point out) becoming way too familiar with the trophy.
The Cup weighs about 35 pounds, but it felt like a feather as I jubilantly lifted it above my head. (Accompanying this article in print form is a pic of a skinny guy with the exquisite dress pants/ski jacket combo and fine ’80s ’do… that’s yours truly).
We also quickly grabbed the old Canada Cup (remember that?) trophy and struck a few goofy poses with that as well. Figuring our time was running out, we quickly put everything back and waited for exhibit guy. He couldn’t have been nicer and after the interview asked us if we’d like to pose for a few pics ourselves with the Cup.
Sure, we said, never revealing the clandestine effort that had just taken place.
Years later, then stationed at a daily paper, I encountered Stanley once more. My good friend, the late (and very great) Ron Boileau was president of the B.C. Hockey League at the time. A noted hockey historian, he had connections everywhere. The Cup (did you know there’s a ‘Presentation Cup’ and a ‘Replica Cup’?), this time with a full-time keeper in tow, was being brought around to BCHL rinks to give fans an up-close look.
“You want to see the Cup ahead of time, maybe get some pictures with your son?” he asked.
“Nah, I’ve already seen it…. just kidding, yes! Where and when?”
“How about we swing by your office?”
The man had so much sway, he was able to bring the Stanley Cup directly to me.
The reaction from everyone in the office was pretty much what you’d expect — eyes wide as saucers, hushed whispers and reverent curiosity. I hadn’t told anyone it was coming — just to see what they would do.
Watching everyone peer over their work stations to see the Stanley Cup casually paraded through the building was priceless.
Phone lines were immediately ablaze and the building quickly filled with every friend and relative within quick driving distance.
I did get some more pics, with the boy (that’s us in the pic accompanying this piece), all very staid, respectful poses this time around.
Memories to last a lifetime for sure, but minus the unbridled joy of the more secretive mission a couple of decades before.
Today, if you watch any NHLer around the Cup, they pretty much won’t go near it if they haven’t been on the winning team.
Protocol dictates that you can never lift it above your head if you didn’t earn that right.
Now, I had no idea of said protocol when I first encountered the Cup. I have actually felt sheepish sharing this tale in the ensuing years, knowing I may have angered the hockey gods (this may explain the current 23-year Cup drought of my beloved Montreal Canadiens). If I ever hook up with Stanley again, there will be no over-the-head blasphemy.
But just between you and me, if you ever get the chance to hoist the Cup, deserved or not, do it.
It’s beyond amazing.