If you’re a hockey fan, you undoubtedly know about hockey’s holy grail: The Stanley Cup. The most coveted trophy in hockey and arguably all of sports, it’s awarded to the NHL playoff champion at the end of the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Finals. The Cup is surrounded by legends, traditions and more notably, the “Keeper of the Cup.”
It can be said that the “Keeper of the Cup” has the most prestigious job in hockey. It’s a position that doesn’t come from a job recruitment site; but from previous years of hard work and employment with the Hockey Hall of Fame. While the Stanley Cup is often accompanied by Phil Pritchard, it also spends approximately 250 days of the year with Mike Bolt.
Bolt, a Toronto native who spent 4 years working at the Hockey Hall of Fame before being appointed the “Keeper of the Cup,” a position that he’s held for 12 years. “My dream was to win it, but that obviously didn’t work out” Mike said “To be honest, working at the Hall of Fame is an honor and when they asked me to become “Keeper of the Cup” it was again an honor and a thrill. It wasn’t something that I thought about. I knew of the job, but I never thought that one day I’d be one of the guys who got to travel with the Cup. I only hang with winners.”
For a hockey fan, becoming “Keeper of the Cup” may sound like a dream. But keeping the Cup in shape for appearances, player days and photographs is just one of the many things that come with the position. From the “Keeper” himself, a job description would read:
“A person who likes to travel, likes long hours, likes to be at a party everyday. Likes the game of hockey immensely and the history of the game. Someone who is a good public speaker and can tolerate the same questions over and over and over again. You need to be good looking, let’s not kid ourselves” he says with a laugh. Obviously a good sense of humor is needed as well. “Patient and know when to bring the hammer in and make sure everyone is being safe and respectful at the same time. There’s a lot of different hats that the Cup keeper has to wear, that’s for sure.”
One of those hats involves keeping the Cup appearance-ready:
“At the end of everyday or the start of every morning you give the Cup a full clean.” Despite being one of the most prestigious trophies in sports, the Cup is cleaned like many other things. “Occasionally we’ll use silver polish, but more often we’ll just use soap and water. We’ll put it in the shower and rinse it down and then buff it dry, that really brings the shine.”
The Cup will get a nice silver polish for the finals and perhaps one or two other times during the season.
Not only a history of the game, but a history of the Cup itself is a major part of the “Keeper’s” position. We all witness it, the last few seconds of the deciding game in the Stanley Cup finals; the seconds before a team is declared a loser or champion. That picture-perfect moment when the Cup is hoisted above the captain’s head; shining in all of its glory. The 35-lb Cup you see hoisted is the presentation Cup the same one that will travel the world with each champion during the off season. Although it does have a doppelgänger of sorts that resides in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto; something else that resides in Toronto.
“The original bowl that Lord Stanley donated back in 1892 for $48.67 sits behind glass in a vault in the Great Hall,” Mike continued. “In the vault is also where the retired rings go. A lot of people think that the Stanley Cup keeps getting bigger and bigger every year, it does not. Every 13 years we remove a ring, cut it in half and stretch it out. It then gets mounted on the wall in the Hall of Fame. For example the 2011 Bruins will be on the Stanley Cup for 58 more years.”
While every season the Cup adds a new round of engravings to its already historical rings, it has had a few spelling mistakes over the years.
“In 62-63 the Toronto Maple Leafs were spelled the Toronto Maple Leaes, New York Islanders in 80-81’ were spelled the New York Ilanders and the Boston Bruins in 72’ are spelled Bqstqn.”
Though not ideal, these mistakes are a memorable addition to the long list of engravings that have graced the Cup’s surface throughout the years.
A little math equation, 250 x 12= 3,000. As the “Keeper of the Cup,” Mike has spent approximately 3,000 days traveling the world with hockey’s elite group of Stanley Cup champions. Not only does the Cup enjoy a day with every player, but also members of the coaching staff and organization. Hockey is a sport enjoyed and played worldwide, that means that every organization has talent hailing from all over the world.
“There are so many great spots, even the spots that aren’t that great, it’s all about the experience of sharing the Cup,” Mike added. “We’ve been to really small towns and big cities, but everyone always has the same excitement of seeing the Cup.”
The Cup (and Mike) have no borders and an impressive passport to say the least. With a list of locations longer than a preseason roster; obviously the Cup has travelled all over North America and throughout Europe.
“We’ve been to a lot of remote locations,” commented Mike. “It’s been to Afghanistan to visit the troops, it was a really neat spot to be at. Being around the men and women that are doing a tough job and in the middle of a war zone, that was a really cool experience.”
A privilege that is often most associated with winning is Cup day; a day granted to each individual player spent by their choosing.
“It can be in someones backyard, on a lake or going out on a boat, it’s whatever the guys want to do,” Mike said. Comparing Cup day to a wedding, Mike continued: “People fly in from all different parts of the country. Being able to share it with your family and friends is kind of what it’s all about.”
While the Cup’s location may change, the rules set in place during someones day do not.
“Their are some rules players need to obey on anyone’s day with the Cup; the players are allowed to lift it, if you’re important you might get a sip of champagne if the player so decides, but the players are the ones who have to hold it. Have a fun time, a safe time and keep it respectful.”
Following these rules seems like a small price to pay to be in the presence of one of the greatest and oldest trophies in sports.
“You see the smiles it brings to everybody and every day is like that.”
If only the Stanley Cup could talk, the stories that have accumulated over the years are bound to be endless. Some are heard and others probably share a spot in the vault at the Hockey Hall of Fame. As “Keeper of the Cup”partaking in a wide array of events throughout the year and witnessing these aforementioned stories is all part of the job description. They obviously don’t call him the “Keeper” for nothing. Keeping with the title and not committing to sharing anything too crazy is probably a safe bet.
“The parties can get a little wild, I’ve had Kid Rock play at a few of them. A lot of rock stars, movie stars and TV stars show up to these parties; it’s always fun.”
Stressing the importance of not only fun but safety, the Cup isn’t always just about a party.
“Sometimes people have cereal out of it in the morning or ice cream sundaes that’s another thing that gets done out of it,” Mike continued. “It’s been fishing an awful lot, it’s about the adventure of it.”
The Cup has certainly found itself on many adventures throughout the years, most recently it missed a flight out of Boston en route to 2011 Champion Nathan Horton’s Cup day. “For whatever reason, the Cup did not make it to the plane.” With most of the time spent traveling, it’s amazing that it doesn’t happen more often.
“We only have a certain amount of control when it comes to flying around. You check it in and you explain to the airline what you have, it’s up to them how they decide to take control of it. Once you have it inspected by the TSA it’s in their hands and you hope that they do their job.”
With regard to the Boston flight incident: “In situations like that, you hope that you’ll get a little extra assistance because it does make the news. It wasn’t a rumor, it happened and it made the press.”
It’s important to point out that Mike wasn’t the “Keeper” on duty. The “Keeper of the Cup” position is primarily fulfilled by Mike Bolt and Phil Pritchard. However, the position is also shared with two others; Howie Borrow, who helps throughout the year, and Walt Neaubrand, who primarily lends a white glove of assistance in July and August.
Under a 12-year reign as the “Keeper of the Cup” it’s safe to say that Mike has spent time with a variety of teams and players. If he favored one more than another, he certainly wouldn’t say. But as an avid hockey fan and having extensive knowledge of the game and style of play necessary to make it to the final game, you have to wonder if he’s ever made the prediction of a Stanley Cup winner.
“I make a prediction and I keep it to myself, then I make another prediction during All Star Break, write it on a piece of paper and no one ever knows. The only year that I was ever right was 2002, that was the Detroit Red Wings,” he lamented. “That’s the great thing about our sport, it really is hard to figure out who is going to win.”
Regardless of the winner, “it’s some of the most exciting playoffs of any sport.”
Claiming that he’s not biased despite working in hockey, he’s a football and baseball fan as well. “Hockey has edge-of -your-seat excitement, non stop. Other sports are exciting but we’re talking blood rushing, heart pumping, all 60 minutes and especially in overtime.”
It’s clear that he holds a passion for hockey, a sport in which he’s built a career albeit off the ice. The “Keeper of the Cup” is clearly more than just a constant companion for Stanley, he’s a fan of the game that’s beloved by many. A fan, like many of us that watches teams encounter hardships throughout the season and publicly or secretly cheers for them to succeed. Perhaps there is only one difference between Mike Bolt, “Keeper of the Cup” and an everyday hockey fan. After witnessing those seasons of hardships; he’s center ice for the biggest triumph of all them all. The Stanley Cup.