Phil Pritchard spent a recent afternoon carrying groceries back to his home outside Toronto – a far cry from taking the Stanley Cup around North America in the heat of the NHL playoffs.
Hockey is on hold, the Stanley Cup is locked away in its case at the Hockey Hall of Fame and its longtime keeper has shed his familiar white gloves to work from home like so many others during the coronavirus pandemic. Pritchard makes the 30-minute drive to check on the Cup and the Hall’s other trophies twice a week and make sure all is well at a quiet time usually filled with the buzz of playoff games.
”The Stanley Cup is put away, the NHL trophies – everything is locked up and everything,” Pritchard said. ”Everything’s safe and sound.”
No one knows when it will be safe for the most storied trophy in sports to be in the public eye again. Upon pausing the season March 12, Commissioner Gary Bettman said the NHL’s ”goal is to resume play as soon as it is appropriate and prudent so that we will be able to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup.”
That particular moment is the culmination of each season and a long journey for the Cup under the watchful eye of Pritchard, Mike Bolt, Howie Borrow and its other handlers. One of its final stops this season came in Salmon Arm, British Columbia, before the final few across Canada were canceled.
This time of year is typically among the busiest for the 128-year-old trophy. A year ago, it went from President Donald Trump’s Oval Office desk during the 2018 champion Washington Capitals’ White House visit to a concert stage in Tampa, Florida, to mark the opening night of the playoffs and on to appearances on the ”Today” show set in New York and the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
Not this year. With distancing regulations in effect, Pritchard and his colleagues are mostly cataloging items from home. He said the Hall of Fame hasn’t yet begun gathering items from the most recent games but acknowledged they might become part of the ”Year in Review” display if the season doesn’t resume.
”If hockey doesn’t continue this year at any level, it’s going to be a different display,” Pritchard said. ”We’re always trying to preserve some part of hockey. With everything closed down, it’s like there’s no hockey history at all. But there is hockey history happening. It’s just happening in a different way that nobody’s ever used to.”
Already the ECHL’s Kelly Cup and Canadian Hockey League’s Memorial Cup won’t be handed out after the remainder of those seasons were canceled. Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said he wasn’t sure what the value would be of winning the Stanley Cup in 2020 after such a delay.
”I know they so badly want to give out the Stanley Cup this year, but in all seriousness it’s not going to be like winning a real Stanley Cup because the season wasn’t finished,” said Doughty, who won it in 2012 and 2014.
Bettman has refused to speculate about not awarding the Cup, which has only happened twice since 1893: in 1919, when the final couldn’t be completed because of the Spanish flu pandemic, and 2005 when the season was wiped out by a lockout.
The inscription ”1919 Montreal Canadiens Seattle Metropolitans Series Not Completed” remains on the neck of the Cup, something Pritchard has seen many times since starting his job in December 1988. Seattle’s pending addition to the NHL in 2021 and the 100-year anniversary of the year without a Cup champion made him think about it, but he is more concerned about current events.
”The focus for me and everyone else right now is to make sure our family and friends are OK and see what happens from there,” Pritchard said.
Of course, if the NHL can get back and crown a new champion, Pritchard will be there.
”I’ll have my white gloves on,” he said.