RAYBURN HOUSE OFFICE BUILDING — Last Wednesday, the Stanley Cup made its last known public visit in Washington, DC to celebrate the Capitals’ Stanley Cup championship in June.
That morning, Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC’s non-voting Democratic representative in the House and a member of the Congressional Hockey Caucus, allowed fans, staffers, and Capitol police the opportunity to take photos with the NHL’s championship trophy in her office at the Rayburn House Building for a little over an hour.
Mike Bolt, one of the Keepers of the Stanley Cup, looked on from a leather couch, answering questions mostly pertaining to how intimate fans could get with the championship trophy in their photos.
“You can put your hand around it. Go ahead,” Bolt encouraged a nervous group.
“Can I lift it and hold it over my head?” one bold fan asked.
“You can when you win it,” Bolt retorted with a smile.
As fans filed in and out of the room, I chatted with the knowledgeable Hockey Hall of Fame employee for nearly 20 minutes. Bolt challenged my previous Cup superstition of not touching or taking a photo with the trophy until the Capitals won it all, citing a childhood photo of TJ Oshie when he was only 12. “Sure, that superstition is fun, but it’s not really a true thing because everywhere we go, somebody’s always touching it. You said you wouldn’t touch it, and that’s your own thing, but we’ve had other Capitals fans touch it over the years – even this year before they won.”
I learned in my conversation with Bolt that the Cup weighs 37.5 pounds. And that while Bolt had aspirations, like many young Canadian children, of winning the trophy as a player himself, he’s now had the opportunity to hold the Cup more than the game’s greatest players.
Funny how that all works out.
How has the experience in Washington, DC been like this year compared to other cities when they’ve first become champions? As a fan of the team myself, I know everyone here was desperate to finally win the Stanley Cup and it was very special when the Caps finally did.
Mike Bolt: You know, it’s been great. You look at the parade and the big turnout. One person pointed out to me yesterday, the great thing about the parade is you come down and usually there are protests and stuff like that in this city. Nobody protested the win of the Stanley Cup here with the Washington Capitals.
Just going around the city since the summer tour, you see the big pictures of the team on the bus, on the side of buses, at bus stops. I’m going down the street pushing the case, and people are like, “Oh my God, that’s the Stanley Cup.”
When a team, when any market, when you win the Stanley Cup it builds your fan base up bigger, it gets more people interested in the game of hockey, and that’s a great thing to sit back and watch.
We’ve been here in the Capitol building many times with the Stanley Cup, but this is the first time we’ve been here since the Washington Capitals won, and you can see the turnout in the hallways. Again, I’ve been here so many times, I’ve never had so much security meet me than I did today. Not for security reasons, I think we have a lot of hockey fans on the Capitol police, and they even showed me this really cool patch that they made for their uniforms with the Stanley Cup on it.
You can feel the buzz around here, and that’s the great thing about winning: the buzz gets bigger and bigger. Yeah, this market’s been so great.
When I was a kid and then a teenager and later an adult, I always told myself I was never going to see, pose, or touch the Stanley Cup until the Capitals won. From some of the conversations you’ve had here today with fans, that seems to be a superstition you’re skeptical of.
Mike Bolt: Well it’s a thing I think more created by the press and everyone like that. You look at, for example, our Conference Finals. Players used to not touch the trophy and now some do. People that haven’t touched it won, and people that have touched it won. This year, both teams touched the Conference Champion trophies. Obviously, the Capitals win.
The Stanley Cup, for example, I’ve seen pictures of some of the players with it when they were young. TJ Oshie, for example, had his picture with the Cup when he was 12-years-old. He actually had it done twice, and a few of the other players have had it done, too. I’ve seen other teams where players showed me pictures of them either at the Hockey Hall of Fame or the Cup when it came through their town. And them getting pictures of the Cup and that great picture of them hoisting it on the ice.
Sure, that superstition is fun, but it’s not really a true thing because everywhere we go, somebody’s always touching it. You said you wouldn’t touch it, and that’s your own thing, but we’ve had other Capitals fans touch it over the years – even this year before they won.
That’s just a fun little superstition thing, more created through the media.
Well, I definitely think superstitions like that build up the mystique of the trophy and make that first meeting with the Stanley Cup even more special.
Mike Bolt: Yeah, I guess. I mean I like the photos. I like when I see pictures. When players show me the pictures of them with the Cup when they were younger, whether it be at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto or when it came through their local rink or whatever, I think that’s really cool because then they show me that picture, and then you have that picture, that iconic picture of them hoisting it on the ice. To have the two, you know the childhood dream of maybe hoping I get to win it one day, and then to actually have that dream come true of winning it, I think that’s a really cool thing.
What days have you accompanied the Cup so far over the summer with the Capitals? Is there anything you experienced or watched that was particularly meaningful or notable to you?
Mike Bolt: You know, Tom Wilson comes to mind, just being a Torontonian myself and him bringing it back. And of course, Devante Smith-Pelly having it in Toronto. But I go with Tom because of this great photo that Tom did out on the waterfront with the skyline of Toronto. I thought that was really cool. Again, Tom and I didn’t know each other until he won the Cup, but we did have mutual friends, so that was kind of neat.
— Philip Pritchard (@keeperofthecup) August 6, 2018
TJ Oshie was probably the best party I’ve ever been, and I’ve done over 1,500 Cup parties. I mean his wife and his party planner pulled out all the stops. I’m talking about how the party was set up, from naming drinks after TJ to all the other players, the trivia, the napkins, the cups. Everything had something Stanley Cup-related to it, and they had a lot of fun with it.
Todd Reirden. His day was really cool, bringing it down to Indiana. It was almost like a working day for Todd, kind of the guy he is. He really wanted to build up hockey in this town of Indiana where his son was born, and he’s from Illinois. I thought that was really cool to see him going out and going the extra mile to help build this game in a state that may not be that big in hockey.
— Philip Pritchard (@keeperofthecup) July 27, 2018
Some of the trainers’ days I did were a lot of fun. I didn’t do Woody’s day, but my colleague did, and I heard it was really good. With that tragedy that happened a day or two before, and Woody was able to go and bring it to those people. That’s the great thing. With every tragedy, the Stanley Cup can sometimes bring a smile to some really bad situations.
It was a really good summer. It’s hard to put into words some of the things because I’ve been doing it for so long, but I really, really enjoyed working with the Washington Capitals, the organization, with all the players. They were just a really good group of people to work with.
What was your take on the infamous Cup stand that got invented this year?
Mike Bolt: Yeah, not a fan! NOT a fan! I saw that happen, my boss, Phil, was there on that one. It kind of started, and I knew it was going to be a thing, especially when Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby did it with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show. I get it, it’s a fun thing, but at the same time, it’s not good for the Cup.
Can you explain why it’s not good for the Stanley Cup?
Mike Bolt: Because when you do a keg stand on it, you’re putting your weight on top of the bowl, and it pushes down. If you have a 200-pound body, it can slide the rings down, and you don’t want to see teams covered up. My job is to respect every single name and team that’s on that Stanley Cup, and I want to keep the Stanley Cup around for another hundred years.
I won’t be looking after it that long, but I’d like to see, I mean this trophy’s 126-years-old, we’d like to see it 226-years-old. Things like that are not going to allow it to get that old if we continue it, so that’s why we put a stop to the keg stands.
What is your favorite detail of the Cup that maybe isn’t a perfection? Maybe it’s an imperfection.
Mike Bolt: Well, my favorite name on the Cup is Pud Glass, and he won it in 1907. I just love that name, Pud Glass.
I guess my favorite characteristic on the Cup right now would be the crossed out name in 1984 when Peter Pocklington put his dad on the Cup. That had nothing to do with the organization, so they x’d it out.
— Seth Rorabaugh (@SethRorabaugh) June 16, 2015
Probably the biggest spelling mistake on the Stanley Cup is the NEW YORK ILANDERS, where they left out the S in Islanders.
Cool "new York ilanders" misspelling on the cup. No, I didn't touch it pic.twitter.com/7r1D6OaOSG
— Chet Vinegar (@BryantReeves50) August 30, 2013
As you probably know, we retire bands. So we just took a band off, and two of the cool things that came off the Cup was Kenny Reardon, Ass Man, which is the assistant manager, but they called it Ass Man. I always used to joke, team proctologist.
The other one was TORONTO MAPLE LEAES, it was spelled L-E-A-E-S.
And those creative engravings just makes the Cup even better, right?
Mike Bolt: Yeah, we’re here at the Capitol building. Let’s go find the Constitution. There are spelling mistakes in that too. I mean it does happen, and it shows that it’s not completely perfect. We’ve had names spelled wrong over the years on the Cup, and we do get them fixed now, but that also kind of tells you that it’s the official one.
If you look at all the mistakes I’ve just talked about in this interview, if you went to Toronto to see the replica, you won’t see them on the replica at the Hall of Fame. If you ever go to the Hall of Fame, look at 1984, and if you don’t see the crossed out name, then you know it’s not the original Cup.
What does happen to the bands that get removed. I know they get retired at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Mike Bolt: Yes, the 1954-1965 band is now in the Hockey Hall of Fame, along with 1927-1940 and 1941-1953. You go up to Toronto and you can see it in the vault where the original bowl sits, so everything is original but the actual Cup part.
That’s in the vault in the Hockey Hall of Fame where the retired bands go, and that’s the neat thing. If you’re a fan of Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Ted Lindsay, Maurice Richard, you can go up and see their names on the Stanley Cup up in the great hall. People can go up there, fans here in Washington or Washington Capitals fans anywhere can up and see the Stanley Cup, whether it’s the presentation or the replica. Check out the names on it and everything like that.
To me, it never gets old being around the Stanley Cup. I’ve been here in the Capitol building, I’ve met people here that I met 10 years ago, and they come out every time. It never gets old seeing the Stanley Cup.
What did it mean to you to see Alex Ovechkin win a Stanley Cup for the first time?
Mike Bolt: As a fan of the game and Ovechkin being one of our best players to ever play in the game, it was great.
I think him winning the Conn Smythe, he was finally able to get over that little hump that he’s always had and play playoff hockey. Good for him.
In all the years, I’ve never seen anybody more excited to be around the Cup. Every single player that has won it loved the Cup, but there’s a different type of love that Ovi has for the Stanley Cup. You can just see the smile on his face every time it comes into the room.
He’s one of those guys that just loves being around it. For as wild, as exciting, and as flamboyant he can be, he was also really respectful and really good with the Cup. So for our job that made it really easy. I thank him for that.
I’m glad he had a really good time with his teammates with the Cup, bouncing around Georgetown, and all over DC. And of course in Moscow, Russia.
I’ve covered and met him a few times, and you assume that he’s unapproachable or to a class of his own. When you actually meet him, he’s so down to earth. And then I’m the same age as him, so sometimes we make fun of each other or joke around. It’s more, Wow, he’s just a regular guy who just so happens to be very good at hockey.
Mike Bolt: He is. My colleague did his Cup day, Howie, and he was telling me he has these moments where he gets really crazy and excited, but he’s also a really chill guy, very family-oriented. He spent a lot of time with his mom, dad, and his wife, obviously he’s got a baby now. Again, I was really excited to get to be around him and meet him. He’s just a super guy.
How much longer is the Stanley Cup going to be around the DC area?
Mike Bolt: We’re leaving tomorrow! Tomorrow we’re heading to South Carolina, Charleston. We have a few more individual days, so we’re knocking off some of the scouts and director of hockey ops, and those kinds of things.
Basically, by the 27th of October we will be pretty much wrapped up, really turn the page for the Capitals. Now that being said, there might be one or two more events going on between now and the end of the season. The priority and the majority of time the Cup’s been spending with the winning team is coming to an end.
And then after that, it tours basically?
Mike Bolt: Yeah. We do events through the NHL and the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Cup’s booked over 320 days. It’s a 100-day cap, but it’s not a hard cap for the winning team. I think by the of it it’ll be around 110 days total that we’ll spend with the Washington Capitals. The rest of the time is out promoting the game, whether it’s minor hockey, charity events, working with our corporate partners, some of the big NHL events like the Winter Classic to All-Star.
We’re heading over to Helsinki with the Winnipeg Jets and the Florida Panthers, have an NHL game over there. The Stanley Cup is probably the greatest marketing tool the game of hockey has, hence why it’s out as much as it is and doing what it does. The Stanley Cup in some ways transcends the sport because I hear people all the time, especially when I’m in airports, “Oh, is that the Stanley Cup?” And they go, “I’m not a hockey fan, but can I get a picture with the Cup?” People who aren’t even hockey fans want a picture with Lord Stanley. It’s more famous than any of our players and the game itself, so it’s pretty wild. No other trophy can say that.
Are there any stories that are kind of wild about the Stanley cup that you’d be willing to share? Or would you rather keep that secret and I’m barking up the wrong tree?
Mike Bolt: I mean look, there are certain things we talk about and certain things we don’t. Yeah, I mean the guys have a lot of fun. They drink their champagne or beer out of it. Sometimes they’ll start their day with a little breakfast cereal out of it.
One of the best things I like seeing is when they do the ice cream sundaes. Brooks Orpik and his family, his daughter had ice cream out of it. I think they had, and I’m probably not embellishing, close to 50 scoops of ice cream in there. Now they set it up the night before where they scooped it into buckets, so all they had to do was dump it for the photo. It was a great photo where it was just stacked high with ice cream with about 9 different flavors or so. You can ask Brooks more about it when you talk to him. It was one of the coolest ice cream sundae things I’ve ever seen in the Cup.
Ruslan Fedotenko, when he won in ’09 with Pittsburgh, probably had the biggest. He put everything from ice cream, whipped cream, sprinkles, chocolate chips, walnuts, smarties, I mean every type of topping you could figure in the Stanley Cup. It was one hell of an ice cream sundae, but Brooks definitely had the most ice cream I’ve ever seen in the Cup. You could see the smile on his daughter’s face when she went in there with a spoon, started digging ice cream out of the Stanley Cup.
So did the trophy come to the NHL in 1917-18? This is something I’ve always been somewhat unclear about.
Mike Bolt: 1892 is when Lord Stanley bought the trophy in London, England for $45.57. He had it brought over to Canada, and it was first awarded in 1893 to the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association. We just did our 100th anniversary for 1917, but the NHL was the NHA in 1910. The NHL officially got started in 1917, so it became sole possession of the NHL in 1926. The Stanley Cup is older than the NHL.
Can you explain that more?
Mike Bolt: 1893 as I first mentioned was won by the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association, back then they never inscribed or engraved it. The first time they put names on the Cup was in 1907, Montreal Wanderers, which is inside the bowl. Then they did it again in 1915, which is also in the bowl, the 1915 Vancouver Millionaires. Then it started to grow from there, and again this is the shape it’s been since 1948. In 1947 it was actually a little taller, more cylinder-like, and Carl Peterson, the silversmith at the time, got the green light to create a different shape where the Cup wouldn’t fill up every year, creating the shape you see before you today making it the famous, most prestigious trophy in all of the world. That’s kind of how the tradition of all the names started and everything of that. It’s really cool that you get to have your name on there.
Ten minutes later after our conversation ended, Bolt, wearing white gloves, picked up the Stanley Cup and gently placed the trophy in its travel case. As he began rolling the Cup out of the congresswoman’s office, the Keeper was surrounded by a group of police forming a human barricade around the championship trophy.
Excited passerbyers took out their phones and took photos as the group walked down the hall towards the Capitol Building.
“Don’t worry, the Capitals will be on it for 65 years. You’ll have another opportunity to see it,” Bolt said smiling.
Transcription by Alex Hayes.
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