Hockey Hall of Fame - Stanley Cup Journals: 2010, 35

Rocky Wirtz and the Stanley Cup stopped by ESPN radio
Rocky Wirtz and the Stanley Cup stopped by ESPN radio in Chicago. (Mike Bolt/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The Chicago Black Hawks, owned by Frederic McLaughlin, entered the National Hockey League in 1926, joining the fledgling league along with the Detroit Cougars (now the Red Wings) and the New York Rangers. McLaughlin was a business tycoon, whose principal interest was in coffee. During the First World War, McLaughlin had been commander of the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion of the 86th Infantry Division, which had been tagged the 'Blackhawk Division' after Chief Black Hawk, the legendary leader of the Sauk nation of Illinois. Incidentally, 'Black Hawks' was spelled as two words until 1986 when the club made the decision to use the one-word name 'Blackhawks,' which was the spelling on the franchise's original documentation. Under McLaughlin, the Black Hawks won the Stanley Cup in 1938.

Rocky Wirtz and the Stanley Cup at his office
Rocky Wirtz and the Stanley Cup at his office. (Mike Bolt/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The franchise's founder passed away in 1944, and the team was sold to a syndicate headed by team president Bill Tobin, although it was widely known that the true power behind the Chicago club belonged to James Norris, who had purchased Chicago Stadium in 1936 after losing the original bid to buy the team to McLaughlin. The challenge was that Norris also owned the Detroit Red Wings. The team stumbled terribly, making the playoffs but twice between 1945 and 1958. When James Norris died, the Hawks were taken over by his son, James Jr., along with Arthur Wirtz, who had been a minority of the Red Wings with James Norris Sr.

The junior Norris and Wirtz brought the franchise back to respectability, and in 1961, the Black Hawks won their second Stanley Cup championship. The team was competitive through the Arthur Wirtz era, although was often criticized for curious business decisions, including home games not being televised in the Chicago area. In 2004, ESPN chose the Blackhawks as the worst franchise in professional sports.

Rocky Wirtz sharing a moment with his son and the Stanley Cup
Rocky Wirtz sharing a moment with his son and the Stanley Cup. (Mike Bolt/Hockey Hall of Fame)
That all changed when W. Rockwell Wirtz was named chairman of the Chicago Blackhawks on October 5, 2007 following the passing of his father, who had served as president of the Hawks for 41 years. 'Rocky,' who was just two years old when his father purchased the club in 1954, had grown up in hockey and was well-known and liked within the walls of Chicago Stadium. Rocky and his newly-hired management team instituted a new corporate personality that encouraged fan-friendliness…and winning. Under Rocky Wirtz's leadership, the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in June 2010, the first since 1961 and just the third in franchise history.

While Rocky Wirtz enjoyed his day with the Stanley Cup on October 2, he had had occasion to spend time with hockey's most majestic trophy at several points through the summer. He shared a celebration with the employees of the Wirtz Beverage Group, a national distributor of the world's top premium wine, beer and liquor brands. He took the Stanley Cup to the banks his corporation runs. Rocky took the glorious trophy to the football alumni at his alma mater, Northwestern University. While visiting the Wirtz family farm, Rocky and the Stanley Cup visited the gravesite of his father. On Father's Day, his wife Marilyn, her daughter Elizabeth and his children Daniel, Hilary and Kendall, surprised their Dad with a visit with the Stanley Cup.

The Stanley Cup in front of the Wirtz family burial site
The Stanley Cup in front of the Wirtz family burial site. (Mike Bolt/Hockey Hall of Fame)
On October 2, it was a personal celebration for Rocky, his family and friends at the Wirtz home. Later, Danny took the Cup around to some of the establishments with whom the Wirtz Corporation does business.

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Through the summer, we have profiled the players, coaches, management and owner as each enjoyed a personal celebration with the Stanley Cup. But it is important for readers of the Stanley Cup Journal to understand that the iconic trophy is accompanied at all time by an employee of the Hockey Hall of Fame. On the surface, being 'Keeper of the Cup' is the greatest job in the world, but beneath the shiny surface, it truly is one of the great unheralded jobs, with itineraries that leave little time for sleep and include extended travel that takes the Cup Keeper away from family and friends over long periods of time. Yet, there's not a hockey fan we've met yet who wouldn't trade his or her soul for the chance to accompany the greatest trophy in sport -- the Stanley Cup.

Rocky Wirtz and family with the Stanley Cup
Rocky Wirtz and family with the Stanley Cup. (Mike Bolt/Hockey Hall of Fame)
It is now our pleasure to introduce you to this summer's 'Keepers of the Cup.'

* * *

Mike Bolt spends almost as much time with the Stanley Cup as the NHL's championship team. Crisscrossing the continent, Mike ensures that the rights and privileges that accompany winners of the Stanley Cup are both enjoyed and upheld, doing so in a firm yet entertaining way. Loved by both players and management, Bolt is a hockey fan first and foremost, but treats his job with the seriousness it demands. Even NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman once took him aside and said, "You've got an awesome job."

Born and raised in Toronto's Leaside area, Mike Bolt was no different than most other hockey-playing boys -- he, too, dreamed of one day hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head. But his career path took a different turn early on, and instead of a hockey career, Mike managed a cowboy boot and western wear store in Toronto. It wasn't until 1995, when he joined the Hockey Hall of Fame as a guest services associate that the path veered back towards hockey.

Mike's first foray with the Stanley Cup was a quick jaunt down the street from the Hockey Hall of Fame to the studios of the CBC, Canada's public broadcaster, in 1997.

Cup Keeper Mike Bolt and Brent Seabrook.
Cup Keeper Mike Bolt and Brent Seabrook.
(Hockey Hall of Fame)
The summer of 2010 was highly enjoyable for Bolt, who spent his thirteenth year accompanying the Stanley Cup. He points to Andrew Ladd's day with the Stanley Cup as one of the many highlights of a memorable summer. "We took a helicopter to the top of a mountain on July 19th and at dawn, he stood at the peak with the Stanley Cup over his head looking out over the mountains in B.C.," enthuses Bolt. "It was awesome!"

Mike also mentions the Stanley Cup parade in Chicago on June 11, just after the Stanley Cup win. "In my 13 years with the Cup, it was by far the biggest parade I experienced," he states. "There was so much excitement and mayhem in Chicago and it really showed us all how much passion for hockey that the city has. They waited a long time for the chance to celebrate, but they sure made up for lost time!"

Mike reflects on a bountiful summer. "Any time I'm with one of the winners is special. It is such an honour to be around any of these champions as they spend their day with the Cup. I have to mention that I was especially impressed with the way Jonathan Toews handled himself in Winnipeg. He was pure class! But while being a Cup Keeper is tiring at times, it is worth every second when I see the joy the Stanley Cup brings to the family and the community of the champions. Every day is a special day when you're with the guys who have won the Stanley Cup. It's been every kid's dream, and the players are living that dream. Watching them with the Stanley Cup is amazing. That part of the job never gets old!"

* * *

Howard Borrow is the newest of the Keepers of the Cup. A Toronto native, Borrow spent time in Parry Sound and in Durham before locating back to his hometown.

Cup Keeper Howie Borrow and Dave Bolland
Cup Keeper Howie Borrow and Dave Bolland
(Hockey Hall of Fame)
Howie was a late-comer to hockey. "I didn't start my hockey life until I was in my 20s," he explains. But coaching his boys in hockey fuelled a passion for the game that led him to working as an off-ice official with the Mississauga Ice Dogs, the Toronto Marlies and to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He earned a degree in sport management at Brock University in St. Catharines and added volunteering at the 2000 NHL All-Star Game, the NHL Awards and the NHL Draft to his resume.

The newest Cup Keeper joined the Hockey Hall of Fame as a volunteer six years ago, and soon was working there part-time, building his network by working on events. When offered the opportunity to take the Hart, Norris and Vezina trophies to Michigan for the Ted Lindsay Foundation, he jumped at it. That led to his first opportunity to accompany the Stanley Cup — at Mississauga's Hershey Centre for an NHL Alumni Game.

"This has been one of the best years of my life," he beams. "It started with the Olympics and now includes the summer with the Stanley Cup!"

Often travelling with heavy eyelids after little sleep, he comments on the daily rituals. "Most guys get the Stanley Cup first thing in the morning and have it until late at night. Eighteen hour days are part of the routine, but I wouldn't change it for anything!"

Howie counts the day spent with Dave Bolland as especially exciting for him. "Dave is a personal friend, so to be with him on his day with the Cup was unbelievable," he says. "His youngest brother and my oldest son played lacrosse together. And when I was volunteering with the NHL, I was David's Draft Guide at the 2004 NHL Entry Draft in Raleigh, North Carolina."

Like Mike Bolt, Howie also appreciates the honour of accompanying hockey's highest prize with the champions through the summer. "The entire summer was a highlight for me. It all started with the Stanley Cup parade in Chicago with two million fans coming out to salute their heroes and was a high straight through from there."

* * *

Cup Keeper Walt Neubrand and Cristobal Huet
Cup Keeper Walt Neubrand and Cristobal Huet.
(Hockey Hall of Fame)
Would Walt Neubrand trade the opportunity of being Keeper of the Cup for any other job in the world? "No way," he replied.

Walt Neubrand was born in Mississauga, just west of Toronto, and learned his hockey on the frozen surface of the Credit River. Although always a hockey fan first and foremost, Walt was also a baseball player up through his teenaged years. After graduating from the University of Waterloo, Walt joined the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995, working as a guest services associate. Two years later, he got his first taste of working with the Stanley Cup. During the Detroit Red Wings' Stanley Cup championship in 1997, Walt was asked to accompany the Cup to Scotty Bowman's home in New York State.

Neubrand briefly left the Hall of Fame in 2000 to become a police officer, but after graduating from the academy, realized that that life was not for him, and returned to hockey. But the training comes in handy should any incidents occur that involve the Stanley Cup. "I've never had any real problem," Walt admitted. "Everyone who comes to see the Cup has been nothing but respectful."

Being one of the Keepers of the Cup has certain advantages. While accompanying the Stanley Cup to the NHL All-Star Game in Tampa in 1999, Walt met a volunteer from Detroit who would later become his wife. The two introduced themselves, and in 2003, Walt and Laura were married, settling into life in Hamilton, Ontario, where they are now parents of two young girls.

Spending so many days on the road with the Stanley Cup, Walt has seen the trophy in hundreds of different situations. "My favourite trip was taking the Stanley Cup to Rankin Inlet in Nunavut for a hockey tournament," explains Neubrand. "I love the wilderness, and this was an area above the tree line where there were no roads. People in the area are so passionate about hockey that some drove 250 miles by snowmobile just to see the Cup!"

For Walt, the highlight of the summer of 2010 was going up the Eiffel Tower with Cristobal Huet and the Stanley Cup. "The whole European trip was fantastic, but this was definitely the focal point," he states. "Cristobal generously rented a private jet for more than 30 guests to fly to Paris from Grenoble, and I'll never forget viewing the skyline of Paris as we flew in, with rays of sunshine beaming through holes in the clouds onto the Eiffel Tower. It was great being a part of history with the Cup visiting France for the first time, and it was my first visit, too. I doubt I will ever get to the Eiffel Tower on my own time so it was special that I got to combine the Stanley Cup with Paris. We got some incredible pictures with the Stanley Cup in front of and on the Eiffel Tower."

Now that the Stanley Cup travels have wound down for another summer, Walt has returned to being an elementary school teacher, although he will occasionally travel with Lord Stanley's Cup through the school year when time allows. "Being the Cup Guy is a great job to have," Walt confirms. "As long as they allow me to do it, I'm honoured to accompany the greatest trophy in sports, the Stanley Cup."

* * *

Cup Keeper Howie Borrow and Dave Bolland
Cup Keeper Phil Pritchard
and the Stanley Cup in Chicago.
(Mike Bolt/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The glove-wearing Keeper of the Cup has become an iconic symbol within the sporting world, so much so that the Hockey Hall of Fame uses the imaging as the basis of marketing campaigns, including contesting and television commercials. The popular commercial featured the Stanley Cup and its well-recognized Keeper, Phil Pritchard. In 30 seconds, the commercial followed a day in the life of the Vice President and Curator of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Born in Oakville, Ontario, Phil's hockey career began later than that of most Canadian boys. His British-born parents weren't raised with Canadian customs like hockey, so after playing road hockey with his pals for a number of years, Phil was finally able to convince his Mom and Dad to register him for ice hockey, and at 13 years of age (six or seven years later than most of his peers), he began playing Bantam. Pritchard had discovered his passion, and now not only works in the hockey industry, but plays ice hockey and ball hockey several times a week all year round.

Phil distinctly remembers the genesis of his love for hockey. "In 1969, there was a Boston/Montreal game on the radio. I was listening to it and loving it. My Dad taped the game too. I still have that tape at home," he recalls. Phil's first brush with the Hockey Hall of Fame occurred shortly afterwards. "In 1971, I dragged my Dad to the (Canadian National) Exhibition so I could go to the Hall of Fame. Phil Roberto was signing autographs that day and the Montreal Canadiens had just won the Stanley Cup. I stood in line with all the other kids and met Phil Roberto. I've kept his autograph too, and ran into him not long ago. I told him the story and he laughed. He remembered the day; it was the only day he ever signed at the Hockey Hall of Fame!"

On September 24, 1988, Ben Johnson won the gold medal in the 100m sprint at the Seoul Olympics. "No one can take it away from me," said the sprinter with more than just a bit of irony at the time. The following Monday, the Olympic committee did just that, stripping Johnson of his gold medal. "I'll never forget that day," mentions Pritchard. "That was the day I started at the Hockey Hall of Fame." Phil was one of eight employees, and as the Marketing Administrative Co-ordinator, found himself working at reception, in the gift shop and doing anything he could to promote the Hockey Hall of Fame. "In October 1988, Jeff Denomme (now the Hockey Hall of Fame's president and COO) and I took the Stanley Cup to the Newmarket Minor Hockey Association's annual banquet. People were thrilled. That was the first time I ever held the Stanley Cup."

In the twenty-two years since then, Pritchard has been around the world several times, traveling more than a hundred days each year with hockey's most cherished prize. "History is being made every time the Cup goes out, and I am honoured to be part of that history," admits the modest Pritchard. Often, Phil is almost as well known as the subject he's traveling with. "Mom, look. It's the guy with the Cup from the commercial," kids announce, and Pritchard graciously, if not shyly, has his picture taken with the children or shakes their hands. Many want to know where his white gloves are, and Phil readily pulls a pair out from his pocket. "I go through a lot of gloves each year," he laughs.

It is near impossible for Phil Pritchard to isolate a single trip with the Stanley Cup that was more meaningful than the others, but he does show a genuine enthusiasm for the Stanley Cup's first trip to Russia. "After the Red Wings won the Cup in 1997, plans were made for Igor Larionov, Slava Kozlov and Viacheslav Fetisov to take the Stanley Cup to Russia for the first time. When we got there, the players took the Cup off the plane. It was a rainy, dreary day, but there were thousands of people there to see the Stanley Cup. Fetisov walked the Cup over to the chain link fence, and people stuck their fingers through it to touch the Cup. It was absolutely amazing! These people knew their hockey inside out and really appreciated the legacy of the Stanley Cup. We were in Russia for five days, and visited Lenin's Tomb, Red Square and a lot of historic places." Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov admitted, "I am not a hockey expert but I am sure that the Stanley Cup is one of the most prestigious awards in the world of sport."

The summer of 2010 introduced wonderful new Cup highlights to Pritchard. "The highlight of the summer for me was taking the Stanley Cup to Niklas Hjalmarsson's home town in Russnas, Sweden," states Pritchard. "It is a small town where everybody knows everybody else. Everyone loved the idea that a hometown boy made it big. Niklas was very appreciative of all the people that contributed to his day."

But it's not all glamour, either. Phil remembers one particularly frustrating event from the summer. "I was stuck in Paris at the Air France check-in counter at the airport, trying to explain to the flight agents what the Stanley Cup was and trying to convince them how important it was to get on the flight. After six levels of management and lots of fanfare from hockey fans, we eventually got the Cup checked in, and the Stanley Cup travels continued on."

Pritchard has never lost his boyhood excitement for either hockey or for the Stanley Cup. "No matter whether it's little kids or adults playing a kids' game, the reaction is the same," states the Hall's VP. "In today's world, it is wonderful to be able to do something that makes people smile. Whether it is a visit to a player's hometown or taking the Stanley Cup to visit kids in the hospital, it is the greatest feeling in the world to know that what you do makes someone smile. Everyone has a special place in their heart for the Stanley Cup!"

* * *

The Stanley Cup travels have concluded for the summer, and the Stanley Cup Journal for 2010 will conclude with one final entry. On Tuesday, come on back and go behind the scenes at the United Center as the Chicago Blackhawks raise the Stanley Cup championship banner to the rafters and proceed with a new NHL season as the defending Stanley Cup champions. Will they repeat? We have 82 wonderful regular season games and the 2010-11 post-season to find out!

* * *

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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