Champagne, flowers and dogfood fill Stanley Cup

TORONTO Wed Sep 1, 2010 9:46pm EDT

1 of 2. 'Keeper of the Cup' Phil Pritchard, poses beside the National Hockey League's (NHL) Stanley Cup at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto August 17, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Mark Blinch

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TORONTO (Reuters) - Though it is the National Hockey League's (NHL) ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup has been left at the bottom of a swimming pool, used as a flower pot and a popcorn bucket and carried into a Finnish sauna.

As the NHL allows members of every winning team their own day with the Cup, the well-travelled sterling silver trophy is often the centerpiece of unusual celebrations as players try to trump each other in creativity.

"If the Stanley Cup could talk it would be a best seller," Phil Pritchard, curator of the Toronto-based Hockey Hall of Fame, told Reuters during a recent interview.

"It would have so many viewpoints on all the great and different things that it has seen, but most of all it would be impressed on how much it travels and how many countries it has visited."

The 35-lb (15.89-kg), three-foot (0.9-meter) Stanley Cup is composed of a bowl, three tiered bands, a collar and five rings inscribed with the 2,163 names of members of winning teams.

While other North American professional sports leagues give out a new likeness of their championship trophy each year, the same Stanley Cup is handed to the NHL team that secures 16 wins in a tough, four-round playoff after an 82-game regular season.

When the Cup is won, the captain of the winning team is allowed to keep it for the night unsupervised -- the only time this is allowed -- which has no doubt contributed to the dents and scratches that add to the trophy's character.

CHAMPAGNE FLUTE

The morning after Mario Lemieux won his first Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991, the Hall of Famer woke up to find the trophy resting at the bottom of his pool after it had served as a giant champagne flute the night before.

Despite years of partying and about 300 days of travel a year, the Stanley Cup has always returned safe and little worse for wear thanks to the white-glove service from Pritchard.

Pritchard and four others known as 'Keepers of the Cup' offer 24-hour supervision for a trophy that has been hoisted, cradled and kissed by the game's greatest players.

Since it was first presented in 1893, the Stanley Cup has been dropkicked into the bottom of a canal in 1905, where it remained until the next day, used as a flower pot for a few months in 1907 and left on a roadside snowbank in 1924.

Pritchard says at least one horse has eaten from the bowl as have two dogs, most recently in 2007 when goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere allowed his pet to have a go.

Former Colorado Avalanche defenseman Sylvain Lefebvre used it as a baptismal font for his daughter in 1996, Martin Brodeur took it to a cinema so his children could eat popcorn from it and Jere Lehtinen took it to a Finnish sauna party after winning with Dallas in 1999.

The 117-year-old Cup has also been used as a bowl for ice cream, cereal and soup made from cows' intestines and to hold greasy chicken wings as Patrick Kane celebrated his win with the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this year.

Of all his time with the Stanley Cup, Pritchard said his oddest encounter was at a celebrity golf tournament in Nevada when a woman mistook the trophy for a coffee urn and asked him where the coffee cups were.

SILVER BOWL

Pritchard said winners of the Stanley Cup respected it and he could not recall the last time he had to decline an idea for how someone wanted to spend their day with it.

Lord Stanley of Preston, at the time the Governor General of Canada, donated the Stanley Cup in 1893 after purchasing it for 10 guineas, or $50 at that time.

It was originally known as the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup and awarded to the amateur ice hockey champions of Canada. Now insured for $1.5 million, the Stanley Cup has been competed for by NHL teams since the 1926-27 season.

The oldest trophy for professional athletes in North America began as a simple silver bowl with an ebony base but grew larger over the years to accommodate the names of the winners. Eventually, though, everyone's time on the trophy runs out.

The championship teams from the 1940-41 season to 1952-53 had their ring on the trophy removed a few years ago and put in the Hockey Hall of Fame to make room for a new ring.

"It's a pretty special trophy and it sends a chill up the spine every time, especially when you walk out on that red carpet after the Stanley Cup has been won," said Pritchard, who recently went up the Eiffel Tower in Paris with the cup.

"Traveling with the Stanley Cup, it can't get old," said Pritchard. "We are very fortunate, the guys that travel with it, to get to do that; we realize that every day."

(Editing by Steve Ginsburg; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)

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