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Keepers make sure Stanley Cup's safe wherever it travels

DETROIT - It's been on top of a 9,000-foot mountain, in a 200-degree sauna and at the bottom of a pool.

You name it, the Stanley Cup has been there.

Players, coaches and other personnel from the NHL champion each are given a day to spend with the 35-pound silver chalice in a place and manner of their choosing.

They often come away with colourful stories about the unusual and creative ways they devised to celebrate during their time with the famous trophy.

But none of it compares to all the Cup has seen over its 116 years.

"If it could talk, it would be amazing. John Grisham would have nothing on it," said Phil Pritchard, one of the so-called "keepers of the Cup" - those tasked with accompanying Lord Stanley's Cup during the hundreds of days a year it's away from the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

Pritchard and his cohorts are bodyguards of sorts, providing 24-hour supervision for a trophy that is a rarity in North American professional sports.

Unlike other leagues, which award a new likeness of their championship trophy each year, there is only one Stanley Cup, and it carries the names of the players and others who contributed to their team's triumph - more than 2,700 in all.

"The Stanley Cup is the most revered trophy in all of sports," said Pritchard, who wears white gloves and a Hall of Fame blazer when escorting the Cup.

A Cup keeper goes through 24 pairs of white gloves per season. Pritchard had four pairs for his final trip of the season to Joe Louis Arena - the site of Friday night's deciding Game 7 between the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins.

After the Cup is won, a keeper brings it out on the ice where it is presented by the NHL commissioner to the winning team's captain, who then lifts it over his head and skates around before giving all the other players and coaches the same opportunity.

"It's heavy, but I don't mind it at all," Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said after winning the Cup in 2008. "It's a great problem to have."

A day or two after the Cup is awarded, Pritchard - whose official title is vice president and curator at the Hockey Hall of Fame - meets with the general manager, coach and captain to determine travel arrangements for the Cup during its 100-day stay with the team.

Then the fun begins.

Players who endure a regular season that lasts half a year, plus four rounds' worth of every-other-day, do-or-die playoff games get to jet off to their hometowns or homelands with the three-foot-tall trophy - and keeper - in tow.

Scott Niedermayer took a helicopter ride to the summit of a mountain near his hometown of Cranbrook, B.C. The New Jersey Devils defenceman then got out and hoisted the Cup at a height of better than 9,000 feet.

Red Wings stars Igor Larionov, Slava Fetisov and Slava Kozlov took the Cup to Red Square in Moscow and tried to get it to Lenin's Tomb, but guards wouldn't allow it.

Anaheim Ducks sharpshooter Teemu Selanne's trip with the Cup to his native Finland included a stop at a sauna.

"You know this is silver, it can't stay in there," Pritchard remembers telling Selanne, who promised to take it inside the 200-plus-degree room for a few moments.

Not only has the cup endured extreme heat, but also wetness, having famously found its way to the bottom of Penguins captain Mario Lemieux's swimming pool.

The Cup also is a popular substitute for a drinking glass, with champagne and beer swilling a common use at taverns, backyard barbecues and even strip joints.

Carolina goalie Cam Ward ate Froot Loops from the Cup, while Wings forward Dan Cleary slurped ice cream out of it.

While many spend their time celebrating with the Cup, others use the opportunity to do some good.

Detroit defenceman Brian Rafalski allowed an hour of his time with the Cup to be auctioned off as part of a fundraiser, with the proceeds going to a single mother with cancer in Wisconsin.

"I guess you try to do something different with it," he said.

The auction winners were "big Detroit sport fans in central Wisconsin. ... I took it to their house for about an hour and took pictures and whatnot," Rafalski said.

No matter where the Cup goes or what players do with it, the keepers are along for the ride at all times.

Well, at least almost all the time.

"I had a lot of wild parties and great times, but my favourite memory is the time I had it overnight - which is a no-no - in my bedroom," said defenceman Larry Murphy, who won it with both Pittsburgh and Detroit. "I looked at it all night. It was right on an end table next to my bed. I'm not going to tell you which year it was because I don't want that Cup keeper to get in trouble. He trusted me with it, and he got it back the next morning."

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AP Sports Writer Larry Lage contributed to this report.

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