Keeper of the Stanley Cup Phil Pritchard arrives at his hotel in Pittsburgh on June 3, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
LOS ANGELES, Calif. - There's no guarantee the Stanley Cup will make its way into Staples Center on Wednesday night.
Even though the Los Angeles Kings have a chance to finish off the New Jersey Devils in a four-game sweep, Cup keeper Phil Pritchard only expects to bring it through the doors if the Devils' demise looks like a distinct possibility.
Pritchard and fellow Hockey Hall of Fame employee Craig Campbell usually watch the first period of a potential Cup-clinching game at a nearby hotel before making their way to the arena.
In the event the Devils take an early lead in Game 4, "we wouldn't come in the arena, but we'd be at the rink," according to Pritchard.
That exact scenario played out a year ago. The Vancouver Canucks had a chance to finish off the Boston Bruins in Game 6 at TD Garden, but found themselves trailing 4-0 after the first period.
As a result, Pritchard never actually carried the trophy into the building.
"We sat outside with security," he said. "It's better to be safe than sorry."
The tradition has remained the same since Pritchard took over the Cup duties from Lefty Reid before the 1990 final between Boston and Edmonton. However, in the past the trophy wasn't always hidden away prior to it being awarded.
"We have old photos of (former NHL president) Clarence Campbell bringing the Cup out before Game 1 and having it at centre ice and saying 'Ladies and gentlemen, the 1968 Stanley Cup final is ready to begin between St. Louis and Montreal and this is what they're playing for,"' said Pritchard.
"And then it would be gone again before it's won."
Pritchard, an officer of the Hockey Hall and its curator, considers himself one of the luckiest men in hockey. He and Campbell get a front row seat for the culmination of every NHL season by bringing the Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup out to a podium for presentation by commissioner Gary Bettman.
Even after doing it for more than two decades, it hasn't gotten old.
"It's amazing to say the least," Pritchard said. "The history of all of hockey is in our hands and we're bringing it out. It sends chills up your spine every time."
Once the Cup is won, the victorious team has it for a couple days as it holds parties and a parade. The trophy is scheduled to make appearances later this month at the NHL awards in Las Vegas and the draft in Pittsburgh before it goes on tour with individual players and team personnel.
That busy summer begins after the final buzzer sounds on a Cup-clinching game. An exciting moment for the team that wins comes with a little bit of tension for the men charged with delivering the trophy.
"Besides the chills that go up your spine and being involved with it, there's TV wires and radio wires all over the place," Pritchard said. "We're making sure we're not going to be the newest YouTube sensation either. I think about it every time: 'Just don't fall, don't step off that red carpet.'
"I mean this is not about us and that's the most important thing. It's about this Cup."