Lord Stanley’s Cup is 34.5 pounds of silver and nickel alloy, but when players lift it over their heads, they say it feels weightless.
The 35.25-inch tall grail, engraved with the names of every player, coach and executive lucky enough to lift it, is one of the most legendary objects in sports for many reasons, but above all because there’s only one.
When NFL teams win the Lombardi Trophy or NBA teams capture the Larry O’Brien Trophy, a new one gets presented to that team to keep in a display case at their team facility. But the Stanley Cup doesn’t hide behind glass. When a new team wins, it’s pried from the hands of last year’s winners. Newly crowned champions pass it around from players to player, with each getting a day with Lord Stanley’s Cup.
These days, the man who escorts the Cup on each of those visits is Mike Bolt. He’s been one of three Hockey Hall of Fame “Keepers of the Cup” over the past 18 years. He used to spend an average of 250 days each year with the Cup but said that has shrunk to around 200 recently. He has watched Stanley Cup playoff games with the Cup sitting next to him on his couch, but says he won’t lift it above his head. “You have to earn that.”
Bolt has chaperoned the Cup everywhere from the top of a mountain in Vancouver to a war zone in Iraq to the Arctic Circle. “One time I was with [Chicago Blackhawk] Andrew Ladd in 2010, and we woke up at 4 a.m. the morning after partying until past midnight,” Bolt recall. “We got into a helicopter in British Columbia, flew to a mountain top and sat there with the cup as the sun came up over the horizon.”
Technically, there are three Cups. Stanley’s original Cup from 1892—known as the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup—was given out until 1970 and now resides in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. That’s when the Presentation Cup, the trophy awarded today, was introduced. There’s also a replica at the Hall of Fame for when the Cup is traveling, which is often.
The winning team is allotted 52 names to engrave, starting with ownership and working down to management, coaches, scouts and players. When a ring is filled with names, the oldest ring is removed and displayed on a wall at the Hall of Fame.
“These are tough decisions but a good decision to have to make,” Bolt says. “It’s really hard trying to pick the 52 names to get on there. I’ve heard guys in organizations talk about how tough it is if somebody gets knocked off.”
Players get creative on their days with the Cup—they’ve done everything from drink beer out of it to baptize their children in it. After the Stanley Cup-winning game, the players take turns lifting it over their head, taking a victory lap and kissing it while on the ice.
As George Vecsey wrote for The New York Times in 1999, “One of the great rules of hockey is: On the Stanley Cup, all germs are healthy.”
Over the years, the chalice’s celebrity has surpassed that of most of the players who’ve won it. “It’s a rock star,” Bolt says. “I’ve watched fans nearly trample superstar players, completely ignoring them, just to get a glimpse of the Cup.”