I got paired up with Jim on senior retreat. Holy Ghost Prep, our high school in suburban Philadelphia, had shipped 36 of us to Delaware for spiritual guidance and sleep deprivation. On the last day, we had an activity where we had to make a gift for another person. Jim was a big hockey fan and player—his dad coached the school’s team, and his brother was so good at hockey he literally went to Canada to play—so I made a hockey stick and NHL logo for him out of pipe cleaners. Knowing my art skills then, they sucked.
Nearly 20 years later Jim is a two-time Stanley Cup champion.
Jim Britt is the Pittsburgh Penguins’ director of hockey operations. He books flights and hotels, deals with immigration, and makes players’ schedules. Back when he was video coordinator, he played goalie at practice once.
He’s on the Cup already, his name engraved just above Sidney Crosby’s on the 2016 Penguins. Just like the players, he gets a day with the Cup. Ex-Penguins assistant Rick Tocchet, now coach of the Arizona Coyotes, had the Cup down the shore on Sunday. Britt took it to Philadelphia on Monday.
He posed for photos with it in front of Independence Hall. He took it to our old high school. At night, he held a party for friends and family at a bar in Old City. I went.
If you ever get the chance to have your friend win the Stanley Cup, I highly recommend it. The Stanley Cup is dope as shit. No other team sports award comes close. It looks cool. It’s old. I can’t believe other sports leagues haven’t ripped off the gimmick of engraving everyone’s name on on a trophy and passing it around for generations.
The Stanley Cup is a historical document. As a Philadelphian who feels like he may never see the Cup return to the city, I searched out the Flyers’ back-to-back titles in the 1970s. I looked at the teams from a century ago engraved outside the top of the bowl. And then I picked up the Cup.
Look! Britt told me it was okay. We were standing next to the Cup, trying to wrangle a group photo of high school alums, and an old classmate of mine asked if he could put his arm around it. “Oh,” Britt said. “You can pick it up. You just can’t pick it up over your head.” You had to earn that right. Fair. I picked it up for a photo op.
At some point Britt moved away to talk to someone else. Three of us had picked up the Stanley Cup by this point. The current keeper of the cup—the Hockey Hall of Fame employee who travels with the Stanley Cup—came over. Howie Borrow is his name. He told us to be a little more careful. Of course. A bunch of classmates from an all-boys Catholic school can’t get back together without finding a way to get in trouble within five minutes. “It’s okay to pick up the Cup,” he tells us. “But just do it when Jim’s around. This is his day.”
If you ever have the chance to be told not to do something by a Canadian, I highly recommend it. Borrow was great. He explained he first volunteered at the Hockey Hall of Fame, progressed to part-time work and then to a job as the body man for the coolest trophy in sports. Philip Pritchard started the gig in 1989; Borrow spends about 80 days a year on tour with the Cup.
Pity Borrow a bit. On Monday, as he had to deal with people handling the Cup all day. Bob Ford writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer:
The centerpiece of the trip was an afternoon at Holy Ghost Prep in Bensalem, where Britt went to high school and played hockey. For more than two hours, students were able to enter Founders Hall during a free period or lunch period and get their pictures taken with the Cup. They were allowed to hoist it up for the photos, if they liked, even as Cup keeper Howie Borrow, from the Hockey Hall of Fame, kept a close eye on things.
“We usually don’t let it get handled this much, but Jim seems to be OK with everything,” said Borrow, who will be on the road with the Cup for about 75 to 80 days of its 100-day world tour. “Everybody enjoys seeing it.”
It’s pretty great. Give a guy from Philly the Stanley Cup for a day, and he will let everyone get their grubby mitts all over it. This is the Cup’s charm. It’s not some staid trophy behind glass that you only get to look at. Museum curators might wince, but the Stanley Cup is something you look and you just need to touch.
Of the people who touched the Cup in Philly on Monday, Britt is likely the only person who’s ever going to win it. I won’t ever be lifting it over my head; I don’t even know how to skate. But I got a great story out of it: I got tut-tutted by the keeper of the Stanley Cup. What an honor!