(Fort Lauderdale) There were two of us in the hotel elevator: Phil Pritchard and myself, and then also, there was a big black box between us.

“Is that what I think?

– Yes. »

It was indeed that: the Stanley Cup, the real one, in its famous case, the same one that we always see in the photos. She’s here in Florida because it’s the final, and like every year, Phil Pritchard walks her everywhere.

You probably know him. In English, he is the “Keeper of the Cup”, and it is he who carries the famous trophy to all events, like Sunday evening, in this chic restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, where NHL leaders opulently received partners, broadcasters and journalists.

Phil Pritchard had a hard time eating, because everyone wanted a photo with the cup and often with him too.

“I wasn’t a very good hockey player, my face tended to be in the path of the puck a lot,” he explains. So I had to think of another way to make a career in hockey! »

The 62-year-old has been doing this for 40 years, and he’s officially vice-president and curator at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. But to fans, he’s been the guy with the Stanley Cup, especially since 1994, when he had the foresight to wear white gloves when bringing the Cup to the New York Rangers.

“In every museum in the world, they wear white gloves to move the works…the Hall of Fame is a museum, so we thought we should show a little respect for the greatest trophy in the world. »

We are pampered on this hot Sunday evening: the cup that is here is the real one, the one that the winners of the final will be able to lift shortly. Meanwhile, those who pass by the Hall of Fame must be content to admire a replica.

Over time, Phil Pritchard has become something of a star, although he likes to play the modesty card (“It’s mainly the guys who recognize me, and the girls a lot less!”). But we can argue that his white glove ritual is now inseparable from the final.

“Before 1994, it was very different. I remember just pushing the cup onto the ice when the Pittsburgh Penguins won it twice in the early 1990s… The TV went into commercial break, and when we came back, [the former president of the NHL] John Ziegler gave the cup to Mario Lemieux. »

As we talk, Phil Pritchard keeps an eye on his baby. Accidents can happen, and besides, when you look very closely, you can see that the cut is injured at the bottom of the body…

“That’s when the Avalanche won it two years ago… A player [Nicolas Aubé-Kubel] dropped it when taking the team photo, and it still appears at the level of the base. I would say 99% of the guys are very careful, they worked very hard to earn it. It’s more their friends that we need to watch out for…”

Another time, at the Montreal Forum, Maurice Richard fell on the ice with the cup during a ceremony for the 1993 All-Star game. “The Rocket fell on it, fortunately for him, because he didn’t not injured. But the cup had been damaged, so it had to be repaired with the help of the Zamboni driver, who was also a mechanic! »

But that won’t happen here, not tonight, because everyone who takes a photo with the cup doesn’t dare touch it, or barely. Phil Pritchard will then put it back in its big case, as usual, until the next release.

He never gets tired of it. And neither do we.