On May 29, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers will kick off this year's Stanley Cup finals. The champion will score the titular giant chalice. Each member of the winning team will get one day with the Cup, during which time he can do with it what he likes (within reason). The Stanley Cup which is basically just a 117-year-old punch bowl has been thrown in rivers, filled with dog food, even perched on top of a mountain. And wherever it goes, Mike Bolt goes with it. Bolt is the keeper of the Stanley Cup, the NHL's one-man secret service. His sole job is to protect the most famous sports trophy around. TIME caught up with Bolt in an airport he was flying back from Philadelphia after attending the Eastern Conference finals.
How in the world did you get to be the Stanley Cup guy?
I started working for the NHL 15 years ago. I worked in the Hockey Hall of Fame's special-events office. There was an opening for a Stanley Cup guardian, my boss put in a good word for me, and that was that. I'm with the Cup 250 days out of the year, and I've been doing it for 11 years now. I have a pretty awesome job. Even the players who make millions of dollars and get to play the great game of hockey tell me that. I've spent more time with the Cup than any winner ever does.
So how do you carry it? That Stanley Cup is pretty big.
Yeah, it's three feet tall and pretty heavy. It travels in a foam fitted case. I don't physically carry it around, except for when it's out for people to see.
You're at the airport right now. Does the Cup fly in the cabin with you? Or in cargo?
It's checked like luggage, but it's so heavy that it usually has to be inspected. Some airlines have weight restrictions, others give the NHL special permissions. It's funny to watch their reactions when they open the case. Not everyone is a hockey fan, but most people know what the Stanley Cup is. They sometimes ask to get their picture taken with it.
I've heard there are rules about what you can and can't do with the Cup.
There are. We let people come up and touch it. They can kiss it. But they should always respect it and admire it. You can't hoist it above your head unless you've won the Cup.
Can I pour beer in it?
No, only players can do that.
Do people ever try to sneak by you to pour beer in it?
They try. They don't succeed.
How much beer can it hold?
The Stanley Cup can hold 14 cans of beer.
Wow, you knew that fact off the top of your head.
Well, it's seen a lot of beer. When the Rangers won [in 1994] the Cup did a lot of barhopping. That was back when it didn't have a personal escort. I don't want to go into details, but some damage happened to the Cup, so the job I have was created the next year. The Rangers were the straw that broke the camel's back.
Wait, what happened?
I can't say.
Did it go to a strip club? I heard it went to a strip club.
It's been to a few, probably. Things got kind of crazy in the '80s and '90s. There was some wild stuff. Things may have gone on that can't happen anymore 'cause it would be all over the Internet.
Like strip clubs?
I can't get into details, to be honest with you. But if you're throwing a party, you can't have a girl lifting her top up around the Cup. Someone will take a picture, and it will be on the Internet. The NHL is a family organization. We can't have anything X-rated.
So as long as it's clean, can a player do anything he wants with the Cup?
If they have an idea for an event and it's not going to hurt it or disrespect it, we'll give it a shot. We've had guys take it on top of mountains. In 2001 I hiked up a mountain in Colorado called Mount Albert with one of the vice presidents of the Colorado Avalanche. They wanted to take a picture with the team and the Cup on top of a mountain. They hiked, but the Cup flew there in a helicopter. The mountain peak was so small, the helicopter couldn't land, so we had to pass it to them. It was a little scary, and it could have fallen, but at the end of the day it was a great picture.
What else can you do with it?
We let players eat ice cream out of it. They can use it to drink beer. We've let them take it fishing and put their bait in the bowl. We've had players strap it to a harness on the back of their Harleys.
What is your most memorable experience with the Stanley Cup?
There are four.
Let's hear them.
In 2000, Marty Brodeur took it to the movies, and his kids ate popcorn out of it. That one's not that interesting, but it was funny to watch everyone staring at it in the theater.
When Chris Chelios got his day with the Cup, he threw one of the biggest star-studded parties I've ever seen. Tom Hanks and Sylvester Stallone crashed the party just to see the Cup. When Tom Hanks saw the Stanley Cup, he was in awe. He was starstruck.
Jay Feaster, an exec at the Tampa Bay Lightning, took it to NASA. He made a deal that he'd get a tour of the space shuttle if he brought the Stanley Cup. So he did. And I went with him. We got to go in the space shuttle. I was on the launch pad. I was in the assembly hangar. I don't know if it's true, but they told me that the stuff I got to see and witness was stuff that only 1% of NASA employees ever see. So that was pretty cool.
But maybe my favorite was when I went to Afghanistan and met with the troops. The U.S. soldiers were happy to see us, of course, but lots of men and women around the world like hockey. The Czech, Dutch and English soldiers were thrilled to see us.
How often does the Cup get cleaned? It has to get pretty dirty.
When people drink or eat out of it, the thing gets washed right away. Maybe one to three times a day, depending on who has it and how dirty it gets. We wash it down with a garden hose sometimes. I polished it up about a week ago, knowing it would be busy for the finals. It's got to look great for Saturday.