TULSA, Okla. — You might better know his colleagues who carry the Stanley Cup out onto the ice each year to present to the winners, but Howie Borrow is another important “Keeper of the Cup” who logs a lot of miles with it.
Borrow, who is officially an employee of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, helps his more famous teammates Phil Pritchard and Mike Bolt care for and transport the iconic trophy around the world. Mostly, he supervises the time that players from the winning team have with the Cup on their special day during the summer, cleaning it in between visits and traveling with it, while also accompanying it on promotional visits during the season.
Just this past weekend, that included shepherding the Cup to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where it appeared on opening night for the Tulsa Oilers, the ECHL affiliate for the NHL champion St. Louis Blues.
Borrow has been all over the world with it over the past 10 years, and suffice to say, he loves his job. We spoke with Howie this week about what it’s like being trusted with the Cup.
Q: How long have you worked with the Hall of Fame and been a “Keeper of the Cup?”
A: I’ve been there 15 years and I’ve been traveling with the Stanley Cup for the last 10. We share the duties. Phil’s the official curator at the Hockey Hall of Fame, so I would say that Mike and I probably do the majority of travel during the regular season and then Phil jumps in whenever he needs to be there. Between the three of us, we probably work 300 days a year, so it’s quite busy.
Q: How did you get this job with the Hall of Fame, and as a “Keeper of the Cup?”
A: In 2004, I started working at the Hall of Fame as a volunteer. My very first event was [the Hall of Fame] Induction that year [in November] and a few months later, I started working part-time hours on weekends. I eventually started traveling with different trophies and artifact displays to different events, like the IIHF World Junior Championship, Memorial Cup, stuff like that, and then in 2009, Phil asked me if I wanted to start traveling with the Cup.
Q: Was that a very quick “yes?”
A: A very quick yes. I think we were in the car together driving, and he just threw it out there, and, ‘Yeah, no problem,’ I wanted to do it right away. I think I probably hinted that I would like to at one point, if there was any availability, and with traveling with the other trophies, I think they just said, ‘Yeah, we need somebody else to help out,’ so it was very good timing.
Q: We know that during the summer, each player of the winning team gets his own day with the Cup, but what happens during the season?
A: We’re on a regular NHL Hockey Hall of Fame schedule, so we’re traveling to various events, like corporate sponsors, charity events, NHL events like All-Star Games, Stadium Series games. We could go to different cities, but we’re always doing something to promote the game, and to be able to share the Stanley Cup with fans from all over the world.
Q: What are some of the coolest places you’ve been to with it?
A: I’d never been to Europe before working with the Hall of Fame. I’ve been to probably about a dozen different countries now — Czech Republic, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden, Germany. I’ve been to Russia the last three summers in a row now, to Moscow. It’s been a great experience. And being able to travel all over the U.S. and Canada — I’ve been to all the provinces now and probably over 40 states, so it’s been great.
Q: What was your favorite experience with an individual player’s day of celebration?
A: It’s so hard, there’s so many good ones, it’s really hard to pick a certain player. So many guys. Going to Europe for the very first time was pretty cool, I think 2011, hanging out with [Boston goaltender] Tuukka Rask. He took us to a traditional Finnish spa, so we were in the saunas quite a bit, jumping in and out of the lakes, having some great food, singing Finnish karaoke at the end of the night. It was a challenge but it was a lot of fun.
I went with [former Los Angeles defenseman] Willie Mitchell one time, they picked us up in Vancouver in helicopters, brought us over some mountain ranges and some river beds and we went fly fishing for the day. That was pretty cool, something totally different than what a lot of guys typically do. It was quite a cool experience. We had the Cup on a dinghy out on the water, and we were able to get a photo of that and we had helicopters hovering over top, too. I even put on the waders, I was in the river, too. I never caught anything, but I had fun trying.
Q: To babysit the Stanley Cup on a daily basis — you can’t let it out of your sight, you carry it everywhere, on airplanes, in and out of vans. What kind of a responsibility is that?
A: I guess I would consider it a huge responsibility. It’s hockey’s greatest trophy, it’s the NHL’s greatest marketing tool. It’s considered by most fans like the Holy Grail of all trophies. I take that responsibility as something with pride and privilege and an honor to do. I never really expected to really be able to travel with it and hang around it as much as I do. I am with it more than the players. But to be able to take it around to the fans, all you see is happy faces everywhere you go. It is a privilege to do that. It’s a big responsibility, we have a tight schedule to follow, but to get it to the locations that we have to get it to in a timely manner, sometimes there are delays with the airlines, with the weather and stuff, but we try to make it work as much as we can.
Q: What do you often see when fans react to it?
A: There’s all kinds of different emotions with the fans. They’re all excited, they’re happy to see it, and you see fans with tears in their eyes. It’s something special for the fans. I don’t think I understood it before. As I was growing up, it’s kind of a cool thing, it’s just a trophy, but it really is more than a trophy, it means a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s very special.
Q: What are some of the craziest/weirdest interactions with fans over it?
A: Fans love to get their photos with it, hug it, touch it, kiss it. A few fans lick it every once in a while. I don’t understand that, it’s a little weird. The Cup just brings out something in them that they kind of forget where they are. The one thing that they do a lot is put babies in the bowl. That’s a great photo for a Christmas card or something, but I’ve seen fans put an urn inside the bowl with a relative’s ashes, and we’ve seen stuffed animals put in, something that’s special for their kids. Nowadays with social media, if maybe a family member isn’t able to be there, we’ll suggest that they maybe use FaceTime or something on their phones, lean it against the Cup and then take a picture of that, so they could kind of be there at the same time, too.
And players like to eat out of it and drink out of it. I’ve seen everything from cereal to ice cream to chicken wings, pierogis, spaghetti, caviar … Dogs have eaten dog food out of it, horses have eaten hay out of it, there’s been a few animals involved here and there.
Q: When going to a non-traditional hockey area, do you still see the same kind of reverence for it that you do everywhere else?
A: Yeah. Coming to the smaller towns in Canada or into the United States where it’s a non-traditional hockey market, this summer I’ve been very surprised, too. The fans in St. Louis were incredible, not having won the Cup before and waiting for it for a long time. But they were very happy, the hospitality’s been great. A lot of times, for the most part, the fans have been very patient and polite and just happy to be able to see the Cup. You get into other areas where you wouldn’t think there’s a lot of hockey, into some of the Southern states, like in Oklahoma and places like Texas, too — there’s a lot of hockey played down here and a lot of people don’t even realize that. It’s a popular sport that’s becoming more popular all the time.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.