Story by Tony Uminski
Go ahead. Think of the best job ever.
A Taste tester at the Blue Bell Ice Cream factory?
An Elf in Santa’s workshop?
An NHL penalty box attendant? (They look busy and efficient writing stuff down while the player feels shame, but inside, they’re actually thinking, “Holy Hill Country Fair, I’ve got Sidney Crosby sitting next to me!”).
Nay, fair reader – here’s the ultimate job for you to consider and thus, I nominate Howie Borrow, of the Toronto, Ontario, Canada Borrow’s, as the luckiest person on planet earth. As the “Protector of the Cup!” it is Borrow’s task to accompany the Cup both near and far, to all corners of the earth, spreading goodwill, hockey history and reminding fans of those amazing moments when the stars aligned and their team won hockey’s Holy Grail.
He’s the guy in the shadows while his precious cargo gets all the glory. He’s the man with the white gloves. Lord Stanley’s Cup gets the royal treatment whenever Howie puts it on the plane. And when he and his chrome figure shows up, heads turn and eyes get moist. The ultimate fan “wow” moment. What a gift to cart around. What a gig!
Borrow began as a volunteer at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, just talking hockey with the visitors and he feels fortunate to have worked his way up into employment paradise, first as a part-timer, and then as a traveling trophy consort around North America. In 2009, Phil Pritchard, the official curator of the Hall and the Cup presenter and the “face of the Cup,” asked Howie to help out and hang with the Big Guy and he gladly accepted the challenge.
“So 10 years I’ve been doing it and it’s been fun a great experience.” Ya think?!
According to Borrow, the Cup on display Saturday night is THE presentation Cup, the one seen on TV as fans boo NHL commish Gary Bettman. There is a replica housed in the Hall of Fame so visitors get to enjoy being in its presence there because of the frequent flyer miles being accrued by the real thing. How to detect the genuine article being lugged across the ice by champion captains and perused by fans around the world? Because of the errors found on it, as in the 1970 BQSTQN Bruins engraving, using the Q instead of the O. For any outraged Bruins fans, the one in Toronto has been corrected for display as is the New York Islanders mis-graving of the team name Islanders on the third Cup they won in 1980. According to NHL.com, Montreal Canadians goaltender Jacques Plante won the Cup five straight years and had his name misspelled each year!
The Cup is on the road around 330 days a year, bringing hockey cheer to far-flung places—even the old Crystal Ice Palace, now a northwest San Antonio Salvation Army store, hosted the Cup back in the day. Borrow says he spends about 150 days on the road with the trophy, as there are other handlers used by the hall.
Saturday night, Borrow was in the AT&T Center with his glorious companion as the Rampage celebrated their NHL parent’s victory, the first in the history of the St. Louis Blues, a team that came from the last place in January to the pinnacle of hockey excellence. And the line to have a moment with the celebrated trophy stretched around the concourse as fans in many NHL jersey’s stood patiently waiting for their time with hockey’s traveling historical marker.
Each of the Cup champion Blues, including the Black Aces squad members – players like Rampage captain Jordan Nolan, Mitch Reinke and Ville Husso who worked out with the team during the playoff run and were ready to roll if needed – got to have the Cup come home for a visit during the summer. All three received their diamond-encrusted rings for their contributions.
For Nolan, it was his third time, having won two Cups with the Los Angeles Kings.
“The players did a great job making us feel a part of it,” he said. “We were all ready to play if we were needed. I just sat back and kinda watched everyone enjoy the experience. I just tried to take it all in.
It was pretty family-based. We had an intimate lunch with some photos and just hung out for a couple of hours. We didn’t have too much time for anything exciting. The first two times I had it it was a full day with pictures and autographs. But this time we just wanted to take it all in.”
“It just goes to show the leadership in the room,” said Rampage defenseman Reinke, an undrafted player who impressed Blues management by setting Rampage records for goals, assists and points by a rookie defender and leading all AHL rookie blueliners in helpers and points. “I noticed it right away when I got there. You look at the people that contributed to that championship, that’s what I noticed the most. Everyone had a really big part of it. The depth of the team helped make it so successful.”
The Stillwater, Minnesota native said, “I feel very fortunate to get some time with (the Cup). Right away I brought it to the youth hockey rink I played at and then a private party at a friend’s house. I had it from 10 to 3 and then Chris Butler got it the rest of the day. It was a pretty special day, one you always dream about as a kid and something I’ll never forget.”
Borrow also made the trip to Finland to give Husso his time with Lord Stanley.
“I was there!” said Borrow. “I flew to Helsinki. He’s a very nice young man and I think he was very happy to share some time with the Cup and be able to spend some time with his friends and family with it.”
“I brought it to a couple of different places, my old hockey team and a car dealership. I had a couple of hours with friends and family. That’s it,” said Husso. “It was a quick day, from 3 p.m. to 11.” Since Finland also won the World Hockey Championship, having the Stanley Cup there just raised interest in the sport to another level.
Now being the Cup’s valet does have one downside – its Borrow’s job to clean it thoroughly and get it ready for the next guy in the same condition it was in when the first guy enjoyed its presence.
“I’ve seen a lot of things eaten out it,” offered Borrow. “Cereal, ice cream. Spaghetti. Pierogis. Caviar. All kinds of stuff and everything they drink out of it. The only thing I think we found out through experience is that margaritas are great out of the bowl itself, but when you use the salt around the rim, it changes the color of the metal so we have to be careful with that.” Dark sodas and red wines are also on the no-no list. Other than those food guidelines that would harm the metal, “Anything goes as long as it respects the Cup.”
Reinke spoke generously about Borrow as he delivered the masterpiece to the Rampage blueliner for his time with the Cup. “The handler has been through a lot. He’s pretty good. It can be a long day. There are tons of people who want to see it. He says to make sure you take time to enjoy it yourself and really soak it in, so that’s what I tried to do.”
What’s some of the best times Howie has showing the Cup? Simple. Watching the fans approach it with awe, respect. Reverence.
“Some people you can see the tears in their eyes,” said Borrow when fans approach the Cup. “People are amazed that they’re not really sure they’re seeing the real thing. They’ve seen it on TV so many times. It may bring back a lot of memories from watching games with your parents and grandparents.”
Just another day in the life of the Cup handler extraordinaire. You can tell Howie loves what he’s doing. He’s full of energy as he passionately relates his experiences with sports’ greatest symbols of one team’s success over the long haul of NHL regular season and playoff games.