By Scott Michaux Dec. 15, 2005
Mike Bolt has traveled the world with the Stanley Cup - nearly a million miles, from bleak Siberia to the tropical Bahamas.
He's told tales and posed with it so many times he couldn't count. He's also spent enough nights with it in hotel rooms that he can tell you with complete confidence that there are 2,324 names engraved on hockey's 35-pound silver Rosetta Stone.
It took a trip to Augusta, of all places, for Bolt to encounter the first direct offspring of one of the names inside the bowl.
"This is pretty amazing," Bolt said of meeting Aiken resident Sue Kane on Wednesday night at Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center.
Kane's father is among the first names engraved inside the original bowl purchased in 1892 by Lord Stanley of Preston for $48.67. Jim Seaborn was born that same year, and in 1915 was one of nine members on the Vancouver Millionaires - the first "formal" finals champions.
"My father wasn't a hockey star, but I know how much hockey meant to him," said Kane, who has lived in the area with her Aiken native husband, Bernie Kane, since 1987. "Not everybody gets their name on the Stanley Cup."
There are only 30 names engraved inside the original bowl that sits atop the famous barrel base of the oldest trophy in North America. The practice of engraving player names didn't take permanent root until 1924.
The 1907 Montreal Wanderers started the practice with 20 names etched
in the bottom of the bowl. Seaborn's 1915 Millionaires take up some of the spiral leaves that fan up from the base.
Sue Kane has never been to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto to see her father's name on the original "original" bowl that is permanently displayed there in a glass case. Her son, Tim, went last year but couldn't find his grandfather's name because he didn't realize it was inside the bowl.
"He came back very disappointed," Kane said. "We thought, 'Oh well, it's not really true.'"
Seeing is believing, and with the Cup in Augusta, the Kanes didn't miss the chance to go to the Lynx game to see their family's place in history. Bolt tipped the Cup so the Kanes could peer inside and see Seaborn's name.
"Wow! Great! Fantastic!" Sue Kane said as she saw it for the first time. "It's quite an honor."
Bolt, 36, feels the same way every day of his life. If you asked any Canadian what the greatest job in the world would be, a lot of them would say being a full-time escort for hockey's holiest grail.
"A lot of Americans tell me that, too," Bolt said of his six-year-old post as one of three keepers who never let the Stanley Cup out of their sight. The job was created in 1995 after the New York Rangers returned the Cup in such shabby condition (three pieces, actually) that it was decided better care was in order.
"It got a lot of damage and negative press," Bolt said.
Everyone knows about the custom - started in the 1980s - of letting every member of a Stanley Cup winning team take the icon home with them for one day. Not many people know that the Cup is now forbidden to be taken to strip clubs or casinos.
Just about anything else has been deemed dignified enough for a piece of hardware that's been to the White House, Red Square, straddled the Asia/Europe border and appeared in commercials and movies.
It's been stranded on the iced-over Rideau Canal in Ottawa, abandoned on the side of the road in Montreal after a flat-tire fix and used as a flower pot in a photo studio. It has traveled in Russian military motorcades, on motorcycles, jet skis, fishing boats and golf carts. It's been used as a urinal, dog dish, bait box, popcorn tub and baptismal font.
It's been sunk to the bottom of swimming pools and hiked to the top of 14,433-foot Mount Elbert in Colorado. It's been treated like the guest of honor at an extravagant wedding-style party by Ray Bourque and presented three times as the prize to the winner of reunion street hockey games between Martin Brodeur and his childhood mates.
It's also been lost in its custom-fit, velvet-lined steamer trunk like many other pieces of airline luggage - including just this week. Bolt traveled from Toronto to Columbia for this Southeast tour. The Cup didn't make it past Detroit, forcing the cancellation of appearances in Columbia and Charleston, S.C.
"I worked the phones for five or six hours trying to make people (at the airline) realize the importance of it," Bolt said of a problem that only ever exists in the United States. "It's not just a regular bag of lost laundry."
Actually, the Stanley Cup is insured for $1.5 million.
The famous piece of North Americana is a constant pleasure to its keeper.
"I only hang out with winners," said Bolt, who spends roughly 270 nights a year on the road with the Stanley Cup as its keeper, including the summer circuit with the most recent NHL champs.
Needless to say, Bolt is not married and has had a hard time sustaining any relationships with the Cup as his full-time mistress. Such are the tradeoffs for having the coveted job.
"I actually forget where I am sometimes," Bolt said. "But it's a great job and an honor."
The Stanley Cup is possibly the most recognizable trophy in the world. It held its own sitting on a table at The Clubhouse at the public end of Magnolia Lane - within site of the more famous clubhouse where Canadian Mike Weir won the Masters Tournament in 2003.
Unlike Augusta National Golf Club, the Stanley Cup is far more approachable - which in many ways is its appeal. It's a more manly trophy than most trinkets that are bestowed on various sporting champions, being hoisted like a keg and skated around the rink by champions who superstitiously would never touch it until they earned a niche on it.
"Some guys never even touched the Cup but their name is on it," Bolt said.
He made a rare exception Wednesday, letting Sue Kane pick it up and pose for photos with the Cup her late father won 90 years ago.
"I don't ever let anyone pick it up," he said.
"Hurry, it's heavy," Kane said.
There was another Stanley Cup story Wednesday night at the civic center, passed by a man who polishes it every night to a woman whose father is immortalized in its basin.
Even for hockey, that's pretty cool.