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Monday, May 20, 2024

As the NHL Playoffs Begin, Stanley Cup-Keeper Miragh Bitove is Ready to Protect the Hardware

  • Every year the Cup travels all over the world and ‘inevitably ends up in a party.’
  • On planes it makes for some very special oversized luggage.
Nathan Papes/Springfield News-Leader, Springfield News-Leader

On weekends, Front Office Sports brings you one of the week’s best conversations from our daily podcast, FOS Today. This week we’re highlighting host Owen Poindexter’s interview with Miragh Bitove, an archivist at the Hockey Hall of Fame, and a Stanley Cup keeper. Turns out the role, which ensures that the Cup is well cared for as it circles the globe with Stanley Cup-winning players, involves plenty of logistics and a considerable travel budget. To hear the whole conversation, check out the episode here. The following has been edited for clarity and length.

Front Office Sports: What does it entail to look after the Stanley Cup? For people who don’t know, the NHL has this excellent tradition where every player on the winning team gets to spend a day with the actual Stanley Cup.

Miragh Bitove: Taking care of the Stanley Cup, we get to travel to all the places where the team wants to bring it after they’ve won the championship. There’s always somebody from our crew wherever it goes—it’s on the plane with us, it’s at the hotels and all the dinners or parties the players want to go to 

FOS: Are there limits on where the players can and can’t bring the cup?

MB: Geographically, not really. They try to schedule summer travel based on geography. If we’re headed to Manitoba, let’s try and do that one or two times, instead of six separate visits. Otherwise, their day is really up to [the players]—what they want to do and how they choose to spend it. So there’s usually a community component to it, maybe taking it back to the local arena where you first grew up playing hockey. Small  towns may do a little parade or event. And then a family component, maybe some private time with direct family. It inevitably ends up in a party.

FOS: Do you have to keep a close eye on it? If it’s being passed around a bar, is a cup keeper always hovering nearby?

MB: Yep, absolutely. There are two of us that generally go to any given day with the cup. Generally, we’re sort of within arm’s reach and everybody’s quite respectful of it. I’d say the reverence really takes care of the work for us in a lot of cases, but we are nearby just in case.

FOS: And how do you ensure this very revered object can go across the country and not get dinged up?

MB: It’s got a pretty heavy duty travel case on wheels. So it’s a bit recognizable if hockey fans are walking through the airport and you see one of us cruising through with the case. But we put it on the plane as oversized baggage, really. And now we have an air tag on it so we can watch on the GPS [to see] if it’s actually made the flight with us or not. The airlines have been really good about making sure they know where it is and we’ll often get people from the tarmac come up to the gate and say: “O.K., it’s on board.”

FOS: It’s just in there with everyone else’s oversized luggage? I’m having visions of car seats and whatever else … and then there’s the Stanley Cup.

MB: It’s unmarked, so I don’t think it would make for a very good photograph under the belly of the plane. It wouldn’t be very recognizable. But it’s always fun to be able to watch it actually board the plane with your luggage. 

FOS: Does the Cup-keeper role only come into play when we get to the final series?

MB: No, we actually travel all year with the Stanley Cup. The team gets about 100 days with it after they’ve won the championship. But the rest of the year it’s on the road, doing community events, sponsorships, and charities for the NHL and the Hockey Hall of Fame. You can see the excitement leading up to the playoffs, of course. We are wondering where we’re going to be this summer, and who we’re going to be watching celebrate. And so that’s exciting right now. 

FOS: When I think about how people are going to be remembering this year in hockey, the first thing that comes to mind for me is the PWHL—the first women’s hockey league to really take hold in the U.S. 

MB: Behind me, I don’t know if you can see it [on Zoom], but I’ve got a goalie stick from the first ever women’s team, in Pittsburgh in the 1970s. A ragtag group of girls and women who wanted to play hockey. And right next to me, I’m looking at the Australian Championship from 2023—history that was written literally months ago. It’s been really neat to watch it grow throughout just this season alone.

FOS: And what are you most excited for in this year’s NHL playoffs?

MB: Honestly, I just love good hockey. I love getting behind teams. It’s culminating some of the biggest moments of their careers and I just like thinking of the human aspect of it, seeing what these people are going to do.

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