The Stanley Cup slipped into Las Vegas five days before the NHL playoffs began as part of its annual pilgrimage across the country.
Soon, it might be time for a return trip.
The 3-foot, 90-pound trophy was far away from the prying eyes of the Golden Knights the last time it was in town, but now it’s just four wins away from the team’s grasp. Until then, though, it’s look but don’t touch.
“Players will usually not touch the Cup until they win it,” said Mike Bolt, the prize’s longtime keeper. “Some guys don’t even want to go near it.”
The Stanley Cup has made plenty of trips to Las Vegas since becoming the NHL’s championship trophy in 1926, but this is obviously the first time it could possibly be part of a hometown championship celebration. The Knights would be the 19th active NHL team to hoist the Cup, a feat that seemed impossible months ago.
The team has already gone further in the playoffs than the Winnipeg Jets, Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild and Arizona Coyotes — four franchises that have never reached the Stanley Cup Final.
“It’s always fun to come to Las Vegas, that’s for sure,” Bolt said. “And now that there’s a team here it’s even more exciting.”
The Cup’s many traditions come to play in the final, such as the ceremonial victory laps around the ice. Once the Stanley Cup is clinched, the captain of the winning team will hoist it and take a lap around the ice before passing it to another teammate, who will then repeat the process.
The tradition started in 1987 when Edmonton Oilers captain Wayne Gretzky passed the Cup to teammate Steve Smith, whose own goal had knocked the team out of the playoffs the previous year.
“I think one of my favorite traditions is the passing of the Cup on the ice (and) seeing who’s the second guy to get it,” Bolt said.
After the Stanley Cup is won there’s always a victory parade planned, as well as smaller celebrations for each player. Each member of the Cup-winning team gets a day with the Cup in the summer where they can show it off in their local community.
“(It’s) one of the coolest traditions in sports,” Bolt said.
The winning team’s time with the Cup winds down in September when names are officially etched into the trophy’s surface. Players who appear in at least 41 regular-season games for the champions or at least a Stanley Cup Final game get their names carved in along with coaches, management and staff.
Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury already appears on the Cup three times thanks to his championship seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, so he’s well-versed in the whole process.
Whether the rest of the Knights will get to experience the traditions remains to be seen.
“You know there’s now an NHL presence here. Not just when we come for the awards, but we’ve got an NHL presence here all year round. It’s pretty cool,” Holt said. “We’ll see what happens … if they’re able to bring it back home.”