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Raising the cup

For the lucky few, earning this prize provides an unforgettable lift

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / June 1, 2011

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The vintage bottle of red wine, a 1970 Chateau Petrus, is there to uncork. Mark Recchi bought it years ago in Montreal and keeps it stored in the wine cellar of his Pittsburgh home, where it awaits his grasp. Only a couple of years older than the bordeaux, the 43-year-old Bruins winger figures now, in the next week or two, would be just the right time to peel back the wax seal on that fine potable.

“Yeah, that’d be nice,’’ said Recchi, who twice has celebrated Stanley Cup championships, but never quite in such refined, dignified style. “I was really into wines when I bought it . . . cost me something like, oh, $700 or $800 at the time, if I remember right . . . it’s supposed to be a pretty good year.’’

No disputing the exquisiteness and wonder of a 1970 label in the Hub of Hockey. May 10, Mother’s Day 41 years ago, was the steamy afternoon that Bobby Orr tucked home the winning goal vs. St. Louis at the Garden and brought the Bruins their first Stanley Cup since 1941. Recchi and his Black-and-Gold brothers now stand four wins away from bringing the Bruins their first Cup since 1972, a triumph that would trigger an on-ice celebration the likes of which two generations of Bruins fans have never witnessed.

When the Cup is rolled to center ice to coronate the new champ, presented to the winning team’s captain by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, it brings with it an aura of majesty and wonder. Bearded, worn-out, grizzled men alternately whoop and whimper at its sight. By far the most recognized trophy in all of North American sports, and among the most identifiable throughout the world, the big silver mug inspires greatness, summons tears, and perhaps most of all, represents the crowning achievement of what is arguably the hardest, most grueling championship to win.

“Light as a feather,’’ said hardscrabble Bruins winger Shawn Thornton, who lifted the Cup as a member of the 2007 Anaheim Ducks. “I don’t have the words to describe it right. But for me, I’ll tell ya, it was the greatest night of my life. After all the bus rides in the minors . . . fighting five times over the course of three nights . . . finally, right there, it makes it all totally worth it.’’

Today’s version of the Cup weighs 34 1/2 pounds and is 35 1/4 inches high. Think of a punch bowl mounted at the eyepiece end of an astronomer’s oversized, chunky telescope. The bowl was a gift from England, presented in 1894 to Canada’s best amateur hockey team, the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association. Great Britain’s Governor General to Canada, Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley of Preston, was the father of the idea, and purchased the bowl for 10 guineas — a sum of slightly less than $50 at the time — from Collins & Co., a silversmith in London.

The original punch bowl, lined in gold, measured 7 1/2 inches high and 11 1/2 inches across, and was retired to a vault in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto in the late 1960s after it became too old and brittle to be lugged safely from hockey barn to hockey barn. It is permanently housed in a glass display case in the HHOF museum, along with a number of the retired bands that bear the engraved names of the Cup’s winners through the decades.

When the bottom of the five largest bands that form the Cup’s base fills up with names, the top band is removed — retired to the vault — and a blank band added at the bottom for the names of future Cup winners to be added. The other four bands shingle up, closer to the hallowed Cup. The current bottom band, which the Bruins hope will have their names etched in there this summer by official engraver Louise St. Jacques, began with the 2004-05 season, the only NHL season entirely lost to job action (owners’ lockout). It reads, “Season Cancelled.’’

Once the Cup is clinched, June 15 at the latest this year, it almost immediately goes on tour, each player of the winning team granted his day with it in the city of his choosing. But before it leaves the building, it gets waltzed around the arena as the belle of the ball, typically first by the captain (such as Boston’s Zdeno Chara), then by his alternates (Patrice Bergeron and Recchi, as examples).

But unlike the names on the Cup, protocol on the clinching night is not etched in metal. For instance, in 2001, Colorado captain Joe Sakic graciously received Bettman’s baton pass, then immediately handed the Cup to a jubilant Ray Bourque. The ex-Boston captain/icon immediately hoisted it over his head, shook it with the vigor and bemusement a baby would accord a rattle, and waltzed it around Denver’s Pepsi Center. Later the same night, he lugged it home to the subdivision where he lived in nearby Littleton, awakening neighbors in the wee hours to come join the block party with his august pal Stanley.

Thornton and Recchi, who won it with the Penguins in 1991 and the Hurricanes in 2006, are the only current Bruins to have won the Cup. Assistant coach Doug Jarvis has his name on it four times with the Canadiens. While Thornton recalls that the Cup felt weightless in the throes of victory, Recchi recalls noting both times that it felt its full weight.

“It’s heavy, yeah, but it’s awesome,’’ said Recchi, breaking into a beaming smile at the recollection. “Heavy, but it don’t matter, not really.’’

Years before he won it with the Ducks, Thornton attended a golf tournament near his home in Oshawa, Ontario. Bruins icon Bobby Orr, who played amateur hockey with the Oshawa Generals, had the Cup with him that day, parked near a par-3 tee box. As players in the charity tournament arrived at the hole hosted by Orr, they were welcomed to surround the Cup with Orr and have their picture taken. Orr asked Thornton, a career minor leaguer at the time, if he’d like to join him for a souvenir photograph.

“I’m pretty sure he had no idea who I was, no reason he would,’’ said Thornton, who respectfully declined, wanting to maintain the unwritten player’s code that the Cup is not to be touched until it’s won. “So [Orr] says, ‘Do you want your picture with it?’ And I say, ‘No, thanks, I’m good.’ And he’s like, ‘No, c’mon . . .’ And I just said, ‘No, thanks . . . you just never know.’ ’’

According to Hall of Fame spokeswoman Kelly Masse, similar gigs involving the Cup have raised some $8 million for a wide variety of charitable causes over the last seven years. The Cup, which has a 24-hour keeper/protector, usually the Hall of Fame’s Michael Bolt, has logged some 750,000 miles while making its post-victory “day’’ tours with individual players, coaches, and managers the last five years.

In 1994, when the Rangers ended their 54-year Cup drought, proud Blueshirts Mark Messier and Brian Leetch lugged Stan the Man up Broadway for an appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman’’, where it was the object du jour for a “Stupid Cup Tricks’’ segment. Stan the Ham.

As inanimate objects go, the Cup gets a lot of attention, and now and again some intimacy. When it was brought to his hometown of Kamloops, British Columbia (not too far from Vancouver), said Recchi, he sashayed it around town and one night took it to bed with him.

“Oh, yeah,’’ said Recchi. “It was my buddy that night.’’

Stanley!

Other than the day in 2001 that Bourque brought his Colorado Cup to Boston City Hall, for a crowd of thousands to share his joy (then club president Harry Sinden was, shall we say, left joyless), the Cup hasn’t taken a bow in the Hub of Hockey since 1972. A city waits. Four wins and the long, winding trail comes to an end.

“Oh, my God, it would be incredible,’’ said Recchi, musing over how Boston would kick up its hockey heels over receiving Stanley for a sixth time in club history. “It’s been that one piece missing for a while now. People are waiting for it . . . and you know, we want to give it to ’em.’’

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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