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Benefield: Empire hockey fans flock to kiss, touch, see NHL Stanley Cup


Lick it.

Brandon Vanbezooyen wanted to lick the Stanley Cup.

He’d waited hours Sunday to see one of the most fabled trophies in all of sport. It’s the trophy bestowed on hockey’s top team and the most intimate gesture the avid fan could think of was to lick it.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Vanbezooyen, 10, of Sebastopol said. Not the licking, just the being in the presence of the cup. “I just really, really like” hockey.

In the end, Vanbezooyen went for a kiss, not a lick.

If Vanbezooyen sounds a little fanatical, he was not alone Sunday. In fact, he was among his people.

Hundreds of people turned up at the Redwood Empire Ice Arena Sunday to be in the presence of the Stanley Cup. The same cup that the Los Angeles Kings hoisted above their heads in June, the cup that went jet-skiing with ace Sidney Crosby when his Penguins won the crown, the trophy that has been in the space shuttle, that has been to Siberia and the bottom of a pool. The trophy has served alternately as a giant cereal bowl, ice cream dish, beer mug and who knows what else — that was the cup that sat on Snoopy’s Home Ice as fan after fan got their 30 seconds of alone time with it.

“The whole experience,” said Joanna Buss of Vacaville. “This is the best you can get in hockey.”

The NHL tradition is this: the team that wins the Stanley Cup gets about 100 days with the 130-year-old trophy in which players, managers, staffers get a day a piece to do what they want with it. Within reason of course.

For some, that’s eating cereal out of it. For other’s, it’s Christening babies in the silver bowl that sits atop the base. For Los Angeles Kings president Dean Lombardi, a part-time resident of Sonoma, it meant bringing it to Sonoma County for a few private fundraisers and family events but also setting it on a table and letting hockey fans bask in its glow.

Hundreds came.

Mike Bolt has seen it thousands of times. Bolt is one of four “keepers of the cup.”

That’s his job title. He works for the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto and travels 250 days a year with the cup, taking it to the airport, delivering it from event to event, making sure tradition is followed and rarely letting the thing out of his sight.

I was asking Bolt about his less-than-usual job when he is interrupted.

“Would you be willing to stop for a picture with the crate?” a man asks.

Bolt obliges as if it’s the most normal request in the world. The handler with the crate. Not even the trophy, just the big trunk that carries the thing.

“The Stanley Cup is a magnet,” he says, trying to explain. “It’s an emotional thing.”

It’s also kinda gross.

All those people touching, rubbing . . . kissing on it? Hour after hour, day after day?

There is a reason why the keepers of the cup wear gloves.

“We clean it every day. The best way is in the shower or use a garden hose with soap and water,” Bolt said. “After a two-to-three-hour public appearance, the last thing I’d want to do is kiss it.”

But kiss it they do. And hug it. And put their babies in it.

There is some folklore about touching the cup — that to touch it means the toucher will never win the cup or perhaps cast poor juju on their own team. There were some believers in the lore Sunday. Men who waited hours to be within striking distance of the cup made center ice look like a scene from the worst first date ever, nervously wondering whether to yawn and drape their arm around the thing. Many came within millimeters, but couldn’t go all the way. The tension was electric.

Hockey fanatic Josh Brown, yes, the one with the San Jose Sharks logo tattooed on his right calf, went the other way. He was all about touching the trophy. Heck he even put his 4-week-old daughter Emery in the trophy — anything to get some positive vibes for his beloved Sharks.

“I want to change their luck,” he said.

Emery wasn’t having it. The baby bawled in one of the most famous silver bowls in all of sports.

In all, three babies were put in the cup Sunday. There were countless kisses, lots of fondling and a good many hovering hands — close but not too close.

But one thing the average Joe can’t — is forbidden to do — is raise the trophy above their head.

Only team members who have won the trophy can do that.

“The players, what they have to go through to win it — there should be something that’s only for them,” Lombardi said.

But in every other way, the Stanley Cup is about sharing the love.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com and on Twitter @benefield