Shortly after 11 PM on the night of June 14, 1994, Phil Pritchard and Scott North, of the Hockey Hall of Fame, emerged from the tunnel between the benches at Madison Square Garden carrying the Stanley Cup. The delirious crowd roared, mad with delight and disbelief as their New York Rangers prepared to lift the trophy for the first time in 54 long years.
For the first time, the handlers wore white gloves as they carried the Cup out to center ice, where NHL commissioner Gary Bettman would present it to Rangers captain Mark Messier. The white gloves had long been used by the Hall's curatorial staff, but Pritchard says they were a new touch for the '94 ceremony, meant to emphasize how special the NHL's championship trophy is. "We took the white gloves from behind the scenes to the forefront," Pritchard said. The message the Hall wanted to convey was clear: The Stanley Cup, hockey's holy grail, demands respect.
Jump ahead to later that week. The Cup is now onstage at Scores, the East Side strip club where Messier and some of his teammates had gathered to continue their celebration. Scores had a tradition in which all of the dancers on duty would appear onstage together a few times a night for a five-minute performance called the "parade." During the parades on this night, according to the club's former owner, the Cup was the featured guest, a prop for the strippers to dance with and carry around. No gloves were involved this time.
Such a scene couldn't play out today. By the spring of 1995, the Hall of Fame and the NHL had introduced new rules about what the Cup could and could not do. It formalized the process of transferring the trophy from player to player and, perhaps most crucially, mandated that a representative from the Hall—a "keeper of the Cup"—would travel with it everywhere it went. Strip clubs were among the places Stanley could no longer visit.
But the Rangers' time with the Cup was not governed by any such rules. "It went to a lot of, I don't want to say unsavory places, but a lot of places that the Cup probably would not be going to these days," says Barry Meisel, then a sportswriter for the New York Daily News who later wrote a book on that '94 team called Losing the Edge. "They kept that kind of quiet, as to where it was."
And so the spring and summer of 1994 weren't just a chance for the Blueshirts to celebrate their historic victory. It was also a last hurrah of sorts for the Stanley Cup. The team made sure to show it a good time.
The party, 54 years in the making, started immediately. After Bettman handed the Cup to Messier, and after the team skated it around the Garden ice, and after the players and staff gathered for a team photo, the Cup was brought into the team's cramped locker room, where players and their families took turns drinking champagne out of it. Then it was on to the official team bash, at the Garden's since-shuttered Play By Play restaurant, and from there, the Cup was released into the wild. A bunch of players brought the Cup to a party at the Auction House, an Upper East Side bar they frequented, where they were joined by bold-faced names like John McEnroe and Tim Robbins.
Broadcaster Dan Patrick, then with ESPN, got word the Cup would be stopping by; he relayed the story of the night in The Big Show, his 1997 book with Keith Olbermann. According to Patrick, when it was his turn to drink from the Cup, he asked Messier what exactly he had put in the bowl. "If you have to ask," Messier told him, "you're not a Ranger fan." Patrick took a gulp, and instantly Messier let out a devilish laugh. "Did you do something to what's in the Cup?" Patrick asked. "If you have to ask, you're not a Ranger fan," Messier told him again.
"It was a zoo," recalled Nick Kypreos, a winger acquired by the Rangers early in the 1993-94 season. "It was everything you can imagine after 54 years." Forward Esa Tikkanen took the Cup out to the street so the fans gathered there could see—and touch—the trophy. Inside, meanwhile, revelers drank every drop of champagne in the place. The Cup's big night finally ended around dawn, when Messier took it home with him to his Upper West Side brownstone. The following morning, with the Madison Square Garden phones ringing off the hook with media requests, Barry Watkins, the team's chief PR rep who was to keep track of the Cup that summer, called the Hall of Fame to find out the Cup's rules and prohibitions. "We'll get you a list of the obligations," the Hall's director of communications said, according to Meisel's book. "Other than that, it's for the team to enjoy."
And enjoy it they did. It's hard to overstate how big a deal it was in New York that the Rangers had finally won the Stanley Cup, forever silencing the chants of "1940" as a reminder to fans that their franchise hadn't won a title since before the United States entered World War II.
By extension, the Cup's presence was a pretty big deal for any venue that the team chose to host part of their celebration that first week after the Finals. And so it's no wonder that Michael Blutrich, then the owner of Scores, was stunned when Messier walked into his strip club carrying the Stanley Cup, trailed by several of his teammates. "I was as shocked as I've ever been," he said recently. "Who would expect that the Stanley Cup would walk in?"
The Stanley Cup, seen here not being defiled in the least. Photo via Flickr User Mafue/Wikimedia Commons
Perhaps he shouldn't have been all that surprised. After winning one of his five titles with the Edmonton Oilers, Messier reportedly brought the Cup to an local strip club called the Forum Inn, and he already had been an occasional patron at Scores in New York. ("Nice guy, a gentleman," said Stephen Sergio, a Scores employee at the time.) Messier explained that the Cup had to stop in because, as Patrick would quote him saying in The Big Show, "the Cup doesn't get out very often."
Blutrich says that the Cup spent much of the night in Scores' champagne lounge, but that the Rangers also brought the trophy over to the bar so fans could drink out of it. "The moment they walked in, people turned away from the strippers and said, you know, 'Holy shit, there's the Cup,'" Lonnie Hanover, Scores' spokesperson at the time, said.
Occasionally, the Cup was allowed to go onstage with the dancers, who incorporated it into their show. "I'm not sure that they really understood what it meant the way a Ranger fan would," Blutrich said, "but they were playing along, because they were feeding off the frenzy of the crowd."
In an age before cell-phone cameras, Blutrich says he was lucky to get a photo with the trophy that night—although he may never see it again. Blutrich spent 13 years in jail on fraud charges, getting a hefty sentence even though he had worked as an FBI informant, wearing a wire and recording some 1,000 hours of conversations with mobsters. "In my life, when everything went to where I never expected it to go, [the photo] was one of the things that fell into the government's hands, and I never got it back," Blutrich, who has a memoir coming out later this year, said. (Sergio, the former Scores employee, has a checkered past, as well.)
Memories from more than 20 years ago are often on the hazy side, and details of the Cup's visit to Scores tend to vary depending on who's telling the story. At least two published accounts from the 1990s have the Cup stopping in late at night after Game 7, but several people I spoke with say they recall that it actually came in later that week. Kypreos thought it might have stopped in more than once that summer, but Blutrich, Sergio, and Hanover all say that it just made just the one appearance. Hanover, who personally called in the Cup's visit to the press at the time, says it arrived at around 7 PM and didn't stay too long, but others say they remember it being there in the early morning hours.
Blutrich also told me the story he told Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes last year about how the team actually left the Cup behind at the club that night, and how Messier came back to retrieve it an hour or so later. ("It was just me and the Stanley Cup.... I was sort of practicing my speech for the morning to Madison Square Garden, about how I found this Cup, and can I keep it or do they want it back?") Hanover says he doesn't remember that happening, but Blutrich says he's sure of it. "That's not an invention of fantasy," he says. (Messier, who in the past has declined to discuss Scores, didn't respond to requests for comment made through a representative.)
One thing everyone agrees on is that once onstage, the Cup became, in Kypreos's words, "a pretty good prop" for the dancers. I asked Kypreos how exactly they incorporated it into their show. "You can use your imagination," he said. "The girls certainly did."
Blutrich insists that it wasn't actually as dirty as you might think. "They were dancing with it, but not in a sexual way," he told me. "It was very nice. It wasn't disrespectful, and it wasn't problematic. It was sweet."
Mark Messier staying true to form in Vegas last year. Photo by Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
The first time the 1994 Rangers broke Stanley Cup was just two days after winning it. The team had gathered at Madison Square Garden to pose for its official team photo, and once the group shot was snapped, individual players posed for portraits with their families. Eventually, someone went to lift the Cup off the ice, and the base, which was stuck to the frozen surface, detached from the trophy's main body.
That incident was rather innocent, but in the days and weeks to follow, the local tabloids began to note that the unchaperoned Rangers weren't exactly handling Stanley with care. A couple players took it to the MTV summer beach house in the Hamptons, where it was filled with raw clams and oysters. A week after Game 7, the New York Post reported that a dozen or so players took it to the nightclub Tatou, where, a source told the paper, "They dropped it. It has a big dent in it." At some point while under the Rangers' watch, the Cup reportedly fell out of the trunk of a car.
The tabloids stayed on the story, even when the details were actually pretty tame. Prior to the Belmont Stakes, forward Eddie Olczyk, a big horseracing fan, took the Cup to Belmont Park. At the track, Kentucky Derby winner Go For Gin was photographed eating out of the trophy's bowl—or at least that's how it seems. In reality, Olczyk says, they had doused the Cup with oats and feed and then emptied it, so the horse would think something was in it and stick his head in long enough to snap the shot. But because fans had to endure long lines that day to get a picture of their own with the trophy, the Post went with the dramatic headline "Another Fine Mess, Stanley: Battered Cup Used to Feed the Derby Champ, Then Crowd Is Upset."
The Cup invariably makes the rounds in the champion's city, no matter who wins it. But the fact that it was won in 1994 by a team in North America's biggest media market, and after such a long drought, meant that Stanley and the Rangers embarked on an unprecedented media blitz. The Cup did Letterman, and it did Charlie Rose. It did MTV's The Week in Rock, where Kurt Loder observed that the trophy reeked of beer.
Stanley also got a tour of New York's nightlife. Players took it to the China Club, where they partied with Brooke Shields and Jerry Rice, and where a paparazzo took photos and sold glossy prints for $20 a pop. Kypreos remembers taking it with backup goalie Glenn Healy to McSorley's, a Manhattan bar dating to 1854, where, Kypreos said, "the pressure of the crowd at the front gate actually lifted our feet off the ground, and then we could see the Cup just get passed right through the room to the front of the bar."
The team's Russian players, the first ones to ever win the Cup, threw a party with Stanley at a Russian nightclub in Brooklyn's Brighton Beach, where, Meisel writes in his book, their teammates drank borscht and ate caviar. Coach Mike Keenan and some players brought it to Elaine's, the Upper East Side restaurant popular with writers and celebrities. "I've had all the players here," Elaine Kaufman, the spot's legendary owner, told the Post at the time. "But to have the Cup itself, I cried."
The trophy hit up New York's landmarks, too: as the guest of honor at a ticker-tape parade down the famed Canyon of Heroes, at a party at the Waldorf-Astoria, and at a ballgame at Yankee Stadium, where it was issued a credential under the name Stanley Cup and given a seat in George Steinbrenner's box.
These days, the Cup gets the white-gloves treatment. Photo by Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Kypreos especially didn't miss an opportunity to spend time with Stanley. I had heard that he had a knack for showing up where the Cup did, so I asked him exactly how much time he spent around the trophy in the months that followed Game 7. "Oh gosh, 'til they kicked me away from it," he recalled. "Until they said, 'OK, enough already, go home.'" Olczyk jokingly referred to his former teammate as "Mr. Forrest Gump himself."
"It would be a show-stopper," Kypreos said. "Like, there'd be models at the MTV House that didn't follow hockey, and they wanted the Cup out, because it was grabbing too much attention." Being around the Cup had its perks, too. "I was still single at the time, and that was the biggest chick magnet you could find," he added.
Not every appearance was glamorous. Messier and Kypreos took it to visit a 13-year-old fan in the hospital awaiting a heart transplant. Forward Sergei Nemchinov took it to a day camp. An equipment manager brought it to a nursing home in the Bronx. General manager Neil Smith took it to the Bar Mitzvah of his attorney's son. And though the system of scheduling the Cup's time wasn't quite as structured as it is today, many players brought it back to their respective hometowns.
Of course, those weren't the kind of events that drew the attention of the local papers. As stories of the Cup's mistreatment circulated, New York Post columnist Larry Brooks wrote, "I sit and I stew and I wonder about these guys showing the Cup its proper respect," before concluding that, really, all they were doing was sharing their joy with the hometown fans, just as teams had done for decades.
Not every response was so generous. Reports of the Cup's treatment were enough to infuriate Ole Peterson, a former silversmith whose family used to work with the Cup. "The amount of disrespect shown it is mind-boggling," Peterson, then 67, told Sports Illustrated in 1994. "I don't blame the Rangers. They've waited 54 years. I do blame the NHL. It should tighten its control over exuberant players. These jocks should not be behaving like jerks." Said Peterson to reporters that July, "My father must be turning in his grave."
Harsh words, but not totally unjustified.
"It's safe to say we ruined it for every other team moving forward," Kypreos said. "They weren't too pleased with us by the end of the summer. [The Cup] wasn't in great shape, put it that way." He suggested that the Cup got overwhelmed with so many people handling it, and remembered one problem in particular: "I think there were some issues with a lot of people carrying it by the neck, and it kind of got loose."
Indeed, the Cup would sometimes be shipped unaccompanied from city to city on a plane back then, meaning the next player would have to go to the airport to pick it up. When Rangers enforcer Joe Kocur went to a baggage claim carousel at a Michigan airport to begin his time with the trophy in August of 1994, he opened the case to find Stanley broken in two pieces, with the bowl separated from the body.
Kocur already had plans for his time with the Cup, and knew it couldn't appear at the party he had scheduled with family and friends in its current state. Rather than inform the Hall of Fame, however, he had it fixed himself at a local business, where, he says, "someone with more skill than I have" used a bit of silver solder to tack the bowl back on.
Kocur says he's not sure how exactly it broke, noting that someone in management had it before he did, and that it could have snapped off in transit. "I never asked, I never knew, because I didn't think it was a big deal," he said.
Once the Cup was whole again, Kocur could begin his quality time with it—time that included strapping it into a lifejacket and taking it out on his jet ski. "It lasted for the rest of the summer," he said of the repair job.
One report from that summer had the Cup going back to Montreal for official repairs on two separate occasions, including one a couple weeks after Kocur took matters into his own hands. Louise St. Jacques, a partner in the Montreal engraver that has worked on the Cup since 1979, said over email that the summer of '94 was too long ago to remember exactly what kind of work needed to be done then. But in 1994, she told Sports Illustrated, "There was a little bit of everything." The magazine reported that the bowl was cracked, the base was loose, and the body of the trophy was dented. "I can't say the Rangers did a terrible thing to the Cup," St. Jacques said at the time. "It just needs to be pampered, that's all."
Starting in 1995, the Hockey Hall of Fame and the NHL tightened their rules, not just guaranteeing every player and coach 24 hours with the Cup but mandating that a Hall employee accompany it wherever it goes. Mike Bolt, one of the keepers of the Cup, told me in 2010 that the new restrictions placed on the trophy included a ban on visits to casinos and, yes, strip clubs.
I asked Pritchard, who is still one of the Cup's keepers, if the '94 Rangers were responsible for the new rules. "Not at all," he said. "At that time, we already knew what was going to be happening the next year."
Indeed, there had long been stories about Cup mistreatment, from the time it ended up at the bottom of Mario Lemieux's pool to the 1905 Ottawa Silver Seven trying unsuccessfully to punt it across the frozen Rideau Canal.
In fact, the 1940 Rangers, the championship team that loomed so large over the '94 squad, were among the worst offenders. Members of the Madison Square Garden Corp. famously burned the building's $3 million mortgage in the bowl after making their final payment in early 1941. It gets worse: one story has players from the 1940 team urinating in the Cup in celebration after winning, while another version has the urination coming later, to put out the aforementioned fire.
"We weren't the first team that went goofy with the Stanley Cup," Olczyk said. Depending on your definition of "goofy," however, the 1994 Rangers may have been the last.