Keeper of the Cup gives city, fans big thumbs-up
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Phil Pritchard is a hockey celebrity.
The venerable Keeper of the Cup paced up and down the concourse at Consol Energy Center alongside a line of hundreds of fans waiting to get a moment with the Stanley Cup.
Pritchard, also the curator of the Hockey Hall of Fame, couldn't move more than a few steps without being asked to pose for a photo or sign an autograph.
"Pittsburgh as you can see is a great hockey city," Pritchard said. "It's a great sports city, but the passion they have for their Penguins is unbelievable. We're late in the draft and the lines for everything are overwhelming."
Among the fans waiting to see the Cup was one in black and silver -- a No. 10 Los Angeles Kings jersey with a 'RICHARDS' nameplate. His smile was the biggest of anyone.
The Kings won their first Stanley Cup on June 11, and Pritchard was there to witness it. "To create a whole new hockey atmosphere like they've done now after finally winning after 45 years, it benefits all of hockey, not just southern California," he said.
Pritchard is one of four men who combine to travel with the Cup everywhere it goes. And it's gone just about everywhere. This year, for the first time, Pritchard will take the Cup to Slovenia for Kings captain Anze Kopitar's day with the Cup.
"It's a neat travel companion," Pritchard said.
Nearly all the fans had left the arena by the time Penguins general manager Ray Shero traded defenseman Zbynek Michalek and his No. 4 jersey to the Phoenix Coyotes shortly before midnight Friday. Whereas Michalek's jersey was seen throughout Consol Energy Center the first day of the draft, it could not be found Saturday.
The trade brought the Penguins a prospect, a goaltender and the 81st overall pick of the draft. It also shed Michalek's $4 million salary from the payroll.
"I really didn't mind his trade," said Penguins fan Tony Stafford, still clad in a No. 11 Staal jersey. "It freed even more cap for us, so maybe now we can help with Brandon Sutter." Sutter was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes as part of the exchange for Staal.
The Penguins used the third-round pick from the Coyotes to draft Swedish center Oskar Sundqvist.
"That's even better," Stafford said. "More young guys for us."
Less than 10 months from now, some of the prospects selected this weekend might return to Consol Energy Center in the NCAA Frozen Four. Tournament director Marty Galosi attended the draft, spending most of it at a table promoting the Frozen Four near the primary spectator entrance.
"This is a perfect location for reaching fans," Galosi said. "I've received lots and lots of interest in this tournament. It's a unique event."
Galosi did not concern himself too much with the sale of tickets -- the Frozen Four traditionally has no trouble selling out -- but hoped to recruit volunteers.
"We're looking for volunteers from airport greeters to downtown direction givers," he said. "There's a lot of planning that goes into it. It's been a pilgrimage for us."
Galosi expects even more hockey fans to learn in April 2013 what many have learned this weekend: Pittsburgh is a hockey city.
"I've lived in Pittsburgh almost my whole life, and the interest in hockey here, I've seen it go through the peaks and valleys," he said. "It's definitely a peak now. We want to show the NCAA a great time, because we want to do this again."
It seemed for a few minutes the Florida Panthers might not make a fourth-round selection. Unlike most of the second-day picks, which flowed with regularity unknown to NFL draft fans, the Panthers needed a "timeout" before making the 114th overall pick.
"Florida, are you intending to take a timeout right now?" the NHL's Jim Gregory asked. "Please go ahead, Florida."
The Panthers eventually selected Russian forward Alexander Delnov, who, according to his translator, was not in the NHL Central Scouting Bureau database, thus causing the delay.
"I was too nervous at the time and still was hoping my name would be announced," Delnov said through a translator. "It was just a big relief and I could relax after."
Being the host of the draft for the first time, Consol Energy Center did not disappoint NHL officials. With a video board serving as a backdrop, the draft felt a bit more technologically advanced than in previous years.
"We're always going to be critical, but it has done its job," said Dan O'Neill, the NHL's vice president of arena and event operations. "We added a whole lot of new information, and added a lot of information to our business meeting on the floor. And I think we added a little bit of excitement for everyone else that is in the bowl."
O'Neill said there were no major issues having the draft at Consol Energy Center.
At least, none that were noticeable.
"There's always some little challenges," he said. "But nothing major, otherwise you'd probably be writing about it."
A year ago, defenseman Nick Ebert was a legitimate first-round candidate, rated by some experts as a top-five American-born prospect last fall. But this year, his stock plummeted.
Ebert, 17, was selected by the Kings with the last pick of the draft, the 211th overall selection. While he was finally able to pull on a jersey, Ebert will now carry the title of Mr. Irrelevant.
First Published June 24, 2012 12:00 am