Tourists and locals wandering in the mall area in front of Independence Hall on Monday morning were greeted by an odd site, if you consider seeing hockey’s Stanley Cup at the very cradle of liberty an odd site.
Except for very occasional appearances, the Cup has been independent of the city of Philadelphia for 42 years. But there it was, accompanied by a small group that included a photographer, and pictures were being taken with the famous hall as a background.
“We got some odd looks,” said Jim Britt, who was responsible for bringing the Cup on a tour of the area. “People gathered kind of slowly and they’d say, ‘Is that the real Stanley Cup?’ Some people thought it was a prop for a show or something.”
Well, not believing the Stanley Cup would be in Philadelphia is understandable. Was it lost? In fact, it was not. Britt is a local kid, raised in Bucks County, who grew up to be the director of team operations for the Pittsburgh Penguins. As part of NHL tradition, all the players, coaches, owners and some front-office staff members get to spend a day with the Cup in the summer following a championship season. Monday was Jim Britt’s day.
The centerpiece of the trip was an afternoon at Holy Ghost Prep in Bensalem, where Britt went to high school and played hockey. For more than two hours, students were able to enter Founders Hall during a free period or lunch period and get their pictures taken with the Cup. They were allowed to hoist it up for the photos, if they liked, even as Cup keeper Howie Borrow, from the Hockey Hall of Fame, kept a close eye on things.
“We usually don’t let it get handled this much, but Jim seems to be OK with everything,” said Borrow, who will be on the road with the Cup for about 75 to 80 days of its 100-day world tour. “Everybody enjoys seeing it.”
The Cup, which is 3 feet tall and weighs slightly more than 30 pounds, travels around the globe in a special case, and Howie, or one of his co-workers, is in charge of eventually getting it back to Toronto in one piece. This summer, he went to Germany, Russia, Switzerland on one swing, all over Canada and down the West Coast as far as San Diego. On Sunday, he and the Cup were at the Jersey Shore with former Flyers forward Rick Tocchet, who was a Pittsburgh assistant coach before being hired as head coach of the Arizona Coyotes last month. Following the Philadelphia sojourn, Howie and friend were headed to New England and then Minnesota.
“It’s a lot of travel,” Borrow said.
Britt does logistical planning for the Penguins and handles all the team’s travel and accommodations, as well as sorting out immigration and visa issues as part of his duties. When he saw that Tocchet would have the Cup so close to Philadelphia, he planned his own Cup Day for Monday. Making sure the Stanley Cup spent some time at Holy Ghost Prep was a natural, too.
“You want to give back to all the people who helped out along the way,” Britt said.
A goaltender from age 10, Britt played at Holy Ghost for his father, who was the head coach there for 10 years. He put the game aside when he went to King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, eventually deciding he wanted to find a job working in sports in some capacity. An internship with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins turned into a job offer in ticket sales after graduation, and his career expanded from there. He was a video coach when Dan Bylsma was promoted from the Pittsburgh AHL affiliate to become head coach of the NHL Penguins, and Bylsma brought Britt along for the ride. He moved to the team operations side in 2012.
“I wasn’t necessarily a Flyers fan growing up. I had a lot of favorite players. Mike Richter, in his heyday, had a lot of natural ties for me. Whatever team he was playing on would have been my favorite,” Britt said. “When I was in high school and then into college, the Flyers were getting really good and I loved those teams, guys like Keith Primeau. I was starting to become a really big Flyers fan when I graduated from college and started working for the Penguins. That kind of put the brakes on.”
It could have been a hard sell at home. Jim Britt Sr. was working for the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation at the time (he retired in April as its executive vice president and chief operating officer), but his pride in his son’s burgeoning career was bigger than a little cross-state hockey rivalry.
“I was at a meeting with Mr. Snider one day and he asked me how the family was, and I told him my son had taken a job with the Penguins and his head kind of snapped around,” the elder Britt said. “He liked to make sure where your loyalty was.”
That really wasn’t a problem, of course. Britt’s father was a Southwest Philadelphia native who learned to skate on frozen Cobbs Creek, sometimes in the company of Flyers center André Lacroix, who was dating the sister of one of the other young skaters. In fact, when the Flyers played their first game in Philadelphia – against the Penguins – Britt Sr. was there. So, the hockey roots, the ones he passed along to his three sons, all of whom played, go pretty deep.
“He likes to take a little shot now and then,” Jim Britt Sr. said of Jim Jr. “Somebody joked this morning we should have a little parade here for the Cup, and he said, ‘Yeah, it’s the only way you’re going to get one.’ But it’s all in fun.”
Sure, it is. In any case, mark it down. The Stanley Cup got to Philadelphia this year. It didn’t stay long, but Jim Britt made sure to bring it home for a look around. Maybe it will stay longer one of these years. If it was possible for Britt to go from being a high school goalie with no further prospects to hoisting the Cup himself, then anything is possible.