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Stanley Cup runneth over world’s borders

One minder of hockey’s holiest tells travel tales

By Christopher Klein
Globe Correspondent / July 3, 2011

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The ice has melted and the duck boats are once again hauling gaggles of tourists, but the celebration of the Boston Bruins’ first National Hockey League championship in 39 years will continue all summer as each player spends a day with the Stanley Cup. Mike Bolt of the Hockey Hall of Fame is one of four “keepers of the Cup’’ who will accompany the trophy every step of the way. Born and raised in Toronto, Bolt spends 250 days a year with the silver chalice named for its donor, Lord Stanley of Preston, governor general of Canada from 1888-93. Hockey’s ultimate roadie, Bolt talked to us about traveling the world as Cup caretaker for 12 years.

Q. Where are some of the places you’ve traveled with the Cup?

A. I’ve been in every state except Hawaii, and I’ve been everywhere in Canada except Nunavut. I’ve been all over Europe. Probably the farthest places I’ve gone have been Japan, northern Siberia, the Arctic Circle in Sweden, and even to Afghanistan to see the troops. I’ve been with the Cup on planes, trains, automobiles, boats, even on a specially built Polaris snowmobile on a trip across Minnesota. Traveling with the Stanley Cup is the greatest way to see the world.

Q. You must have some serious frequent flier miles racked up.

A. I do. I used to have a lot more, but some of them expired. I’ve lost over a million miles.

Q. Before Sept. 11, 2001, you could board planes with the Cup, is that right?

A. Not on every occasion, but it did happen. Since Sept. 11, I’ve taken it onboard just once, last year on a United flight from Montreal to Chicago. We had it strapped into a seat and had to clear customs and security.

Q. What’s the typical process for flying with the Cup?

A. I’m in the airport check-in line with everybody else, and the Cup is in an oversized case. With Air Canada, we have a letter that gives us permission to travel with the oversized case. With other airlines, I tell them the Stanley Cup is inside so they understand the importance and magnitude of the case. It’s a very famous trophy, and it will make the news if it doesn’t show up where we’re going.

Even airline workers who aren’t hockey fans get excited when I open the case, and that helps get it on the plane. Last year in Paris, Air France at first wouldn’t let the Cup on because of its weight. Once we took it out of the case, some Americans instantly recognized it and came over, and then the flight managers knew it was important and got it on the plane.

I can watch security hand-inspect the Cup, and in some airports, the X-ray machines are big enough for the case to fit through. After the case is locked, the airline takes it away. That’s usually the last time I see it, but on the way to the gate I try to spot it on the tarmac or being loaded on the plane.

Q. Any travel nightmares where you’ve lost the trophy?

A. One of the bigger ones happened last year when I was flying from Newark to an event in Vancouver before flying back to Toronto. When I was checking in, I noticed the baggage tag said the Cup was going to Toronto, but the airline assured me it was going to Vancouver first. Well, my biggest fear came true, and the Cup wasn’t there when I landed. They sent it to Toronto. We travel 320 days a year with the Cup around the world, and over the course of a year something like that happens once or twice. Given how often we fly and how tight connections are, it’s a really good percentage of how often it works out.

Q. When you’re on the ground, how does the Cup travel?

A. It varies. It might go with me on the rental car shuttle, or sometimes we take a limo or a cab. If the case won’t fit inside the vehicle, we’ll take the Cup out and strap it in with a seat belt.

Q. Does the trophy stay with you each night?

A. Yeah, it stays in my hotel room. That’s where we clean it, particularly in the summer when it’s with the players. We’ll just put it in the hotel shower and give it a full cleaning with soap and water.

Q. Can you leave the Cup in your hotel room and get a bite to eat?

A. Yeah, I can go out for dinner and lock up the Cup if I want. We’re not too concerned about someone stealing it. It’s so recognizable that you can’t do much with it or run around with it unnoticed. But I don’t get to go out to dinner too often because the Cup is in such high demand that it’s go, go, go all the time. The only free time I have is at the hotel, and sometimes I only have four to five hours to sleep.

Q. What’s the worst part of traveling with the Cup?

A. Airports. They’re still a little stressful. There are the long lines, and I’m wondering how checking in with the Cup is going to go. My schedule’s so busy that I’m always cutting it close, and you’re nervous because if you miss a flight, usually someone on the other end is getting gypped because it cuts into their time with the Cup. Once I’m sitting on that plane though, I’m pretty relaxed. The airplane is my quiet time.

Q. Any other challenges?

A. The term “changing on the fly’’ is often used in hockey, and it’s the same thing when traveling with the Cup. It’s amazing how quickly plans change. You may think that you’re going to be hanging out in Boston, and then you’re off to Los Angeles and “The Tonight Show’’ instead. Or you may plan to be on the road for five days, and it turns into a 10-day road trip. So I always know to pack plenty of underwear.

Christopher Klein, author of “The Die-Hard Sports Fan’s Guide to Boston’’ (Union Park, 2009), can be reached at chris@christopherklein.com.