Wilton family gets vacation surprise: the Stanley Cup

When you’re on summer vacation at the shore, hockey is probably the last thing on your mind. Unless, that is, the Stanley Cup happens to show up.

For the Follett family of Wilton, that once-in-a-lifetime experience occurred last weekend while vacationing at Old Black Point beach in East Lyme.

Also visiting the area was Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp, fresh off his team’s National Hockey League championship in June — and in possession, temporarily, of the Stanley Cup.

The Cup, which dates back to 1893, is awarded each year to the NHL champion, which is then allowed 100 days during the off-season to pass the trophy around from player to player.

Each player is allotted three days with the Cup, and Sharp’s turn just happened to be last week.

For several hours on Sunday, he displayed the Cup on a table on a pavilion near the beach. People lined up for the chance to see and touch the Cup, and have their pictures taken with Sharp.

“There were a few hundred people there, probably 60 to 80 kids,” said Bill Follett, who was there with his wife, Kim, and children Jane and Benjamin. “He had a long line of kids waiting for a picture. He was absolutely patient. He was smiling the whole time. He couldn’t have been nicer about it.”

This year’s championship was the third in six years for Sharp as a member of the Blackhawks. Follett said it was a treat for vacationers to see a bit of history up close.

“It was terrific. It’s such an iconic piece. Whether you’re a hockey fan or not, you recognize the thing,” he said. “Some of the kids kissed it.”

The current trophy is not the actual Stanley Cup. The original silver bowl was replaced in 1969.

The first Stanley Cup was purchased by Lord Stanley of Preston, Governor General of Canada, to be given to the champion of Canada’s top amateur hockey team in 1893. It has been awarded to the NHL champ since 1926.

Today’s version of the Stanley Cup, which measures about three feet in height and weighs about 35 pounds, dates from 1958. It is now crowned by a replica of the original cup, atop a five-band barrel.

Each band has the names of all of the players of each NHL champ engraved — 13 teams per band. When all the bands are full, the oldest band is removed and sent to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and a new blank band is added.

Each championship team only gets to keep the trophy until a new champ is crowned the next season.

The Cup has made stops around the world, as Blackhawk players come from not only the U.S. and Canada, but Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

It is accompanied along the way by a representative from the Hockey Hall of Fame, who ensures it is treated properly and gets to the next player. Follett said the Cup caretaker was at the recent viewing, sitting to the side and wearing white gloves.

“It really needs an NHL person to watch over the thing and take care of it, and pack it up properly for shipment,” he said.

After everybody had a chance to have their picture taken with the Stanley Cup, Sharp carried it to the end of a long dock and held it aloft for all to see.

Then, it was time for the Cup to move on.

“He put the thing on the back of his golf cart and drove off,” said Follett.