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Stanley Cup doesn’t appear until it’s time

The Boston Police officers seemed to multiply around the car that held Phil Pritchard on the night of June 13, 2011. He sat at the bottom of a ramp at the back of TD Garden, listening to the Bruins game on the radio, as the police presence swelled.

They had a message for him.

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“They’re all screaming, ‘You’re not working tonight! You’re not going in!’ ” Pritchard recalled with a laugh.

Because it wasn’t just Pritchard they wanted to keep out. It was the Stanley Cup.

“We had two of them that were working with us, and then there were a whole bunch for the arena, and then there seemed to be a lot of Boston ‘fan’ Police that were just kind of there,” Pritchard said.

He acquiesced that night, after the Bruins went up, 4-0, in the first period against the Canucks in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, to the delight of the police.

And as soon as the final buzzer sounded, as soon as the Bruins had officially beaten Vancouver, Pritchard and his precious cargo slipped back up the ramp, back out onto the streets of Boston, escorted to their hotel, gone before the postgame traffic jam began. The Cup would not be awarded that night.

“We never even got in the building,” he said.

Such is life for the minder of the Stanley Cup on that trickiest of days, Game 6 of the Final. On the day of a Game 7, it’s easy. Pritchard, the Hockey Hall of Fame vice president and curator, can arrive at the arena before the game. He can even watch it live, usually standing near the Zamboni entrance at ice level.

“The players know, the coaches know, the media, everybody knows it’s going to be won on Game 7,” Pritchard said. “There’s no superstition that it’s in the building and it might not be won. You know it’s in the building. It has to be won that night.”

Not so on a Game 6. Sometimes he doesn’t watch so much as a slap shot past the first period. Once Pritchard arrived Sunday night, he retired to an undisclosed downtown hotel. He does not stay with the media in the official NHL hotel, if at all possible, nor does he stay with either of the teams.

Most of Monday, then, was a game of “hurry up and wait,” as he put it.

He carefully wiped off all the accumulated fingerprints on the Cup with hot water and hotel shampoo (he’s just looking for a “soft detergent” and hotel-issue suffices), preparing it in case it was needed for its big moment.

His procedure is to watch the puck drop from the hotel, and then be ready to move, coordinating with the NHL productions department and game operations staff to make sure there would be enough footage of the Cup — should it be needed — and to determine when the revered trophy makes it into the building.

At the end of the first period, he leaves the hotel. The Stanley Cup is loaded into a car, and driven the short distance to the arena.

“Whether we go inside the rink, that’s going to be up to the teams involved,” said Pritchard, who entered TD Garden with the Cup for the start of the third period in a 1-1 game. Soon after the Cup was in the hands of the Blackhawks as they celebrated a 3-2 victory.

Pritchard has traveled to cities for Game 4 with one team up, 3-0, and quickly backed up the car and reversed out of the parking lot when the other team wins. He has gone to the next arena and the next and the next, respecting the traditions and superstitions of the teams and the trophy.

But Pritchard knows that, sooner or later, he’ll be hauling the Stanley Cup, polished and gleaming, onto the ice.

There was another thing he knew before Game 6, too.

“We know we’re going to Chicago one way or another, whether we’re going with the Stanley Cup champion or we’re going to hand it out to a Stanley Cup champion” Pritchard said. “We are going back to Chicago for sure. We just don’t know when or why.”

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.
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