It’s the oldest team trophy in North America, and it’s not even from North America.
Back in 1892, when Frederick Stanley, the 16th Earl of Derby, had already been deemed by Queen Victoria as the Lord Stanley of Preston – a pleasant little borough in Lancashire not far from Manchester – and named as the sixth Governor General of Canada, it seemed he had today’s equivalent of $48-and-change burning a hole in his pocket.
And what better to do with trifling idle cash than to spend it on the kids?
It so happened that his were smitten by hockey, a sport Lord Stanley’s spawn found to be exhilarating. They were drawn by its power, skill, grace, and even the Shakespearean reference of calling the little black disc a puck, so named after the sprite in A Midsummer Night’s Dream because it would quickly dart here and there, just as Puck did in the famous play.
So it was that Lord Stanley and his wife became enamored with the game, too.
It is with that charity in mind that he sent word to Charles Colville, a former aide who had returned to England, that he wished to spend 10 guineas on a trophy worthy of honoring the best of the best in this new sport that had captured the passion of Canadians from coast to coast. It would be honored hardware, the prize given in a challenge he would announce, one that would determine the finest hockey club in all the land.
Colville’s search took him to 130 Regent Street in London, the premises of G R Collis & Co, just off Piccadilly Circus, where he found a Sheffield-made silver punchbowl that matched his given budget. He ordered the Stanley family crest to be engraved on one side – accompanied with the caption “From Stanley of Preston” – and the title “Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup” on the other.
After a quick shipment across the pond, it was Game On.
The Stanleys’ hockey legacy went deeper than a mere hardware purchase. A rink was built behind their official residence in Ottawa. Son Edward was constantly arranging pick-up games. Daughter Isobel organized what was probably the first women’s game. Sons Arthur and Algernon assembled the Rideau Rebels, one of the city’s first teams, and later formed the Ontario Hockey League. Arthur would one day return to his jolly old homeland and introduce the game to Great Britain.
Lord Stanley left the Cup in the able hands of two trustees and laid down a set of rules for its award. The most significant was that it would be passed from champion to champion. It has, and in the process, served as a catalyst for a human foible or two.
If only the Stanley Cup could take notes. In no particular order, these would have been ten of its jottings:
10. Champagne Tastes Better From a Silver Mega-Goblet
Well, the Stanley Cup was a punchbowl.
But Captain Colville probably had in mind that it wouldn’t be used for sloshing punch.
The 1896 Winnipeg Victorias confirmed that notion. These dudes were clearly trendsetters. They were the first to play an organized game in western Canada in 1890, and they were the founders of the Manitoba Hockey Association in 1893.
They were also the first Westerners to hoist the hardware, beating the Montréal Victorias – no relation – 2-0, in a one-game, chips-on-the-table challenge. Tuxedo Night didn’t appear in the ‘Peg until 1979, so they displayed their touch of class in their choice of libation.
And every Cup winner since then has kept the bubbly flowing.
9. Silver Cups Make Lousy Footballs
This is what that zany crowd of Ottawa Silver Sevens discovered after taking possession of the Stanley Cup in 1905.
Clearly paying too much homage to the Winnipeg Victorias’ tradition of guzzling bubbly, some bright light in the group may well have deduced that if soccer begat rugby, which begat gridiron football, perhaps a pioneering new sport could be devised by using a silver punchbowl as a soccer ball. Circle of life and all that.
Make sense? Of course not! These dudes left sobriety at the rink! Who knows what possessed them to kick the Cup onto a frozen Rideau Canal? They’re just lucky it was frozen, and they still didn’t find it until the morning.
No word if this also begat the first hair of the dog to tipple from the Stanley Cup.
8. The Stanley Cup Once Became a Suction Cup
Mario Lemieux hosted a victory party after the Pens’ triumph over Chicago’s Blackhawks in 1992. While he and his teammates were relaxing in his backyard pool, veteran Phil Bourque stood atop its ornamental waterfall, Cup raised high, and launched it high in the air to initiate history’s first Stanley Cup cannonball.
That part worked. But the Cup, special as it is, does special things. Like landing on the bottom and aligning so perfectly that its base formed a perfect air pocket. It literally became stuck there.
Penguins players took turns diving down, trying to dislodge it, but the Cup wouldn’t budge. When it finally did yield, it was slightly lopsided from the rescue attempts, causing it to be the most delicately handled item in the next day’s victory parade. Repairs discretely ensued. And not for the last time.
7. It’s Special Inside and Out
Unsurprisingly, Bourque thought he heard a rattle the next time he held the Stanley Cup.
He already knew the trophy’s bands were detachable. There are five of them, and each one has room for the names of 13 teams and their entourage. When one band is full, the top one is removed, straightened, and placed on display in the Hockey Hall of Fame’s converted bank vault for public viewing.
So, he thought, if the bands were detachable, he may as well do some investigative work himself. Removing the bottom band, he didn’t see anything unusual except a pair of names etched on the back of the band. Most likely, they were those of the engravers. Impressed, Bourque decided to join them, scratching “Enjoy it. Phil Bubba Bourque. ’91 Penguins.”
In so doing, he became the only hockey player in history to have his name on the front and back of a Cup band.
6. The Stanley Cup Has A Chaperone Because of The 1994 Rangers
New York went bonkers when their Broadway Blueshirts finally brought the Cup back to the Big Apple in 1994. And so did the team. This was a mere two years after the Penguins damaged it during their deep-six escapade.
When the Cup arrived at legendary enforcer Joey Kocur’s house for his day of glory, he wasn’t expecting to see it in two pieces. But there it was. Like a few of his fight partners throughout a two-fisted career.
Rumor had it goalie Mike Richter and a few teammates got a bit frisky with the Cup at McSorley’s Old Ale House the night before.
Kocur didn’t know silversmiths; he knew machine shops. They had soldering irons and silver, and they performed a five-point fusion like brain surgeons. The repair job was strong enough for the Rangers’ winger to strap the Cup onto an inner tube and pull it behind a full-throttled speedboat afterward.
And it served well as an oat bag when defenseman Eddie Olczyk let Kentucky Derby winner Go for Gin munch out of it at Belmont.
So it was that from ‘94 onward, the Hockey Hall of Fame decided to assign a handler to accompany the famed hardware wherever it went. Quelle surprise!
5. The Stanley Cup Defied Horace Greeley and Did Go Home Again
Don’t ever think the Cup itself isn’t a superstar in its own right.
In April 2006, the hockey world discovered just how famous it was when it journeyed to London for a reunion with its roots. Fan recognition and turnout was impressive to the point of being staggering.
Tourists from all points of Europe and places beyond shouted its name in various languages. Photo ops at sites like the London Eye and Buckingham Palace kept shutters buzzing from the public and media alike.
The Cup even returned to 130 Regent Street, the former site of G R Collis & Co that’s now marked by a plaque commemorating the day when Captain Colville plunked down Lord Stanley’s 10 guineas. The Cup had literally grown up since then, what with its base consisting of five bands full of champions’ names. But it was still a humble punch bowl, even when it was greeted by the 19th Earl of Derby, Edward Stanley, the great-great-grandson of the Governor General.
True to his peerage, the 19th Earl held the Cup high, but didn’t hoist it overhead. That, he said, was only the right of champions.
4. Lord Stanley of Preston Never Saw a Cup Game.
As avid a fan as Lord Stanley was, most of his ardor occurred before he sent Captain Colville on a mission to find a suitable trophy. His tour of duty as Governor General ended the following year, at which point he returned to England.
He entrusted Sheriff John Sweetland and Philip D Ross as the Cup’s trustees, a position Ross held for 56 years. They’re the gentlemen who refined the rules of challenge, mostly to appease Ottawa teams who were tired of hearing from the trustees that Montréal had the best clubs and were thus entitled to privileges in the priority of Cup competition.
It could be one of the reasons why the 1905 Silver Sevens – once they won the Cup – decided to see how it worked as a football.
3. It has Doubled as a Potty
Not only did champagne fit easily into Lord Stanley’s goblet, so did ice cream, dog food, and infants.
Doug Weight decided to use it as a dish for a giant sundae after the Carolina Hurricanes’ claimed the Cup in 2006. It was a calorie grenade consisting of everything that would put a dentist’s kid through school, but it was still harmless enough.
Colorado Avalanche defenseman Sylvain Lefebvre used his day with the Cup as a baptismal for his daughter, Jade-Isis, in 1996. That beat the 1940 Rangers using it as an ashtray for the ceremonial burning of Madison Square Garden’s mortgage. And don’t ask how Lynn Patrick and his teammates extinguished the flames. Just think that beer isn’t bought, it’s only rented. Such sacrilege angered the hockey gods enough to impose a 54-year curse.
Who knew it would take an innocent to trump that stunt? But a baby’s gotta do what a baby’s gotta do, and Kris Draper’s baby did. His daughter held a poopapalooza in the Cup that forced the Red Wing forward to prove he sanitized it afterward to the extent that a person could again sip out of it safely. He personally performed the test and lived to tell the tale.
2. Mark Messier Proved it Synonymous With “Bump And Grind”
No doubt about it. The ’94 Rangers may have been impressive in bringing the Cup back to New York, but they were downright breathtaking when it came to celebrating with it.
The exploits of teammates Joey Kocur, Eddie Olczyk, and Mike Richter’s crew have already been noted. As captain, though, Messier deserves an entry all his own. It was his gritty leadership that kept the team’s eyes on the prize, and he was just as inspiring when it came to handling the prize.
Messier gained a wealth of experience from his time in Edmonton. Four straight years with the Cup called for creativity each summer, and he didn’t disappoint. Like the time he took it to his favorite strip joint there, the Forum Inn – where one of the dancers set a standard of prop adulation all her own – and once improvised by visiting an auto body shop on the sly to sort out a couple of dents in Lord Stanley’s hardware.
His theme song should have been Henry Mancini’s stripper instrumental from the Breakfast at Tiffany’s soundtrack, “Hubcaps and Tail Lights.”
The Mess clearly learned from this history and thus – like Kocur – repeated it in ‘94, flashing the chalice at Scores, a top-end top-off club in Manhattan. It was surely the only Cup anyone there wanted to see that night.
1. The Current Cup is a Replica of a Replica
Barry Wilmont was recruited by hockey’s godfathers to undertake a stealth mission.
The veteran engraver had a distinct specialty. He was an expert at reproducing vintage etchings. The 1963 Maple Leafs had just raised the Stanley Cup in triumph, and by May 1964, the NHL wanted its tournament champion to raise something else.
Without anyone knowing any differently.
League president Clarence Campbell was well aware of what decades of joy had done to the Cup. He feared it wouldn’t take much more, and given the future antics of the ’94 Rangers alone, this was a caretaker well ahead of his time. But his solution involved the unthinkable.
There needed to be a counterfeit Stanley Cup.
To avoid uproar and outrage, this task had to be done quietly and accurately. The league’s official silversmith, Carl Peterson of Montréal, had fashioned the replica trophy. The key was in perfectly copying the engraved names, right down to the errors and scratches.
Four months later, Wilmont was paid $900 for a job well done. Three years later, word got out.
But no matter. The Leafs lifted the faux Cup in 1964 without incident. The partying was just as good. The original Cup was safe in the Hall’s vault. The arrangement was so successful, the Hall even commissioned a replica be made of the replica in 1993 for display there when the original replica – an oxymoron, yes, but a fact – was on tour, being hoisted, photographed, and who-knows-what-else.
Who, that is, except the celebrating culprits so noted here. And more like them.