Hockey Central

The Stanley Cup

It all started on March 18, 1892, at a dinner of the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Association. Lord Kilcoursie, a player on the Ottawa Rebels hockey club from Government House, delivered the following message on behalf of Lord Stanley, the Earl of Preston and Governor General of Canada:

"I have for some time been thinking that it would be a good thing if there were a challenge cup which should be held from year to year by the champion hockey team in the Dominion (of Canada)."

"There does not appear to be any such outward sign of a championship at present, and considering the general interest which matches now elicit, and the importance of having the game played fairly and under rules generally recognized, I am willing to give a cup which shall be held from year to year by the winning team."

Lord Stanley, the Canadian Governor-General who donated the Stanley Cup in 1893, ironically never saw a Cup Game.

One of his aides, Lord Kilcoursie, had more than a passing role in Lord Stanley's decision to initiate the Cup.

Lord Kilcoursie played hockey with Lord Stanley's sons and his deep interest in the sport has spread to his boss.

Lord Stanley's guidelines for presenting the Cup were simple enough. It was to go to the leading hockey club in Canada.

In 1893, the first Cup went to the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association team, champion of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada. There was no playoff; Montreal AAA had simply won the most games in the regular season.

In 1894, Montreal AAA defeated the Montreal Victorias, 3-2, and then the Ottawa Generals, 3-1, in a one-game final of the first ever playoffs to capture the Cup. But Lord Stanley was gone. He had returned to his native England.

He designated two Ottawa sportsmen - Sheriff Sweetland and P.D. Ross - as trustees of the Cup, and they sifted through the various challenges from leagues all over Canada which wanted their chance to play for the trophy.

In those early days, hockey was an amateur sports played by seven-man teams on outdoor rinks built for curling. Two portable poles, embedded in the ice with no net between them constituted the goals, and goal judges stood behind these makeshift targets with no padding to protect them. Conditions were truly primitive and it was an appropriate setting for the most fantastic Cup challenge in history - that of Dawson City of 1905.

The Ottawa Silver Seven were the Cup holders from 1903 through 1906, successfully defending it against nine challenges from all parts of Canada. But none of the challengers could match the 1905 Yukon team's effort.

Colonel Joe Boyle, a wealthy Dawson City prospector, bankrolled the team's 23-day journey to Ottawa. The happy go lucky gold diggers travelled by dog sled, boat and train to cover the 4,000 miles. They made 46 miles by dogs the first day and 41 the second. Some of the players were forced to remove their boots because of blistered feet on the third day, with the temperature dropping to 20 below zero.

They missed a boat connection at Skagway by two hours and had to wait five days at the docks before catching another boat from Seattle to Vancouver. Then they took a train on to Ottawa. They arrived in Ottawa, January 12, 1905, a day before the best-of-three series against the Silver Seven was to begin.

It was all for naught. The team that travelled the farthest to try for the Cup suffered the most lopsided elimination. The Klondikers lost the first game, 9-2, and the second and final game 23-3. Frank McGee of Ottawa scored an unbelievable 14 goals in the second game rout - eight of then in a span of eight minutes, twenty seconds. What makes it truly unbelievable is that McGee was blind in one eye.

The year before the Klondile challenge, Ottawa had beaten off the Brandon Wheat kings and the only notable thing about that challenge was the fact that Brandon goalie Doug Morrison incurred a penalty and was replaced in the nets by teammate, Lester Patrick. A quarter of a century later, Patrick, then 44 and coach of the New York Rangers, would duplicate the feat and take over in goal during another Stanley Cup game.

The prestige of fielding a winning hockey team - possibly a Stanley Cup winner - was quite tantalizing to Canadian communities and the better players found themselves being offered fat contracts. Hockey's amateur posture was disappearing, and soon the Stanley Cup's would, too.

By 1907 the Eastern Canadian Amateur Hockey Association had deleted the "Amateur" from its name. And in 1920 when the National Hockey Association - forerunner of the National Hockey League - came into existence, the Stanley Cup became the goal of professional hockey teams.

When Lester Patrick and his brother Frank moved westward to organize the Pacific Coast Hockey League in 1913, a Stanley Cup series matching East and West was inaugurated. After the PCHL went out of business in 1927, the trophy became exclusively an NHL award.

Although there were no American teams in the NHL until 1924, it was seven years earlier that a US team first captured the cherished Cup. In 1917, the Seattle Metropolitans, coached by Pete Muldoon, beatthe Montreal Canadians in the Cup series and transported the Cup below the border for the first time.

Through the years, the Cup has had varied adventures. It has been the most sought and at the same time most neglected trophy in sport.

Shortly after the turn of the century, following one of the Ottawa Silver Seven's several successful defenses, some members of the team were lugging the trophy back from a victory banquet. For kicks no doubt, it was suggested by one of the players that he could successfully boot the mug into Rideau Canal. And just to prove his point, he did.

The next day, when they realized what they had done, the Ottawa players rushed back to Rideau. Luckily the canal had been frozen over, and there, slightly the worse for wear but still intact, sat the Stanley Cup.

Shortly after that, the Cup did a brief turn as a flower pot. That happened when the Montreal team gathered around the silver mug for a picture in a local photographer's studio. When the posing was over, the players left the studio, and the Cup as well.

The photographer's mother found the deserted silverware and, not knowing its significance, filled it with earth and planted geraniums. Eventually, the photographer discovered it and rescued Lord Stanley's Cup.

In 1924, the Montreal Canadians were celebrating their Cup victory at a downtown hotel when it was suggested that the celebration be moved to owner Leo Dandurand's home. A group of players, the Cup in tow, started out driving for Dandurand's home when a tyre blew out. In the course of changing the tyre, the Cup somehow was removed from the car and placed on the sidewalk. When the repairs were completed, the celebrants took off for Dandurand's again.

It wasn't until the Canadians reached their destination that they missed the Cup. They scurried back to the spot and, sure enough, sitting there undisturbed, waiting for them, was the Cup.

Another time, an official of the Kenora Thistles stormed out of a meeting of hockey executives with the Cup under his arm. Angered over the refusal of his colleagues to authorize the use of two borrowed players during a Cup series, he was prepared to act drastically.

"Where are going with the Cup?" he was asked. He replied quite simply: "I'm going to throw it in the Lake of Woods."

There are those who swear he would have, too, had compromise not been reached on the use of the two disputed players.

Once, during the Ottawa Silver Seven's Cup reign, one member of the team decided to cap off a celebration by taking the mug home with him to show to his mother. The idea wasn't terribly popular with his teammates and in the ensuing scuffle, the Cup was tossed over a cemetery fence.

In 1962, the Cup was on display in the lobby of the Chicago Stadium while the Blackhawks and Montreal Canadians battled for it on the ice inside the arena. When Chicago took a commanding edge in the game, a Montreal fan left his seat. He went to the lobby, broke into the showcase, lifted out the Cup and was on his way out of the door before he was stopped. He, too, had a simple explanation.

"I was taking it back to Montreal, where it belongs." he said.