June is a busy sports month. For baseball fans, the MLB season is in full swing. June is the month when the better teams normally begin to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. For basketball fans, there is “The Finals,” although this year’s matchup might be one-sided, and the upcoming college draft. In thoroughbred horseracing, this year, there is the excitement of a possible Triple Crown winner. Tennis fans have the French Open. Golf fans have the US Open. Football is always in the news, even during the off-season. But, for hockey fans, the Stanley Cup playoffs dominate the scene. American boys grow up dreaming of becoming the next Bryce Harper, Peyton Manning or LeBron James. Canadian boys want to become the next Sid Crosby. Even better, they want to win an NHL championship and get their name inscribed on the Cup. Once your name is on the Cup, it is there forever.
The Stanley Cup, aka “The Cup,” is the oldest championship in North America. It is named after Lord Stanley of Preston. Stanley, who was appointed Governor General of Canada in 1888 by Queen Victoria, was a rabid hockey fan. During that period organized hockey in Canada was in its infancy. There were no organized leagues as such, just a collection of amateur teams who would play against each other (similar to the state of baseball in the US in the mid-19th Century).
Stanley conceived of the idea of awarding a trophy to the top amateur team annually. The Cup was first awarded in 1893 (to Montreal). It became the de facto championship trophy to the NHL champion in 1926. It has been awarded every year since 1893 with two exceptions – 1915 due to the Spanish Flu Pandemic and 2005 due to the NHL “lockout.”
Some little-known facts, traditions and anecdotes regarding The Cup:
- Unlike trophies in other sports, such as baseball, football and basketball, the same Cup is awarded every year. In addition, the names of the players, coaches, staff and executives are engraved on it, which gives them a sports immortality of sorts. When all available space has been used, a new band is added. Old bands are detached and retained in the HOF.
- There are actually three Cups. The Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup is the original Cup, which Stanley purchased in 1892 for the dollar equivalent of $50. It was awarded until 1970, but it has been retired, and is now on display permanently in the Vault Room at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. The Presentation Cup is the one that is actually presented to the champions and is paraded around in public. The Replica Cup is maintained at the Hall of Fame as a stand-in for the Dominion Cup, when needed, a “spare,” if you will.
- Occasionally, engraving errors have been made. Thus, we have 1971 “Bqstqn” Bruins and the 1981 NY “Ilanders.” Also, many players’ names have been misspelled, for example, “Glin” Hall and Alex “Belvecchio.” Such errors have not been corrected and have become part of Cup lore.
- Twelve women’s names have been inscribed on the Cup primarily as management or owners, not players.
- The team with the most Cup victories is Montreal with 24.
- The player who appears on the Cup most often is Henri Richard, aka the “Pocket Rocket,” eleven times. Old time fans, such as me, will recall him from the powerhouse Montreal teams of the 1950s.
- The coach with the most appearances is Scotty Bowman with nine.
- The tradition of drinking champagne from the Cup commenced in 1896.
- Prior to 1930s the Cup was not presented to the winner on the ice. Also, the tradition of the captain of the winning team parading the Cup around the ice dates from the 1950s.
- The Cup winner is allowed 100 days to pass it around among its team members. It is always supposed to be accompanied by a representative of the HOF. Occasionally players have maltreated the Cup, usually due to excess celebration. For example, once, it was drop-kicked into a canal and left there over night; once it was left on the side of the road for a few hours after players removed it while changing a flat tire; two players have allowed their dogs to eat out of the Cup; and on three occasions it has been tossed into players’ pools. These are merely the G Rated stories; I’m sure there are more colorful ones that have never seen the light of day.
- And, last but not least, in 1940 when the Rangers won, coincidentally the mortgage on MSG was paid off. So, management decided to symbolically burn the mortgage in the Cup. Then, some inebriated players urinated in the Cup to put out the fire. Supposedly this fostered a “curse” on the team winning the Cup prospectively. Sounds ridiculous, but the Rangers did go 54 years before winning again.
This year’s matchup is between Tampa and Chicago. Hopefully, it will go seven games. There is nothing more exciting in all of sports than overtime of a seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals. The viewer cannot look away for a second, lest he miss the championship-winning goal. Scoring plays can and do develop instantly. That is truly “sudden death.”
By the way, I have always been curious as to the origin of the traditional hockey post-game handshake, which is unique in professional sports. As best as I have been able to determine, it originated with a memorial all-star game in 1908 that was played to benefit a player who had died in a tragic diving accident. If anyone has more information regarding this tradition please let me know.