The Stanley Cup: A Trophy Like No Other
The first Stanley Cup, donated by Lord Frederick Arthur Stanley of Preston in 1892. It is the same cup that sits on top of the current trophy. Photo via Wikipedia Commons.
It’s made of silver and nickel alloy, stands at a height of 35 inches, and weighs 34 pounds, about the same as a bag of dog food. Even a grade-schooler could hold it high overhead. (Some have.)
But, in many ways, the Stanley Cup — North America’s oldest professional sports trophy — carries more weight than any other in sports.
Pittsburgh Penguins veteran Matt Cullen, a three-time NHL champion, once said, “I dreamed about it as a kid. We played hockey in the backyard. We had silver buckets we carried around like the Stanley Cup. It was everything that you could hope.”
Named for Lord Stanley Preston, the onetime Governor General of Canada who first awarded its original incarnation to an amateur team back in 1893, ice hockey’s ultimate prize has been called everything from The Holy Grail to Lord Stanley’s Mug.
To some, it might as well be an oversized champagne glass. It was for Henri Richard. The Pocket Rocket, as he was called, was a member of 11 Cup-winning teams, more than any other player in NHL history. His brother, Maurice, chipped his front teeth while drinking from it. The Richards’ beloved Montreal Canadiens have won the most team titles — 24 — including a record five straight between ’56 and ’60.
All those players sharing the same chalice? Just think of the germs. But as New York Times columnist George Vecsey wrote, “One of the great rules of hockey is: On the Stanley Cup, all germs are healthy.”
If it’s the most revered hardware in sports, it’s also the most abused. The Cup was once tossed into —and spent the night in — Ottawa’s frigid Rideau Canal. After leading Montreal to the league title in 1979, winger Guy Lafleur famously drove off with the trophy in the trunk of his car and later displayed it on the front lawn of his parents’ suburban home.
These days, each member of the winning team gets the Cup for a day — unofficially. Defenseman Sylvain Lefebvre christened his daughter in it when the Colorado Avalanche won it all in ’96. Toronto Maple Leafs center Red Kelly’s infant son reportedly peed in it. It’s doubled as a cereal bowl, a beer cooler, a dog bowl, a flower pot. It’s been abandoned in a snowbank, dropped into a bonfire. It’s been damaged and later repaired in an automotive shop. It’s been at the bottom of Mario Lemieux’s pool.
New York Islanders center Bryan Trottier slept with the Cup. Kentucky Derby winner Go for Gin ate from it. Hockey Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur filled it with popcorn. It’s ridden on a rollercoaster, made appearances on soap operas and late-night TVs shows. The Cup has traveled everywhere from the White House to the Kremlin. It once spent the night in the luggage hold at Vancouver International Airport. It was flown to a concrete rink in the middle of the Afghan desert.
“It's everything you imagined and more,” said two-time league MVP Sidney Crosby after winning the first of three Stanley Cup Finals with the Penguins in 2009.
Ten-time All-Star Alex Ovechkin waited nearly a decade and a half to reach the Promised Land, finally winning the Cup with the Washington Capitals in 2018. Asked to put into words what it meant to finally lift the sport’s top honor, Ovi said, “I think it’s just like a dream.”
Ovechkin’s coach, Barry Trotz, echoed that sentiment. “To me, it’s all the sacrifices that your family has had to make,” he said. “You miss important things. But I always dreamed about it. You always played for it on the street, on your knees in the hallway against your best friend.”
Despite all it’s been through, the Stanley Cup remains the sport’s most prized possession. After all, the Stanley Cup playoffs stretch over four grueling, best-of-seven rounds. Yes, it’s been dropped, dented, scratched, stained, but wouldn’t Lord Stanley himself be proud of all that it has come to represent today?