The Greatest Cup Of All

In Hockey on May 28, 2010 at 1:15 am

Forget the Jules Rimet. Don’t even mention the Vince Lombardi, the Claret Jug or the Webb Ellis. The America’s Cup and the Ashes have nothing on the big daddy. The most famous, revered, and sought after trophy in the world is undoubtedly hockey’s pride, the Stanley Cup.

The Cup has become the stuff of legend since its original inception way back in 1893, when it was first donated by Lord Stanley. The hockey loving Brit had been appointed Governor General of Canada and was persuaded by his sons to donate a challenge cup to honour the champions of Canada.

As the years ticked away, the leagues became professional and American teams joined in the now annual pursuit of the Cup, it emerged as the single symbol of pre-eminence in the sport.

Replaced in 1948 and re-designed in ’68, the 35lb, 3-foot Cup has taken centre stage in the Kremlin, the White House and of course, Canada’s parliament. It is afforded presidential security on its globe-trotting trips, has toured Afghanistan to boost the morale of the forces, and is used to raise millions in charity each year.

These are not the only unique aspects to the Stanley Cup though.

Players hold it in such awe that they refuse to touch it until they’ve earned the right. Also, since 1924, the entire winning team and staff are honoured by having their names etched in its silver surface. To accommodate these essays, new bands are added to the base of the trophy every 13 years, adding another few inches to its height and another layer to its mystique.

As with most traditions, this particular trend has an interesting origin. After 14 years of competition, the 1907 Montreal Wanderers were obviously running short on funds. So instead of purchasing a new base for their prize, they simply scrawled all over the inside of the bowl. Next year’s winners the Ottawa Senators, perhaps in protest at their rivals’ behaviour, refused to record their names at all. They did add a new band the next year, but more teams continued to take a maverick approach to commemoration until 1924. That was the year when the Canadiens added a new band and recorded the names of everyone involved, thus starting today’s verbose practice.

Those 1924 Canadiens were nearly granted a place in history for very different reasons though, if local legend is to be believed. Taking Stan out on the town with them the night of their win, they managed to leave him on the side of the road while changing a tyre. Luckily, it was recovered unscathed by the same, slightly more anxious hockey players just a short time later.

Cup custodian Mike Bolt

It’s not the only time the cup has flirted with disaster either. On one trip to Afghanistan a few years ago, the NATO base in Kandahar was attacked. Those missiles had less effect than being dunked in Mario Lemieux’s swimming pool though. The cup had to be re-introduced to its base with the aid of duct tape after that incident.

Since then, it’s been aboard a space shuttle, 9,300 feet above sea level at the summit of Fisher’s Peak and used as a feedbag for a Kentucky Derby winner. You see, that’s another of those quirky traditions which have developed; every member of the winning squad gets to own it for 24 hours.

All of this has been under the watchful eye of the ‘Cup Cop’ though. Yes, since 1995 the Stanley Cup has had its own personal bodyguard. 41 year old Mike Bolt is the man currently entrusted with the cup’s safety, and the envy of many.

While nannying some metal may not be many people’s idea of a dream career, according to Bolt most people tell him he has the greatest job in the world. “It’s an inanimate object, but it’s the biggest celebrity in hockey. My idea of the greatest job in the world though, would be playing for it”, says the Canadian, who has never afforded himself the cheap thrill of raising it over his head.

That right is reserved for the players. Every year, the cup is presented to the winning captain on the ice, before each player embarks on a lap of honour while hoisting the object of their careers. In the words of Pittsburgh’s Phil Bourque, “You think it’s going to weigh 100 pounds, but I had so much adrenaline, I almost threw my shoulder out because it went up so easy.”

Bourque’s joy didn’t stop him adding his own chapter to the cup’s storied history though, as he engraved his own name, along with the words ‘Enjoy it’, to the inside of the bowl. Those words have since been erased, but the desire remains. Says Bourque, “Every hockey player has lifted the cup mentally hundreds if not thousands of times after every pickup game or street hockey game. It’s the stuff of dreams.”

Stanley Cup winner Phil Bourque

The raw power it holds over hockey players however, often seems at odds with the indignities it has been subjected to over the years. In addition to the 1924 Canadiens, Lemieux’s 1992 party and Bourque’s screwdriver assault, it has also been used as a urinal by the 1940 New York Rangers. Martin Brodeur ate popcorn out of it at the movies. Clark Gillies even allowed his dog Hombre to drink out of it, which caused consternation in the hockey world. “What? He’s a good dog!” was Gillies’ response to the outcry. Not to worry, according to the New York Times’ George Vecsey, ‘all germs on the Stanley Cup are healthy’.

This will be of great comfort to the Colorado Avalanches’ Sylvain Lefebvre, who used the cup to christen his daughter Alexzandra in 1996. Because despite the many stories of abuse the poor cup has had to endure, it remains the holy grail of hockey. Winning it is the ultimate goal of every player in the sport, and the winners feel the urge to include it in the celebrations as if it was a team-mate.

So when the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers face off in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals next week, they won’t just be playing for a trophy, they’ll be playing for a piece of history. But this particular piece of history has seen more parties than Aerosmith, according to Steven Tyler. How many trophies can claim that?

  1. This is a great way to sum up the greatest Cup of all time

  2. I like that! So what do you reckon, Blackhawks?

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