Known by many names to professional hockey players and fans alike, the Stanley Cup represents an incredible achievement for the playoff champion at the end of the Stanley Cup Finals. Starting in the late 1800s, this shining silver tradition began to inspire deeper competition and quality games among the hockey players.
As the oldest sports trophy among professional athletes in North America, the Stanley Cup has an incredible beginning. All of the teams since 1893 and most of their players have engraved their names upon this trophy, making it a historic as well as victorious object.
Outside of the Stanley Cup’s award ceremony, it has been on many adventures of its own. After each win, the winning team parades the Cup down its Main Street. And the team members have taken it around on many adventures. The Stanley Cup has been seen as the guest of honor at weddings, bars, barbeques, parties, and celebrations. In 1905, on a dare, the Ottawa team even drop kicked it into the canal, which was, fortunately for them, frozen solid. A mere two years later, an unknown thief stole the Stanley Cup and tried to hold it for ransom.
Not surprisingly, such a unique cup also has a unique beginning and one which rivals most other trophies.
When Queen Victoria appointed Lord Frederick Arthur Stanley of Preston to be Governor General of Canada, she did not anticipate the changes he would bring to ice hockey. But both Stanley and his family were full blooded enthusiasts after they saw their first game in their first year of the governorship. Stanley was so delighted with the game that he even allowed himself to be interviewed by the Montreal Gazette, commenting on the fun as well as the “expertise of the players.”
At this point, despite Stanley’s enthusiasm, hockey was still in its early stages. But his whole family became involved in the sport. Two of his sons formed a new team known as the Ottawa Rideau Hall Rebels. These same sons also convinced their father to donate a trophy to reward the winners of the hockey championship.
Stanley thought that the plan was a good one, but he decided that the trophy should not be one that was remade each year. Rather the winners would need to give the trophy to the next successful team , passing on the torch so to speak. So he donated a decorative punch bowl made of silver. It cost ten guineas or $48.67. Accounting for inflation, that would have been about $1260 today.
When Stanley donated the Stanley cup, he had a series of regulations which the winning team had to observe. These rules required that:
After that, Stanley made Sheriff John Sweetland and Philip D. Ross the first trustees of the cup.
At first, the hockey teams were not formalized, and more importantly, they did not have a formal playoff system to figure out who won the championship. Normally, the matter was decided by which team came in first place, but then in 1894, four teams tied for the record. After several dispute resolutions, ultimately the Montreal Hockey Club and the Montreal Victorias went up against each other, and the Montreal Hockey Club won the first play off March 17, 1894.
With the development of the challenge system, sometimes referred to as the Challenge Cup System, the competition expanded. The Stanley Cup grew in notoriety as did the prestige associated with it. Each time it was passed on to another team, the desire to win it increased.
Originally, the Stanley Cup was used for whoever won, with Stanley intending that it be the prize for amateurs. But with the increase in prestige, Canada’s hockey teams had increased in skill. The Stanley Cup Trustees decided that a similar cup should be created for amateurs, and so H. Montagu Allan, a businessman and president of the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association, donated the Allen Cup.
With the addition of the Allen Cup, the Stanley Cup symbolized victory on a professional level, a sign of professional hockey supremacy. This led then to the creation of all professional teams, the first of which was the Toronto Trolley Leaguers. The trustees used their authority with the Stanley Cup to help regulate and encourage ice hockey’s growth, encouraging official games and organized interleague competition.
Soon the National Hockey League was established, and it assumed full authority over the ice hockey games in 1926. While on occasion other clubs and leagues challenged teams under the National Hockey League, from that year on, no one who was not a member of the National Hockey League competed for the Stanley Cup.
This transition turned the Stanley Cup into not only the symbol of professional supremacy in hockey but also the symbol of National Hockey League Championship, which only furthered its appeal. This shift was finalized in 1947 when P.D. Ross and Cooper Smeaton, the Stanley Cup Trustees of that time, granted authority to the National Hockey League to reject challenges from other leagues that wanted to play for the Stanley Cup.