The Stanley Cup: A Short History Lesson

It’s the trophy that 31, soon to be 32, teams want to hoist. The 89.54cm long, 37 pound silver and nickel alloy trophy that grown men work towards their entire life. It is one of the accolades in sport that players just cannot seem to have enough of. If a player has not won it, they would do anything to win it. If they have won it, they want to win it over and over again. It has become one of those ‘once you have it, you never wanna give it up’ type of trophies. 

There is no doubt that the NHL’s Stanley Cup is one of the most popular trophies in sport. The Stanley Cup has become a symbol for the National Hockey League and for NHL playoff hockey. This could be because of the National Hockey League’s impressive marketing of the Stanley Cup and the Stanley Cup playoffs, or it could be because of the impressive history that surrounds the Cup and the stories that this trophy could tell. With the 2021 Stanley Cup Final in full swing, let’s take a deep dive into the history of hockey’s most sought-after trophy. 

The History of the Cup 

The Stanley Cup was donated by Canada’s Governor General Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley, also known as Lord Stanley, in 1892. Lord Stanley was first appointed Governor General of Canada in 1888. Besides being appointed as Governor General in 1888, Lord Stanley, also, watched his first hockey game that winter. His first game saw the Montreal Victorias and the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association play in Montreal as organized hockey was not a popular Canadian pastime at the time. Only Montreal and Ottawa had regular, organized leagues at the time which ultimately led to hockey not being as popular as it would be. 

However, after Lord Stanley watched his first game in Montreal in 1888, he became enthralled by the game. He became an avid fan and his family joined him in loving the wintertime sport. His sons and his daughter, Isobel (the current namesake of the NWHL’s Isobel Cup), all became avid hockey fans and supporters during Stanley’s early years as Governor General of Canada. 

Due to this new love of hockey, in March of 1892, Governor General Stanley announced that he would be establishing a Challenge Cup that “should be held from year to year by the champion hockey team in the Dominion of Canada.” Lord Stanley arranged for a small silver bowl to be sent to Canada in early 1893 from London, England. At the time, Stanley paid 10 Guineas ($50.00 dollars today) to purchase the silver and nickel alloy bowl from England. The small silver bowl that Governor General Stanley named the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup and had arranged to come to Canada would become the top half of the now famous Stanley Cup. 

Just like today where the NHL has its own official keeper; the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup also had “keepers”, or as they called themselves, trustee’s, who would hold the silver bowl during off-seasons and would be the people who awarded the trophy to the victors. Dr. John Sweetland and Philip Dansken Ross were the two original trustees of the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup and remained the trustees until their deaths in 1907 and 1949, respectively.

Names on the Cup

The first winners of the Cup were the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association; who just happened to be one of the teams that Lord Stanley had watched in his first ever hockey game. The team was presented the cup in 1893 and were the team to add the first base ring onto the cup. The base ring was added so that the winning teams could engrave their names onto the trophy. Each ring has the ability to hold 13 teams and their accompanying rosters. Stanley had assumed that the engraving of the victor’s names would become a Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup tradition and was prepared for there to be more silver bands added onto the bottom of his treasured bowl. Despite Governor General Stanley knowing that there would be bands added to the Cup, the engraving of names on a professional sports trophy is not a common practice. Surprisingly, the National Hockey League and the Stanley Cup is the only sport and trophy to have names of victors engraved on the actual trophy. Currently, on the cup today in 2021, there are 2,394 names engraved on the Stanley Cup and 991 names engraved on the retired bands.

Despite the early start to the tradition of the winning team’s roster being engraved on the Cup, it was not until 1924, two years prior to the NHL becoming the sole owner of the Stanley Cup, that the practice of engraving on the Cup became an annual thing. The 1907 Montreal Wanderers was the first team to write the names of each single team member on the Cup… if only they knew how many more names would be engraved on the Cup after that first team. 

The engraving that is done onto the Stanley Cup is done by one, specific person each year. Currently, the engraver is Louise St.Jacques who lives in Montreal, Quebec, and is the owner of Boffey Silversmiths. She is only the fourth individual to be granted the title of ‘official engraver of the Stanley Cup’. The engraving of the Stanley Cup has been done by the same business for its entire existence; Boffey Silversmiths of Montreal. The first two engravers of the family were the Peterson family, followed by Doug Boffey, and now Louise St.Jacques. St.Jacques has noted that she hopes her son will follow in her footsteps and become the 5th official engraver of the Stanley Cup.

As time goes on and more Stanley Cup Champions are awarded and more names are added to the oldest and most famous trophy in professional sports, the need for more room grows. The silver bands that are added onto the cup are put on after one of the earlier bands is removed. So far, there have been 6 bands retired including bands from the 1920s through to the 1950s. The ‘retired’ bands are held in the Hockey Hall of Fame in downtown Toronto in Lord Stanley’s Vault where the public can view the ‘retired’ bands and the original Stanley Cup bowl as it has been replaced over the years. 

There is no doubt that when the Stanley Cup is hoisted in the coming weeks, it will be a magical time for the winning team who gets to hoist the greatest trophy in sport. The years of hard work, sweat, tears and injuries, long hours spent in cars and arenas will all come worth it when that player raises the shiny silver trophy over their head. They will become part of a select group of 3,385 individuals who are able to say they are Stanley Cup Champions for life. As the National Hockey League once said, “once your name is engraved, it will never be forgotten.” The 2021 Stanley Cup Champions will have their names engraved amongst some of hockey’s best; with the best part being… they’ll be a part of hockey history forever. 

Citations:

Marsh, James H.,  “Stanley Cup”.  In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Article published June 15, 2006; https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/stanley-cup.

Hockey Hall of Fame. “Silverware: The Stanley Cup History.” HHOF.com. https://www.hhof.com/htmlsilverware/silver_splashstanleycup.shtml.
Hockey Hall of Fame. “Silverware: The Stanley Cup Engraving Facts, Firsts & Faux Pas.” HHOF.com. https://www.hhof.com/htmlsilverware/silver_stFFFs.shtml.

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