The Coveted Holy Grail of Professional Ice Hockey
Every year the Stanley Cup trophy is awarded to the team who wins the National Hockey League playoffs championship. From its humble beginnings as an award for Canada's top ranking amateur ice hocking club, it has become one of the most coveted trophies in professional sports leagues.
The origin of the famous Cup is attributed to Lord Stanley of Preston. Appointed in 1888 by Queen Victoria as Governor General of Canada, Stanley and his family became fans of ice hockey while watching a game during the 1889 Winter Carnival in Montreal. At that time there weren't many organized hockey leagues in Canada. Stanley and his sons got involved in the sport and formed a new team called the Ottawa Rideau Hall Rebels and later helped form the Ontario Hockey Association.
A trophy was needed to acknowledge the victory of a hockey championship, and Stanley's idea of a challenge cup to be awarded each year to the top amateur hockey team in Canada was born. Made of silver in Sheffield, England, Stanley purchased a decorative punch bowl and inscribed the words "Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup" and "From Stanley of Preston" on opposite sides of the outside rim of the bowl. He donated the trophy in 1892 and was first awarded in 1893 to the Montreal Hockey Club.
A new Stanley Cup trophy is not created every year so the Cup winners can only keep it until a new champion is crowned. Another tradition that makes the Stanley Cup unique is that the names of all the winning players, coaches, management, and club staff are engraved on its chalice.
During the 1890s, hockey leagues that played for the trophy had no playoff system to decide the final champion. The usual practice was that the team who finished first after the regular season won the league title. That changed in 1894 when there was a four way tie between teams from the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada. The Stanley Cup playoff games were established as the tie-breaking system.
The Stanley Cup became the trophy of professional hockey when in 1908 the Allan Cup was introduced as the trophy for Canada's amateur hockey teams. Some amateur teams like the Montreal Hockey Club and the Montreal Victorias turned professional and soon after in 1910 the National Hockey Association was formed.
The Cup would not stay Canadian for long. After an American team named the Portland Rosebuds joined the Pacific Coast Hockey Association in 1914, the trustees of the Cup decided the trophy should be awarded to the best team in the world. Although the Rosebuds were the first American team to play in the Stanley Cup Final, the Seattle Metropolitans were the first American team to win the Cup in 1917. The National Hockey League then replaced the National Hockey Association after that season.
The only two times the Stanley Cup was not awarded was in 1919 during the Spanish flu epidemic and in 2005 during the NHL lockout. The original bowl purchased by Lord Stanley is displayed in the vault room at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario.