The Stanley Cup: The Greatest Trophy In Sports

Either the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Nashville Predators will hoist the largest, oldest and perhaps most iconic trophy in the world. The NHL’s championship series sits at 3-2 in favor of the Penguins. The battle for the Stanley Cup, a 34.5-pound, 35.25-inch tall structure made of nickel and alloy that all hockey players dream of lifting above their heads. The cup has also been around for 125 years, but the one currently awarded to the champion is much different from the one that debuted in 1892.

The original version was only seven inches tall, consisting of just the cup portion that sits atop today’s trophy. Its cost was 10 guineas — equivalent to about $50. Frederick Arthur Stanley, then Governor General of Canada, implemented rules to give the trophy to the country’s top-ranked amateur team. It eventually became the NHL’s championship trophy until 1963, when league president Clarence Campbell deemed the cup too brittle to continue to award. The Presentation Cup was then created and is the well-known trophy awarded today. But yet a third Stanley Cup exists. The Replica Cup is identical to the Presentation Cup and sits in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto when the Presentation Cup is unavailable for display.

Unlike other sports, which create a new championship trophy every year, the Stanley Cup is passed from team to team each season. The names of up to 52 players, coaches, and executives involved with the championship team are engraved onto the bottom ring of the cup each summer. The cup is equipped with five detachable rings at its base. When the bottom ring is filled, the oldest ring is removed to create more space. The displaced rings, which include the names of all players to win the cup from 1928-1954, are displayed in the Hockey Hall of Fame. In total, more than 2,200 names currently dot the cup. To qualify for engraving, players must have appeared in at least half of the regular-season games or one Stanley Cup Finals contest for the winning team. Henri Richard, a Montreal Canadiens’ Hall of Famer who played from 1955-1975, holds the record with his name engraved on the cup 11 times.

When a champion is crowned, the team captain is traditionally the first to hoist the Cup and skate around the rink to celebrate. It’s then passed to each member of the team, usually starting with veterans and the most experienced players that have never won it before. One of the most famous cup lifts came in 2001 when Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic passed it to Ray Bourque. The 40-year-old Bourque had played 22 seasons before finally winning the Cup in his final year.

Following the Stanley Cup Finals, the winning team gets the cup for 100 days to pass around to the players and staff. But the cup never travels alone. The Hockey Hall of Fame-employed “Keeper of the Cup” chaperones the trophy everywhere it goes. Philip Pritchard has served in the role since 1991. He’s seen all sorts of crazy things that players have done during their promised day with the cup. Legends like Patrick Roy, Mario Lemieux, and Dominik Hasek have all attempted to take the cup swimming before watching it sink to the bottom of the pool. The cup was even used to baptize two babies, Sylvain Lefebvre’s daughter in 1996 and Tomas Holmstrom’s niece in 2008. In 1905, the Ottawa Hockey Club players became intoxicated and kicked the trophy into the city’s Rideau Canal. It spent the night in the water before being retrieved in the morning.

The Stanley Cup has been through a lot, only adding to its mystique as one of the most legendary trophies in sports history.

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Nick Ficorelli

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