The Colorado Avalanche are the 2022 Stanley Cup Champions. There will be no three-peat; the Avs closed out the Lightning with a thrilling 2-1 win and took the series in six games, 4-2. As a result, the Avs bring home their third Stanley Cup in Franchise history. It’s been twenty-one long years since the Stanley Cup last resided in Colorado back in 2001, and their fans are happy to have it back! Find officially licensed championship gear at Fanatics.com and the story behind the most sought-after trophy.
The greatest trophy in sports, according to some fans and experts, is the Stanley Cup. Awarded annually to whichever team has battled its way successfully through the grueling NHL playoffs, this trophy is one of the most coveted awards in the sporting world. However, it wasn’t always that way. Before this trophy is handed out yet again, hockey fans may want to brush up on the history of what people simply and reverentially refer to as “The Cup.” Here’s an overview of more than a century’s worth of history related to the Stanley Cup.
Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley, the trophy’s namesake and Canada’s governor general from 1888 to 1893, was a British politician who bought the then bowl-shaped silver award in 1892 and donated it with the intention of giving it to the champion amateur hockey team in Canada each season. Lord Stanley became a fan of the game, which was still in its infancy, by watching an exhibition during a carnival in Montreal a few years earlier. Just as people still get hooked on the game today, one viewing of the sport made Stanley a lifelong fan.
For the equivalent of about $50 at the time, he bought the trophy from a London silversmith, and while the Stanley Cup handed out today isn’t the same one acquired from Stanley himself, this simple purchase spurred a tradition that carries on over 100 years later. Hundreds of thousands of people per year still view Stanley’s original purchase at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, where it was placed after its retirement in 1962.
The first winners of the trophy were amateur hockey teams in Canada. In 1893, a year after Stanley purchased the trophy, the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association team was the first team to win the prestigious award. At the time, the hockey landscape was only populated with amateur teams in Montreal, Ottawa, and Quebec City. It would take a while before hockey turned into the global game it’s become today. This period of amateur teams battling for the trophy lasted a little more than 20 years.
The trophy then was around 7 inches tall, much smaller than the trophy we’re accustomed to seeing today that stands at just under 3 feet tall. The Cup itself began to grow with periodic additions of rings along the bowl that featured the details of the teams that won. That system was later replaced with the bands of names ringing the current trophy, and because it’s the only trophy in sports where every winning player is featured on it, bands are retired when there’s no longer room for them and placed in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In 1904, the formation of professional leagues began, both in the United States and in Canada. The game was rapidly growing, and provinces like Ontario and Manitoba, as well as many American locations, including Michigan and Pennsylvania, featured professional teams competing against one another. However, the Stanley Cup would still only be awarded to amateur teams in and around Eastern Canada for another decade or so.
The National Hockey Association (NHA), the precursor league to the NHL, was founded in 1909 and took control of handing out the Stanley Cup from the Canadian amateur league shortly thereafter. This league, solely including Canadian teams, competed against the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA), another newly formed league, each season to win the trophy. The Seattle Metropolitans of the PCHA was the first American team to win The Cup after defeating the Montreal Canadiens in 1917. This period in Stanley Cup history lasted just over a decade until the NHL burst onto the scene.
National Hockey League Founding
The transition from the NHA into the NHL occurred in 1917, but it didn’t become the dominant professional hockey league until 1927 after the PCHA, which had already experienced some turbulence resulting in name changes, infighting, and economic troubles, folded. The first team to win the Stanley Cup in a matchup solely featuring NHL teams was the Ottawa Senators, which won the trophy in 1927 over the Boston Bruins.
The league whittled its way down to six teams, known colloquially by hockey fans as the “Original Six,” by 1942, and for 25 years, the NHL only featured the Montreal Canadiens, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New York Rangers, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Boston Bruins, and the Detroit Red Wings. Montreal is the winningest franchise in NHL history, with 24 Stanley Cup victories, and dominated this period with 10 Stanley Cups in the Original Six era. These teams remain in the league and are often revered as the most historic franchises in the sport.
In 1967, the NHL expanded by adding another six teams in Los Angeles, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Oakland, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. The Philadelphia Flyers were the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup, which they did back to back in 1974 and ’75. However, the Original Six franchises continued to dominate. The greatest individual beneficiary of this success was forward Henri Richard of the Montreal Canadiens (1955-75) who holds the NHL record for most Stanley Cups by a player with 11.
After more teams entered the league, there was more parity in competition, first signaled by four straight Stanley Cup victories from the New York Islanders from 1980 to ’83. At this point, the battle for the Stanley Cup truly became anybody’s to win, and the league now features 32 teams vying for the glory of winning The Cup each season.
Steeped in Tradition
The Stanley Cup arguably has more traditions, superstitions, and wild stories attached to it than any other award of its kind. Here are some crazy facts about the Stanley Cup that prove it’s a one-of-a-kind trophy:
- Many people working in the NHL, including managers, players, and executives, won’t touch the Stanley Cup until they’ve won it, as they believe touching it will jinx their chances of winning it, eventually.
- There have been several mistakes etched onto The Cup, including misspellings such as the Boston Bruins featured as the BQSTQN BRUINS and goaltender Jacques Plante winning five years in a row and having his name spelled differently each time.
- The trophy has an official caretaker whose full-time job is to ensure the safety of The Cup.
- The Stanley Cup, or at least parts of it, has been stolen multiple times. According to legend, the most famous incident related to its thievery occurred in 1970, when the collar of the original trophy Lord Stanley purchased was stolen and found seven years later in the basement of a Toronto dry cleaner after an anonymous tip to the police.
- Each member of the Stanley Cup-winning team, including managerial and coaching staff, now gets to take The Cup around for a day in the off-season after winning. Due to the growth of the game and the international presence of the NHL’s personnel, this has resulted in the trophy being taken all over the world.
- Many players have drunk out of the top of the trophy, but a few players used the top of the trophy for other endeavors. Legendary New York Islander Clark Gillies filled the top of The Cup with dog food and let his pup eat from it. A few players have also had their children baptized in the top of the award.
These crazy stories add to the mystique and reverence that embodies the legendary trophy. Many other stories are difficult to verify because there’s so much conjecture surrounding each tall tale told about it.
One of the most famous traditions surrounding the Stanley Cup has become the presentation ceremony immediately after a team wins the championship. After a team is done celebrating its victory on the ice, The Cup is carried out onto a platform where NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman gives a speech and hands the trophy to the captain of the winning squad. Then, each player and coach is handed the award and lifts it triumphantly above their heads, letting out all of the emotions that come with reaching the pinnacle of accomplishment in their sport.
The trophy weighs an impressive 34.5 pounds, but it often feels weightless to each player who gets to victoriously hoist it over their heads. The crowning achievement in hockey that leaves some of the toughest athletes in the world speechless or in tears and brings thousands of fans to their home team’s arena each game night in hopes of just glimpsing the award all dates back to a simple purchase more than 100 years ago. With all of that history and tradition, it’s no wonder some people call it the greatest trophy in sports.
Hockey fans can find plenty of Stanley Cup memorabilia and sports collectibles at Fanatics. If you need sports-related gear for another favorite team, like officially licensed sports apparel for all leagues, you can find it too.