Every season, 31 teams in the National Hockey League compete in an 82-game regular season and four rounds of playoffs for the opportunity to hoist the prestigious Stanley Cup in the air as champions of the hockey world.
The Stanley Cup was donated by Lord Frederick Stanley, then the Governor General of Canada, in 1892 as the trophy for the league winners of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada. Beginning in 1917, the Stanley Cup was shared between the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, the Western Canada Hockey League, and the NHL. By the 1926-27 season, it became the sole property of the NHL.
Every year since 1927, one NHL team at the end of the season gets to call itself Stanley Cup champions. Much like any other championship trophy, the winning team has the opportunity to take the Cup with them for celebration. Until very recently, there weren’t any rules for how to take care of the trophy or officials from the NHL to chaperone the trophy to make sure it stayed safe. This has led to many misadventures involving the Cup.
Stories of its crazy escapades began in the pre-NHL days of the Cup. The earliest recorded incident involving the Stanley Cup occurred in 1905. One night, after a party celebrating their championship, members of the Ottawa Silver Seven were interested in seeing if anyone could kick the Cup into the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. After many attempts, one teammate was able to dropkick it into the water, leading to the Cup sinking to the bottom of the canal. The players then went on their way as if nothing had happened. The next day, after sobering up, they all realized what they did, and they went to retrieve the Cup. Once recovered, teammate Harry Smith kept the Cup, as he was believed to be the most trustworthy member of the team.
Just two years later, in 1907, the champion Montreal Wanderers were at a photographer’s house documenting their victory. When the team left, none of them realized they forgot the Cup. The photographer’s mother found it and thought it would make a great flower pot. She buried the bottom half in her garden and put flowers in the bowl. It took several months before members of the Wanderers’ franchise realized the Cup was missing. They returned to the photographer’s house and retrieved the Cup from the garden.
Even when the Stanley Cup became associated with the NHL, these insane stories didn’t end. Possibly the most well-known example of this was the story of the Montreal Canadiens leaving it in a snowbank. With the Cup in the trunk of one of the players’ cars, the team was on its way to a party celebrating their 1924 championship. The car they were traveling in popped a tire, and they had to stop to change it. To get to the spare in the trunk, the players had to take the Stanley Cup out, and they placed it in a snowbank next to the car. They changed the tire, and they were back on their way. The only issue was that they forgot to put the trophy back into the trunk. They didn’t realize the trophy was gone until someone suggested drinking champagne out of the bowl at the top. In a panic, they retraced their steps, and they found the Cup sitting in the snowbank they left it in, untouched.
The most familiar modern adventure of the Stanley Cup occurred in 1991, when Mario Lemieux decided to take the Cup for a dip in a pool with him. When he jumped in with the Cup, he realized it was heavier than he thought, and it wasn’t buoyant. He let go of the Cup, and it sank to the bottom of the pool.
After these stories and many other stories like these, as well as attempts to steal the Stanley Cup by both fans and players while teams were in possession of it, the NHL and Hockey Hall of Fame decided there needed to be structured guidelines for teams and players when the Cup was in their possession.
After years of players asking to have personal time with the Cup, the NHL decided to make a new tradition. Starting in 1995, instead of the NHL releasing the unsupervised trophy to the winning team to do with it as they pleased, each member of the franchise (players, coaches, executives, etc.) would instead receive one day with the trophy, along with a chaperone from the league. There have been three chaperones in the history of the Stanley Cup: Phil Pritchard, Walt Neubrand, and Mike Bolt. All three are still keepers of the Cup to this day, going wherever the Cup goes.
In addition to the new “one day per person” rule, the only people that are allowed to touch the Cup are the players’ families and close friends.
Even with these new rules and guidelines, the Cup has still had interesting experiences. Only this time, the keepers of the cup have encountered them, as well.
The most interesting way the Stanley Cup has been used since Pritchard, Neubrand, and Bolt became its keepers was in 1996, when Colorado Avalanche defenseman Sylvain Lefebvre used his day with the Cup to have his child christened in the bowl of the trophy.
The most interesting place it traveled recently was in 2014, when Los Angeles Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell brought the Stanley Cup fly fishing on the Pitt River in British Columbia.
In all, the Stanley Cup has traveled to 24 different countries. It has been high in the sky on airplanes, and low on the floor of pools and canals. It has traveled on parades, to night clubs, and to sets of television shows. In its 128-year history, it has become the most well-traveled sports championship trophy in the world.
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