SUN Hockey Pool

Stanley tied forever to NHL

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:52 AM ET

Don't expect a junior hockey team near you to challenge for the Stanley Cup.

Or an Olympic champion women's team, American Hockey League team or anybody else's team, either.

The Hockey Hall of Fame has been besieged by calls since the NHL season was abandoned last week with questions about the Stanley Cup and suggestions as to how it could be awarded.

Some want it presented along with the Memorial Cup to the top junior team at the May tournament in London. Others feel the Canadian teams in the minor pro leagues should be able to challenge for it.

A grassroots movement in Edmonton called Free Stanley (www.freestanley.com) seeks to create enough pressure to restore the Cup to its challenge status and eventually go a step further -- follow the English FA Cup system where as many as 600 soccer teams from the elite Premiership to the amateurs get a shot.

With what has to rate as the most astonishing notion all, Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson weighed in with the suggestion it be awarded to the winner of a showdown between the national women's teams of Canada and the U.S.

Coming from one whose role is steeped in tradition and protocol, it's a rather astounding stance for someone whose own office has been long been the target of those seeking to eliminate the costly figurehead position. And the Stanley Cup is the soul of tradition.

The Stanley Cup was first awarded by a Clarkson predecessor, Frederick Arthur Stanley, Earl of Derby, Baron Stanley of Preston. The governor general's kids loved hockey.

Like a lot of hockey parents, Stanley got involved and asked that a challenge trophy be presented to the leading amateur team in Canada. The 10-guinea cup ($48.67 at the time) was first given to the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association.

Open to professional teams, the Stanley Cup eventually was contested solely by pro teams. Between 1917 and 1926, it was by teams from the NHL and Pacific Coast Hockey League and when the PCHL folded, it became emblematic of NHL supremacy to the present.

This is where it gets a bit complicated. In 1947, the Stanley Cup trustees agreed that the NHL have full authority to award the Cup. The Free Stanley people say the trustees of the time had no right to hand over the Cup.

They want the Cup open to challenges by Canadian university, junior and minor pro teams and have a letter-writing campaign underway to the current trustees, Brian O'Neill and Scotty Morrison.

But several things would have to happen to take the trophy out of NHL hands. The NHL would have to decide it didn't want to compete for it any longer or the league would have to fold.

O'Neill and Morrison then would be in a position to decide how it should be awarded. Despite the strife of the lockout-cancelled season, that's not likely to happen.

Free Stanley admits the trustees' decision is absolute. O'Neill is a former NHL vice-president; Morrison a former NHL referee-in-chief. The chance of their reversing more than a half-century of Stanley Cup tradition is as likely as NHL commish Gary Bettman and players' chief Bob Goodenow kissing in Times Square.

This will be the first season since the influenza epidemic of 1919 that the Stanley Cup has not been contested, so the 2,272 names engraved on it will have none added until, presumably, the spring of 2006. How the blank year will be portrayed by engravers has yet to be decided, its custodians said yesterday.

However, custodians of North American's most recognizable sports trophy would be wise to display it prominently in London during the Memorial Cup in May. A good number of the athletes participating, after all, will one day be devoting their careers to it.

And we're not going to see anyone hoisting it on high this year.


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