SUN Hockey Pool

Hockey prize keeps Stanley's memory alive

IAN ROBERTSON -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:58 AM ET

Not many visitors to the Hockey Hall of Fame in downtown Toronto ask about Frederick Arthur Stanley.

But with the National Hockey League in full swing again, the Cup he donated in 1893 as the game's top trophy carries on the name 97 years after his death.

The Stanley Cup is such a coveted icon, the sight of it makes grown men weep and players shiver in anticipation of the day their names might be engraved on its base.

"I've been in the Hall of Fame when I've seen older men cry," spokesman Kelly Masse said in an interview.

"Many people don't know they can see it, have their pictures taken with it and even touch it," she said

Only winners are allowed to ceremonially lift the Cup, which stands 89.54 centimetres high and weighs 15.7 kilos, Masse said.

What is coveted isn't what was bought by Lord Stanley of Preston, the 16th Earl of Derby, son of a British prime minister and governor general from 1888 to 1893.

His 18.5-cm bowl remains under glass, closely protected at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

What keeper and curator Phil Pritchard escorted to Florida for the opening game of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the last Cup-winners, is a replica bowl on top of layers of rings bearing the names of players who won the NHL trophy.

The old bowl was retired in 1969 and is on permanent display, as are rings from the base, which kept growing as plaques were added each year since 1924. That's when the tradition began of mounting the names of winning players.

Masse said the addition of each Tampa Bay player's name after the team won the Cup in the most recent playoff final filled up the last ring. To make room, the oldest one will be removed after the 2005-06 season.

The Cup is so important, even junior players keep their hands off when they see it on display, she said. "It's a superstition ... they won't touch it unless they've won it."

First known as the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup, it cost Lord Stanley 10 guineas, equivalent then to $50.

A silver ring on the base was to be engraved with annual winning team names, but Masse said players secretly "started etching their names onto the bowl."

The first winners, in 1893, were members of the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association hockey club.

The Cup's patron never saw a championship game and never saw it awarded. Stanley's term was due to expire in September 1893, but he went home that July after his brother died and he became the 15th Earl of Derby.

During his tenure, his wife, Lady Constance Villiers, was also a keen fan of hockey, a game played at Government House by several of their sons and daughters.

A keen fisherman, Lord Stanley toured Canada extensively, but became popular after refusing to compromise the vice-regal role of political neutrality.

He put the Cup in the hands of two trustees in Ottawa. Today, according to the Hockey Hall of Fame, current trustees Brian O'Neill and Ian Morrison have "absolute power over all matters regarding the Stanley Cup."

While fans may not know who he was, Stanley's name is often associated with the game. Last Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Business Journal trumpeted "Drop the puck, Lord Stanley is watching," when the Tampa Bay Lightning showed off the Cup in the St. Pete Times Forum before the team's first game of the season that night.

After serving as Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Lord Stanley, a father of 10, died in 1908 at age 67. He was inducted into the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame in 1945 in the "Honoured Builders" category.

A 13-year-old National Hockey League adopted "Lord Stanley's Mug" in 1926 as professional hockey's top prize, two years after the players' names began to be added annually.

Except for 2005, due to the 18-month labour dispute that just ended, and in 1919, when the Spanish Flu killed 25 to 40 million people worldwide, the Cup has been awarded yearly since 1893.

Since 1994, each winning player and trainer gets to keep it for 24 hours.

The Cup is always guarded now, but has gone astray several times and was almost stolen twice.

Back home, it's shined daily, with a cloth and water.

Lord Stanley would be pleased.


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