The Seven Stanley brothers were among the best hockey players of their time: They influenced the progress of the game both in North America and Great Britain, they brought about a Royal interest in hockey that lasted nearly 100 years, and it is their family name that is still proudly borne by hockey's trophy of trophies, the Stanley Cup, one of the most famous trophies in sports.
They could skate, but knew little or nothing about hockey when they sailed for Canada with their parents in 1888. Lord Stanley of Preston, later to become the 16th Lord Derby (yes, the name given to Britain Blue Riband of the Turk and subsequently adopted in Kentucky and all ponts of North, South, East and West) had been appointed Governor General of Canada.
Arthur, a third son, a born leader, was 19 at the time. A keen all-around sportsman like his brothers, he soon discovered ice hockey, and his brothers needed no encouragement to join him in taking up the game. Along with some new-found Canadian friends, they formed a couple of teams to play on a public rink. Unfortunately, the figure skaters who had the rink much to themselves in the past resented the intrusion of the hockey players, and it was soon made plain to the "rough, uncouth youths" that they could go and play on someone else's rink.
Which is just what they did. Arthur switched the action to a private rink in the grounds of Rideau Hall, the Governor-General's residence, and formed a team called the Rebels, smartly attired in red shirts and white trousers.
In 1890 he called a meeting of like-minded persons to "pursue the idea of forming an ice hockey association." It was a very well-attended meeting, and eventually led to the formation of the Ontario Hockey Association, a powerful influence in the game to this day.
Arthur didn't stop there. He and brother Algy cornered their father and persuaded him to give a cup to the "an outward and visible sign of the ice hockey championship." A Capt. Covill was entrusted with the task, a nd purchased a squat, fluted silver bowl that matches the one on top of today's trophy. Seventy years later, when thieves stole the Cup they demanded $100,000 for its return.
There is some doubt about just how enthusiastic Lord Stanley himself was about hockey. It was at a dinner for the Ottawa Athletic Association in March of 1892 that the new trophy was announced. But there is no doubt the pleas of Arthur and Algy played a major part in the the Governor-General's decision. One of the reasons given in the official announcement was "the interest that hockey matches now elicit."
The trustees were later instructed to hand the Cup over to the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association as winners of the amateur hockey championship for the season that straddled New Year's Day, 1893.
By the time the Montrealers defended the Cup in 1894, the Stanley family was back in England, with Lord Stanley having left Canada to tend to family business when his brother passed away. Montreal defeated the Ottawa Capitals 3-1 before 5,000 spectators, a record at the time, and a contemporary newspaper account reported: "The referee forgot to see many things.
All the same, it was a great pity the Stanleys were not there to see their trophy begin its long and exciting history.
Nevertheless, the brothers' enthusiasm for the game was unabated, and in the heat of the winter of 1895 when, unusually for England, there were three months of snow and ice and the lake in the grounds of Buckingham Palace froze over from January to March, the Stanleys interested members of the Royal Family in a match.
|Ted Kennedy captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, greets Princess Elizabeth at Maple Leafs Gardens, November 7, 1951. After staging an afternoon exhibition for the royal couple, Toronto and Chicago played a regularly scheduled game that evening, and the Leafs won, 1-0.|
The Stanleys must have totally mesmerized the Prince. The Palace team scored one goal, while the Stanleys scored "numerous times." Presumably it was not thought diplomatic to record the exact number of times the Royal netminder fanned on shots.
The Stanleys did not confine the spread of the gospel to Royal circles. The Niagara Rink was the headquarters of the game in London at the time, shortly to be joined by the Princes and Brighton rinks. The Niagara club was the kingpin, but was no match for the rampaging Stanleys. Six of the brothers defeated Niagara easily, although Army duties restricted the ice time available to most of the brothers. Another brother, Victor, who became an admiral, could only play when on leave from the Navy.
Saddest of all, Arthur, the best player on the team, was forced to retire in 1894 after a bout with rheumatic fever.
The sport on both sides of the Atlantic owes much to the Stanley family. Lord Stanley is already in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Perhaps one day Sir Arthur Stanley, his third son, will join him there.