The most recognizable, sought-after and celebrated trophy in all of sports can inspire a fountain of tears one day and be viewed as a fountain of youth on another.
Two years ago, the mere sight of the Lord Stanley’s Cup being presented to the Blackhawks made Jeremy Roenick break down and cry. In 2002, the Cup made an aging legend feel like a kid a again when the Red Wings defeated Carolina and Detroit coach Scotty Bowman, 68 at the time, repaired to the locker room before returning in a pair of skates. Bowman then waltzed across the Joe Louis Arena ice with hockey’s Holy Grail before announcing his retirement from the coaching ranks and skating off into the sunset.
Just what is it about this 120-year old, 34.5-pound piece of silver and nickel that inspires such intense responses and makes NHL players willing to give their eyeteeth for it?
Maybe it’s because you don’t just win the Stanley Cup, you become a part of it. For all-time. Every player who is part of a Stanley Cup championship team has his named engraved on the trophy for posterity. Each member of the winning team also gets to spend a day with the Cup at a place his choosing.
Originally a decorative punch bowl, the Cup was purchased at a cost of $48.67 in 1892 by the Lord Stanley of Preston, who was Governor General of Canada from 1888 to 1893. Lord Stanley had become a devotee of the sport after his two sons had formed a team called the Ottawa Rideau Hall Rebels. Lord Stanley wanted a challenge cup that the best teams in Canada could compete for on an annual basis. The Montreal Amateur Athletic Association was awarded the first Cup in 1893.
While the Stanley Cup has always stood as a symbol of hockey excellence, its appearance has changed over the years. The original Cup had just one ring around its base, where winning teams could engrave the names of players, coaches and staff members.
In 1902 the first ring on the bottom of the Cup ran out of room for names and, in 1909, a second band was added. Over the years, additional bands were added to allow more names to be engraved, and the Cup began to resemble the exhaust pipe of a stove, earning the nickname the “Stovepipe Cup.” A 1958 redesign gave the Cup its current look.
Although the Stanley Cup was originally awarded to Canada’s top amateur hockey team, National Hockey League teams have competed for the prize since 1926.
Having his name stenciled into the Cup is every player’s dream. A player must have played in 41 regular season games or played in at least one game of the Stanley Cup Finals to be eligible to have his name engraved on the trophy.
Montreal’s Henri Richard has his name carved into the Cup 11 times, the most of any player. The name of Montreal’s Jean Beliveau appears on the Cup 17 times, 10 as a player and another seven as a member of the Canadiens’ management team. The Canadiens hold the record for most wins as a team, having won the Cup a remarkable 24 times.
The engraving is one of the details that make the Cup so special. Each September, the Cup is sent to Boffey Promotions, a wholesale giftware shop in Montreal, where the names of the most recent winners are added. A list of no more than 52 names, submitted by the NHL, are then inscribed on the Cup by official engraver Louise St. Jacques. The entire process takes about 10 hours, spread out over a week or so. Each name takes about a half hour to engrave.
Over the years, there have only been four official engravers. Despite their best intentions, 11 engraving errors have made their way onto the Cup. Hall of Fame goaltender Jacques Plante had his name engraved five different ways, while Montreal’s Bob Gainey had his last name spelled “GAINY.” Most of the errors have gone uncorrected, although former Kings Manny Legace (Detroit) and Adam Deadmarsh (Colorado) both had their names corrected after being misspelled LAGACE and DEADMARCH, respectively.
Superstition and the Stanley Cup go hand-in-hand. Out of respect, most NHL players refuse to touch the Cup until they have won it. Tradition is a huge part of the Cup’s appeal, too.
At the completion of the Stanley Cup Finals, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman presents the winning team’s captain with the Stanley Cup. Since 1947, when Red Wings captain Ted Lindsay lifted the Cup and took a spin around the Olympia in Detroit, it has been custom for the winners to take a celebratory victory lap around the rink.
During the ensuing off-season, each member of the winning team is entitled to one day with the Cup. The tradition, which began with the 1994 New York Rangers, takes the Cup to all corners of the globe. Although the Kings would become the first Los Angeles-based team to claim the Cup, they would not be the first West Coast team to earn the honor; that distinction belongs to the Vancouver Millionaires, who won it in 1915. Two years later, in 1917, the Seattle Metropolitans become the first American team to win the Cup.
When Kings President Business Operations Luc Robitaille won the Cup as a member of the Detroit Red Wings in 2002, he said the feeling was surreal, like nothing else he had ever experienced.
“When it happens, when you are holding the Cup,” Robitaille said, “it is an unbelievable feeling. It’s hard to explain. You work your whole life to get there and once you do, you can’t believe it’s really happened.”
Robitaille is a Montreal native, but he spent his day with the Cup in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles. He says there is one thing that could surpass the pride he felt that day in the summer of 2002 when he brought the Cup to Southern California for a daylong visit.
Robitaille, along with everyone else in the organization, wants this year’s Kings to become the first team to make Los Angeles the Stanley Cup’s yearlong home.