NHL Hockey History

Stanley Cup Origins

Origins of the Stanley Cup

The Stanley Cup is the oldest professional sports trophy with its roots in North America and one of the most prestigious sports trophies in the world.

The Cup, which is actually a silver bowl, was originally purchased by Frederick Arthur, Lord Stanley of Preston, in the early 1890s for 10 guineas. The price translated to roughly $50, a considerable sum of money at that time.

Lord Stanley was an British citizen who served as the Governor-General of Canada in the years when Canada a British colony. During his years there, Lord Stanley shared the people’s love for ice hockey and wanted to give Canada’s amateur teams a special prize for which to compete.

THERE WERE NO PROFESSIONAL hockey leagues in that era, and the Stanley Cup was reserved for the winners of Canada’s amateur championship. The first winner was the Montreal AAA team in 1893. For the next 17 years, amateur teams were entitled to “challenge” the reigning champions for possession of the Stanley Cup. A single victory would force the Cup to change hands — and many teams took possession it in those early years.

By 1910 a professional hockey league known as the National Hockey Association began managing the annual Stanley Cup competition. The trophy was now awarded to the top professional team in Canada — which might emerge from any number of smaller leagues. Some teams that would later combine to form the modern-day NHL won the Cup in this era, including the Ottawa Senators, Quebec Bulldogs, and Montreal Canadiens.

The NHL played its first official season in 1917-18, but the league did not yet control the Cup. The NHL champions still had to face the champions of the old WCHL to determine the Cup winner. NHL teams won seven of the first eight championships under this format — the lone exception being 1925, when Lester Patrick’s Victoria Cougars upended the Canadiens 3-1 in a best-of-5 series.

As the most powerful professional league in North America, the NHL finally took full-time custody of the Cup in 1926, making it the centerpiece of its annual championship series. By 1946, the NHL owned all rights to the trophy that had once been reserved for amateurs.

The names of each championship team’s players are engraved on the Stanley Cup. Over the years, several rings have been added to the Cup’s base in order to accommodate all the names.

Fans can view this symbol of hockey excellence on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, at the annual NHL All-Star Game or during the Stanley Cup Finals. The Cup has also been taken on tour across North America so that fans in all NHL cities might view it. It took its longest trip in 1997 when several members of the Detroit Red Wings brought it to Russia.