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The Stanley Cup

Infographic of The Stanley Cup

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One of the oldest trophies in all of sports, the Stanley Cup is the most sought-after prize in all of professional hockey.  Players from all over the world have been flocking to the National Hockey League for decades just for the chance to have their name inscribed on the trophy.  First awarded in 1893 to the Montreal Hockey Club, it has been handed to the NHL’s champion every season since 1926 and swelled to a height of nearly three feet and from its beginning as a seven-inch-tall cup, weighing in at almost 35 pounds due to eight extensions to accommodate over 100 champions across 33 different teams.


In the late 1880s, Lord Stanley of Preston was appointed Governor General of Canada by Queen Victoria.  Upon first seeing hockey played at the Montreal Winter Carnival in 1889, he and his family quickly became fans of the sport.  In 1892, after much persuasion by his sons Arthur and Algernon, Lord Stanley revealed a desire to create a challenge cup, for which he would donate the trophy, to determine a true champion and encourage uniform rules.  In the months following, he spent $48.67 on a decorative punch bowl from G.R. Collis and Company, commissioning the silversmith to engrave “Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup” on one side of the rim and “From Stanley of Preston” on the other.

After creating a series of rules, including those stating that winners should return the Stanley Cup in good order each year; the trophy began its ascent to the top of hockey lore when it was handed out to the Montreal Hockey Club in 1893.  A collection of teams, both amateur and professional, won the Challenge Cup over the years – but the division between paid and unpaid athletes became official with the creation of the Allan Cup for amateur hockey in 1908.  From then on, the more prestigious Stanley Cup reflected the higher standing of professional leagues for another 18 years.

In 1926, when the Western Hockey League folded, the NHL no longer had a second organization to share the Stanley Cup with.  Still, it was another two decades before the league regulations claimed the trophy as sole property of the NHL.  Since then, it has been awarded every year except 2005, when a labor issue between players and ownership shut the sport down for an entire season. It is the only time no champion was named apart from the 1919 season, when a flu pandemic cancelled the interleague competition between the WHL and NHL to determine a winner.

Perhaps due to its age, the Stanley Cup is associated with a wide number of traditions.  The oldest, according to most experts, dates to the 1896 Winnipeg Victorias, who were the first to drink champagne from the bowl during post-victory celebrations.  Further, the winning captain has skated a lap holding the trophy overhead since the 1950s – reportedly at first so the fans could get a good view of it – and, more recently, players and staff have been allowed to have it to themselves for an entire day.  Some have baptized children in the bowl, while two players (Clark Gillies and Sean O’Donnell, in separate seasons) have given their dogs the privilege of eating from it.

Best Teams

Montreal Canadiens (1956-60)

Just as the Stanley Cup was beginning to truly symbolize excellence to the casual spectator, this group of Canadiens swept to five straight triumphs on the strength of Maurice “The Rocket” Richard.  One of the most prolific scorers in NHL history, he led a slick passing game that scored in bunches.  For many, the leadership of Toe Blake, who took over prior to the 1955-56 season, is the reason the Habs won nearly a quarter of their championships under his stewardship.

Montreal Canadiens (1976-79)

Two decades later, the quick-skating Jacques Lemaire became took on Richard’s title as the tough star pulling the strings for Les Canadiens.  Masterfully slinging the puck between his wings, particularly to the highly-productive Guy Lafleur, he would later become one of three men to win the Stanley Cup as both player and coach.

New York Islanders (1980-84)

Hockey in the late 1970s and 1980s featured a few truly dominant teams, this being the second of three.  Known for solid play in the offensive third and tight defense cutting off passing lanes at the other end.  Led by captain Denis Potvin, the Isles frequently scored three or more goals during Stanley Cup Finals games during hockey’s most open era.  Finishing with four championships followed by a runners-up finish to the next group of conquerors, the Edmonton Oilers, they are the blue-and-orange sandwich between Canadian dynasties.

Edmonton Oilers (1983-90)

The backbone of these squads reads like a Who’s Who in hockey history.  The hard-working Marc Messier ran through the center with a fast and free-scoring wing by the name of Wayne Gretzky while Paul Coffey hammered opposing attackers along the back line.  Winning five of seven Stanley Cups and finishing as runners-up once, they are considered by some to be the last great dynasty in NHL history.

Most Victories

Montreal Canadiens (24)

Toronto Maple Leafs (13)

Detroit Red Wings (11)

Boston Bruins (6)

Edmonton Oilers (5)