The Harrowing History of Hockey's Holy Grail
From the top of amateur hockey to the bottom of Mario Lemieux's swimming pool, the most famous piece of hardware in sports has seen its share of highs and lows.
The oldest trophy competed for by professional athletes in North America, the Stanley Cup was donated in 1892 by governor-general Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley, better known as Lord Stanley of Preston. At the prodding of his children, the hockey-loving Englishman purchased a small silver cup from a London silversmith for 10 guineas (about $50 US at the time) to be presented to "the championship hockey club of the Dominion of Canada."
The following year, the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association became the first team to capture what was then called the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup.
In 1906 the Cup's trustees agreed to allow professional teams to challenge for the trophy, leading to a muddled era in which a host of pro leagues - including the National Hockey Association, Pacific Coast Hockey Association and Western Canadian Hockey League - pitted their champions against each other for the Cup.
By 1926 the National Hockey League stood as the game's last remaining professional loop, and its champion automatically received the Stanley Cup. This arrangement became permanent in 1947, when the NHL and the Cup's trustees signed a deal that bound the trophy to the NHL champions without obliging them to accept challenges from any rival leagues.
Since the formation of the NHL in 1917, the Montreal Canadiens have won a record 23 Stanley Cups, with the Toronto Arenas/St. Pats/Maple Leafs a distant second at 13. The Canadiens also hold the record for most consecutive championships, with five, won between the years 1956 and 1960.
The structure of the Cup itself has changed several times over the years. In its infancy, tiered rings were added periodically to the bottom of the bowl to acknowledge each year's winner. Long, narrow bands followed in 1927.
Since the Cup is the only professional sports trophy on which the name of every member of the winning team is inscribed, bands are often retired to make room for new champions. Retired bands, along with the original Stanley Cup bowl, are displayed in Lord Stanley's Vault at the Hockey Hall of Fame's Great Hall. Currently the Cup consists of a bowl, three tiered bands, a collar and five uniform bands. The trophy stands just under 90 centimetres in height and weighs a little less than 16 kilograms.
One of the great traditions tied to the Cup is that each member of the championship team is allowed 24 hours with the trophy. This arrangement has taken the Cup around the world - including trips to Moscow's Red Square, a sauna in Finland, a roller coaster in Los Angeles, a mountain peak in the Rockies and an igloo in Nunavut. It has also led to several misadventures, including an incident in 1991 in which jubilant Pittsburgh Penguins players decided to find out if the Cup would float in Mario Lemieux's swimming pool. It did not.