Mar 182010
 

THE PERFECT PARTING GIFT

Thank you, Lord Stanley, for your whimsical gift to hockey. Thanks too, to your sons Algernon and Arthur, and your daughter, Lady Isobel Stanley, for their involvement in the game as players. Women’s hockey owes a great debt to Lady Stanley.  All of you hockey-playing Stanleys were true pioneers of the game. You experienced the joy of playing the game on your own little outdoor rink in Ottawa. You learned the skills of skating and stickhandling and the thrill of scoring goals. Without you Stanleys–without your passion and your influence—well, there never would have been a trophy named the Stanley Cup.

When you reached the end of your term as Governor General of Canada (1888-1893) it was kind of you, Lord Stanley, after heeding the pleas of your children and others, to donate a small silver bowl to “the amateur hockey champions of Canada.” Too bad you couldn’t have lived another hundred years or more. You would have been amazed at all the commotion your gift has caused, the passion and excitement it has created, not to mention the controversies.  In time, the Cup trustees permitted professional teams—and American teams—to compete for your trophy. You could never have predicted that your small silver bowl, purchased from Collis and Co. in London for approximately $50, would become one of the most avidly sought trophies in the world of sport. Nor could you have conceived that teams would travel thousands of miles, and spend millions of dollars in desperate efforts to claim it.  How proud you would be, Lord Stanley, if…

How proud you would be, Lord Stanley, if you could see teams from Florida to California, from Montreal to Vancouver, their rosters loaded with multi millionaire players from many nations, battle through several weeks of gruelling playoffs every spring–with millions of avid fans watching on a device we call television—and with hundreds of thousands more paying outrageous prices for tickets to the games—just to get their hockey mitts on your coveted gift to the game. I’m sure you would shake your head in disbelief if you knew teams from Tampa Bay and Raleigh, North Carolina (named after your countryman, Sir Walter Raleigh, the explorer who brought tobacco and potatoes back to England), and a team from faroff Anaheim, Californiayes, California, sirwere recent winners of your coveted trophy.

Your original bowl, I might add, has grown considerably since 1893, when you instructed an aide to purchase it for you in England—for what was it?—a mere fifty dollars.

We all regret, Lord Stanley, you were recalled to England  before you  even saw a Stanley Cup playoff game. But you did encourage your fellow Brits to take up the game. Why, on your return, you even captained a team of Stanleys in a game played on thin ice against members of the Royal Family behind Buckingham Palace. And whipped all those Dukes and other Lords handily.

But poor chap. You  never got to applaud your favourites—the Ottawas—as they triumphed time and time again.  You can’t possibly know it, sir, but you have the distinction of being the only man inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame who never witnessed a Stanley playoff game. Never saw a single Cup  goal scored.

As Canada’s Governor General from 1888 to 1893—that means you were the Queen’s representative to the Dominion, right?—you and your wife even donned skates from time to time to join your friends and family on a well-maintained sheet of natural ice next to your mansion—Government House in Ottawa. Those must have been fun times, playing shinny with members of your family. Two of your sons, Arthur and Algernon, became so skilled they played with a touring hockey team—the Rebels.

Sir, I found a photo in the National Archives of your daughter, lady Isobel, playing hockey with her friend Lulu Lemoine (what a lovely name) and other ladies on that sheet of ice. Lady Isobel played the game wearing a long white gown. Surely it’s the earliest photo ever taken of a female player.

Lord Stanley, you may or may not be pleased to know that the moneyed moguls of a 30-city league in North America—the National Hockey Leaguenow have full control of your gift to “amateur hockey in Canada”. But rest assured your trophy has a safe home, where countless fans come to gaze at it—awestruck. They stare in wide-eyed wonder at it, then move on to marvel at its descendant, the “new” Stanley Cup, with more than 2,200 names engraved on its gleaming,  elongated surface. You would be proud to know, sir, that your gift to the game is revered throughout the world.

Yes, Lord Stanley, your little bowl, now old and brittle, sits safely in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Back in the sixties, a Montreal silversmith made an exact replica of your handsome gift. The replica sits atop a huge base on which the names of all the champion players are engraved. It looks really smashing, sir. You would be amazed.  Your name was engraved on it  in 1945 as Stanley of Preston, Lord, There are two other Stanleys on the Cup—Allan Stanley and Barney Stanley. I don’t imagine they are related to you.

Yours is now the oldest championship trophy among all the team sports—seven years older than the Davis Cup for tennis?  The Montreal Canadiens have won your Cup a record 23 times and a lightweight Montreal centerman, Henri Richard, has his name engraved on your Cup a record number of timeseleven. A former Boston  defenseman, sturdy Raymond Bourque competed for it the most number of seasons—21. A slippery sniper named Wayne Gretzky—he might remind you of One-Eyed Frank McGee from your era—holds most of the individual Stanley Cup records, including most goals (122), most assists (260) and  most points—382. His friend Mark Messier, is close behind in all three categories.

Today’s winners are incredibly well compensated for their efforts. If I revealed their salaries, Lord Stanley, you’d be doing “spinneramas” in your grave.

Thankfully, countless fascinating stories have been chronicled about the chase and capture of your gift to hockey. Like the one about the Montreal players, en route to a victory party, who once placed your Cup on a street corner while a flat tire was being changed–then drove off without it! Another time, on a dare, an Ottawa player drop-kicked your Cup into the Rideau Canal. Come to think of it, you may find some of the tales to be disrespectful of the Cup, but celebrating players, in their joyous enthusiasm, do get carried away at times, a bit reckless perhaps. Boys will be boys and all that. I hope you understand.

I’m sure you’d find most of the Cup stories I’ve collected enjoyable, perhaps even  fascinating.

There are so many stories.

There was the time a rink manager in Ottawa flooded the ice with two inches of water before a Stanley Cup match, even though, because of a warm spell, there was no hope of the water freezing. He figured it would slow down the visiting team from Kenora—and it did.

The time King Clancy played every position on a team—including goaltender!  The time a referee quit and went home, right in the middle of a Stanley Cup game, the time a manager put two goalies in the net, the time a Montreal team hired a special train to get a star player to a game in Ottawa on time. The player, employed by some firm, couldn’t leave until his workday ended. The time Chummy Hill scored a playoff goal in Winnipeg— with half a puck!

So many stories, Lord Stanley.

If you knew the full history of your famous Cup, surely you’d say, “By Jove, that little bowl I presented has been involved in some astonishing escapades. I never dreamed it would become so important, so precious, so coveted by so many people.”

It really has, Lord Stanley. It really has.

Speaking for hockey fans everywhere, I thank you.

Brian McFarlane

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