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Trophy Date

The Stanley Cup has been around the world, left by the road, and held food for a dog. That's why it's so cherished.

June 04, 2002|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Babies have been christened in this silver chalice that grown men with sticks fight to possess.

Traditional ethnic meals have been served from it.

Animals--real ones, not just NHL team enforcers--have eaten from it.

It has been stolen by disgruntled Montreal fans, and bounced off the edge of a swimming pool. It has been to a mountaintop and it has traveled to Finland, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Australia and Japan. It drew larger crowds than Lenin's tomb during a visit to Red Square.

It has gone fishing, and has been to a strip club--at least once.

The Stanley Cup, hockey's equivalent of the Holy Grail, has traveled and been used for more things than its donor, Lord Frederick Arthur Stanley of Preston, England, the governor-general of Canada from 1888 to 1893, ever dreamed of.

The nine-time champion Detroit Red Wings and the upstart Carolina Hurricanes begin the Stanley Cup finals tonight in their crusade to take home what is perhaps the most hallowed trophy in sports, and certainly the most colorful.

At 110 years, the Stanley Cup is the oldest professional sports award, but that cache is secondary to the symbolism embodied in the silver bowl that stands on a nearly three-foot base that was added in the 1940s.

It's the only professional sports trophy awarded to those who actually do the work.

The winners of the Super Bowl and World Series may have rings to flash. But the team owner is handed the championship trophy in each of those sports, with new trophies doled out each year.

In hockey, the players who earn the Stanley Cup get the Stanley Cup. The trophy is returned to NHL officials each October and is presented to the new champion. After victory, etiquette calls for the cup to be handed first to the winning team's captain, who traditionally circles the ice with the cup hoisted high for fans to see.

Later, the trophy will be etched with the names of every winning player. What follows is a tradition that sets the Stanley Cup apart from all other honors in professional sports:

Each player from the winning team gets to spend a day with the Stanley Cup and do with it what he pleases, "within reason."

Sometimes, "within reason" gets tested.

When Lord Stanley ordered the silver hockey trophy crafted in 1892, he could never have imagined the journeys it would take, or the antics it would endure.

This cup runneth over with tales of, well ...

Cup of Nourishment

"When you talk to guys about what they want to do with the cup, it all relates back to how they got to where they are today," said Phil Pritchard, director of hockey operations and curator at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, which assigns one of its members to accompany the cup at all times. "Whether it was a defining moment in their youth or something that is important in their life. It's usually something personal."

Brent Severyn of the Dallas Stars planned for years what he would do. When the Stars won in 1998-99, Severyn took the cup to Vegreville, Alberta, a town of 5,000 founded by Ukrainian immigrants. There, his grandmother made pirogi, mashed-potato-filled turnovers that were served from the cup.

"Whenever my parents came to visit me ... they always brought me pirogies," Severyn said. "They knew it was my favorite food. I thought it was fitting to have them from the cup."

Of course, some meals have not been deemed fitting for the king of cups. The New York Islanders' Charlie Gillies caused a furor in the 1980s when he allowed his dog to eat out of it. Times do change, though. In 1994, no one seemed to mind when the New York Rangers' Eddie Olczyk let a racehorse eat out of it.

But mostly, players use the cup to celebrate with those who supported them along the way to victory, or take it to a cherished spot.

When New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur had his turn in 2000, the goalie took the cup home to Montreal, blocked off neighborhood streets and held a hockey tournament. The winners held the cup for an hour. That evening, Brodeur took his children, and the cup, to the movies, where they all ate popcorn from its bowl.

His teammate, Scott Niedermayer, haggled with the NHL to take the cup to the top of British Columbia's Fischer Peak--9,300 feet above sea level. The league relented, and Niedermayer took a helicopter to the top and spent half an hour there, posing for photos with the cup.

"From Cranbrook, where I live, it's the landmark you can see from town," Niedermayer later explained.

Cup of Mischief

Lord Stanley paid 10 guineas--$48.67 in Canadian dollars at the time--to have the 16-kilogram trophy made by silversmiths in England, either Sheffield or London; where, exactly, isn't clear. He wanted to help fuel the growing sport of hockey.

"I have, for some time, been thinking it would be a good thing if there were a challenge cup, which should be held, from year to year, by the champion hockey club of the Dominion," Stanley wrote in letter to an aide in 1892.

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