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STANLEY CUP FINALS

Lord of the Rinks

Hockey wasn't his passion, but F.A. Stanley's trophy is one of the most famous in sports

May 27, 2003|Elliott Teaford | Times Staff Writer

His is the most famous name in hockey.

By now you're probably familiar with his story. How he spent 10 guineas (about $50 in the early 1890s) on a silver cup to be awarded to the best amateur hockey team in Canada, and how, all these years later, the Stanley Cup is the most recognized trophy in sports.

Sir Fredrick Arthur Stanley, the First Baron Stanley of Preston, the 16th Earl of Derby, is his full name. But let's just call him Lord Stanley.

He was born Jan. 15, 1841 in London and died June 14, 1908. He served as governor general of Canada from June 11, 1888 to July 15, 1893.

An Internet biography indicates that during his short term, he traveled extensively in Canada and, especially, the west. He was said to be an avid fisherman and keenly interested in all winter sports. It's unclear if he was a hockey fan, however.

Lord and Lady Stanley had 10 children who spent many hours playing hockey on a rink at Rideau Hall, the official residence in the nation's capital, Ottawa. Lady Stanley is described as "an able and witty woman" and quite a fan of hockey games.

Perhaps at the prompting of his children, but certainly not because he could have envisioned what would happen in the ensuing years, Lord Stanley decided in 1892 to have a hockey trophy made by English silversmiths.

"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 club of the Dominion [of Canada]," Stanley wrote in a letter to an aide in 1892.

The cup was made in either Sheffield or London for the equivalent of $48.67 and looked like a punch bowl. It measured 7 1/2 inches high by 11 1/2 inches across. It was first awarded to the Montreal Amateur Athletic Assn., in 1893.

As the story goes, Lord Stanley never saw a championship match or the awarding of his trophy. He traveled to England to take his place as the 16th Earl of Derby after the death of his brother, the 15th Earl of Derby, and never returned to Canada.

A nobleman through and through, Lord Stanley was the son of a former prime minister. In the later years of his life he was the Lord Mayor of Liverpool and the first Chancellor of the University of Liverpool and dedicated his final years to philanthropic work.

It's uncertain whether he saw another hockey game, although it's a good bet he did witness the horse races held at his family's estate. The 12th Earl of Derby organized the first sweepstakes races at Epsom in 1780.

The Epsom Derby, also known as the English Derby, is still run over the same course of one yard longer than 1 1/2 miles and attracts hundreds of thousands of fans to the estate every year. The Kentucky Derby is named for the English classic.

Meanwhile, Lord Stanley's Cup has grown in stature -- and grown literally in the 110 years since it was first awarded. Over the years, the newer and improved version of the Stanley Cup has been treasured far beyond Canada's borders, having traveled the globe.

In many ways, it has become a symbol of hockey itself, having visited the White House, the Kremlin and, just last week, the cafeteria of this newspaper, on countless tours. Thousands of players have fought for the right to possess the Stanley Cup, but millions more have had their photograph taken with it.

Officially, the NHL and the NHL Hall of Fame are the keepers of the Stanley Cup. In 1993, a replica was made and is on permanent display in the trophy hall at the Hall of Fame in Toronto. But it belongs to the people, making it unlike any other sports trophy.

Of course, Lord Stanley could have had no idea what would happen to his trophy over the years. In fact, he probably wouldn't recognize it today. His Cup has undergone several physical transformations, with the barrel-shaped additions to the bottom of the bowl adding height, width and weight.

The modern Stanley Cup measures 35 1/4 inches in height, is 18 inches across at the base and weighs 32 pounds, although Mighty Duck captain Paul Kariya or New Jersey Devil captain Scott Stevens will soon swear it is as light as a feather. By tradition, the cup is awarded to the captain of the winning team, who takes it for a solo victory lap around the ice before handing it off to his teammates.

The names of some 2,200 players, coaches and officials of winning teams are engraved on several bands that make up the lower portion of the Cup. There are numerous misspellings, including the name of legendary goaltender Jacques Plante five of the six times it appears on the Cup. When he won the Cup while with the Colorado Avalanche, current King winger Adam Deadmarsh's name was spelled Deadmarch. It has since been corrected.

When the bands are filled with names, the top one is removed and put on display at the Hall of Fame and a blank one is added at the bottom.

Since 1995, each member of the winning team has been given a day with the Stanley Cup, doing what he will with it "within reason."

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