Published in the summer 2012 issue of MyLIFE magazine
First, a brief introduction to the world of National Hockey League (NHL) professional hockey. Ice hockey is considered to be the fastest game on Earth—and one of the most highly physical.
The game is played by six players on each team—three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie—who wear razor-sharp skates and travel at speeds of 20 to 30 mph on a hard frozen ice surface measuring 200 feet long by 85 feet wide. The ice is surrounded by sideboards and extended panels of Plexiglas to keep the puck in play and to keep the fans safe. Players are equipped with wood or composite-material hockey sticks they use to propel a frozen black rubber puck that is 1 inch thick and 3 inches in diameter and can reach speeds of more than 100 mph. The intent of the game is for one team to secure the puck, travel the length of the ice to the opponent’s end and score a goal by putting the puck into the net.
While this hard-fought and fast-paced sport can result in a variety of injuries, NHL players are a tough, durable group, and they are committed to their teammates. It’s simply amazing what hockey players will do to play the game and to stay in it, even in the face of inevitable bumps and bruises.
You want to talk about guts, grit and glory—the “one for all, and all for one” hockey mentality? Hockey players live and play by these words. In 1964, during game six of the Stanley Cup Final between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings, Bobby Baun of the Maple Leafs scored the winning goal in overtime to tie the series, 3-3, and force a decisive seventh game. What’s so notable about this goal is that earlier in the game, Baun was helped off the ice after breaking his ankle. Hearing that the game was going into overtime, he demanded (and if you knew Bobby Baun, you listened!) that his ankle be frozen and taped so he could return to the game for the overtime period. And in doing so, he scored the winning goal.
HISTORY OF THE NFL
The founding era of the National Hockey League spanned the period from 1917 to 1942. During the subsequent Original Six era, which ran from 1942 until 1967, just six teams made up the league: the Montreal Canadiens, the Boston Bruins, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Detroit Red Wings, the New York Rangers and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Expansion era started with the 1967–68 season, when the NHL expanded for the first time since the 1920s to include the Los Angeles Kings, the Minnesota North Stars, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the California Seals and the St. Louis Blues. The Modern era began in 1992, when the NHL added another 18 teams.
Canada has seven teams and the United States has 23, but players in the NHL come from more than 20 countries around the world.
The regular NHL season consists of 82 games, not including preseason games, with as many as 28 highly physical, exhausting and bone-crunching playoff games.
Why do grown men risk so much to have their name engraved on a piece of silver and alloy? Well, folks, it is Lord Stanley’s Cup.
In 1892, the trophy—then known as the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup—was purchased in London, England, and donated by Canada’s governor general at the time, Lord Stanley, as an award for Canada’s top-ranking amateur ice hockey club. Subsequently, in 1926, the Cup became the championship trophy of the NHL.
The Stanley Cup is considered by many professional athletes to be the most sought-after championship trophy in professional sports. It was first awarded in 1893 to the Montreal Hockey Club. It is the oldest professional sports trophy in North America, and during the course of almost 120 years it has been called The Cup, Lord Stanley’s Cup, The Holy Grail and Lord Stanley’s Mug—a name given to it for the legendary tradition started in 1896 by the Winnipeg Victorias, who dictated that members of the winning team must drink champagne from it after their victory.
With the Cup come many traditions and, in some cases, superstitions. Some hockey players believe that no player should ever touch the Cup until his team has rightfully won it. No one other than the winning Stanley Cup team is allowed to hoist it over their head. NHL caretakers of the Cup wear gloves when handling the trophy, so that the first fingerprints on the trophy for that year are the fingerprints of the captain of the winning team, who is presented with the trophy after the team wins the season playoff.
Headed by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, the league has headquarters in New York City and Toronto. The NHL Hall of Fame is located in Toronto.
Bettman was born in Queens, N.Y., and since 1993 has been making great contributions to the sport while overseeing NHL operations. He expanded the league to 30 teams, recently signed a major U.S. broadcasting partnership worth $2 billion with Comcast and NBC and introduced the now-legendary Winter Classic hockey game. The Winter Classic is now played annually on New Year’s Day to sell-out crowds on an outdoor rink and is part of the NHL’s regular-season schedule. Under Bettman, the league’s annual revenue has grown from approximately $400 million to more than $3 billion.
“The Stanley Cup is the most revered and historic trophy in sports, and it is my annual privilege to present it to the captain of our championship team,” Bettman tells MyLIFE. “The presentation of the Cup represents the crowning moment of a long and challenging season, and I always have marvelled at the intensity of the emotion displayed by the team captain when I place the Cup in his hands. That moment symbolizes everything that is great about sports and about our players.”
Each season, all members of the Stanley Cup winning team (including players, coaches, management and club staff) have their names engraved on a panel on the barrel of the Cup. This annual practice is synonymous in North America with only one other major trophy—the Gray Cup for the Canadian Football League. Unlike most other professional sports trophies, a new Stanley Cup is not made every year. Instead, the Cup is awarded to the winning team for the coming year, until a new NHL playoff champion is crowned, at which time it is presented to the captain of that team, to once again be hoisted.
Ted Lindsay, captain of the 1950 champion team, the Detroit Red Wings, became the first captain to take the Cup on a victory lap around the rink. Since then, it has been a tradition to have each member of the winning team skate with the trophy hoisted above his head. The captain passes the Cup to the next player after he has taken his lap, and the victory lap continues until all players of the winning team have had their chance to skate with the Cup. After the victory lap, the players, team managers, coaches, trainers and staff head to center ice, where a team photo is taken with the Cup that will be placed in the record books for eternity. Today’s Cup, topped with a copy of the original bowl, is made from silver and nickel alloy; it stands approximately 35“ high and weighs nearly 35 pounds.
A new tradition was established in 1994 that allows each member of the playoff-winning team to take personal possession of the Cup for a 24-hour period. This means that the Cup is frequently on the road, traveling throughout North America and around the world.
THE CUP HAS HAD SOME HUMOROUS MOMENTS OVER THE YEARS:
In 1924, members of the Montreal Canadiens, en route to celebrate their win at owner Leo Dandurand’s home, left the Cup by the road after repairing a flat tire. A day later, the Cup was recovered exactly where they left it.
During the 1940–41 NHL season, the mortgage on Madison Square Garden, which was the Ranger’s home arena, was paid off. The management publicly celebrated the occasion by symbolically burning the mortgage in the Cup. Some fans claimed that this act desecrated the Cup, leading to the “Curse of 1940,” which allegedly caused the Rangers to wait 54 years before winning the Cup another time.
In 1957, Maurice “The Rocket” Richard chipped both of his front teeth while drinking from the Stanley Cup.
In 1964, Red Kelly of the Toronto Maple Leafs posed for a photo with his infant son sitting in the Cup, only to find that the child had urinated in it. Kelly was quoted years later as saying it always made him laugh after that to see players drinking out of the Cup.
In 1987, Mark Messier from the Edmonton Oilers took the Cup to his favorite club in his hometown of St. Albert, Alberta, and allowed fans to drink out of it. It wound up slightly bent in various places for unknown reasons. It was repaired at a local automotive shop and shipped back to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Cup went on a visit to wounded U.S. marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C., with Glen Wesley after his Carolina Hurricanes won in 2006.
In 2007, the Stanley Cup arrived in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on a Canadian C-130 Hercules aircraft. Seventeen former players played a hockey game versus Canadian soldiers on a concrete rink in the Afghan desert.
It is also tradition for the president to invite American teams from the NHL, with Cup in hand, to the White House. The Cup has been a guest at the White House during the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. If a Canadian team wins, the prime minister invites the championship players to Ottawa—however, there has been a slight dry spell for this tradition, as no Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since the Montreal Canadiens did back in 1993.