The origins of the Stanley Cup can be traced back to a simple thought muttered aloud by Lord Stanley of Preston, Governor General of Canada, during an Ottawa sports banquet in 1892:
“I have for some time been thinking that it would be a good thing if there were a challenge cup, which would be held from year to year by the leading hockey club in Canada. There does not appear to be any outward sign of a championship at present, and considering the interest that hockey matches now elicit, I am willing to give a cup which shall be held annually by the winning club.”
A year later he brought the idea to life by purchasing a silver bowl for fifty bucks (at the time he called it the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup, but hockey players coined it the Stanley Cup) and in the beginning it was considered a “challenge cup” so it was not exclusive to one hockey league. The first winner of the Stanley Cup was actually a Montreal Amateur Athletic Association team that won the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada, which was a top hockey league at the time.
As amateur hockey began to take a back seat to the up and coming professional leagues, the Stanley Cup became exclusive to the pros when the National Hockey Association took control of it in 1910. As we discussed in the Mark Rivkin Hockey post on the History of the NHL, the National Hockey League emerged as the undisputed top pro hockey league by 1926, thus gaining possession of the Stanley Cup, which became exclusive when the NHL reached an agreement with the cup’s trustees in the late 40’s. The original Stanley Cup bowl was awarded annually to the champions until 1970, when it was retired to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and a replica has been used since.
Now every year, each player and front-office member from the winning team gets to spend a day with the Cup before turning it over to their championship successors.