It is the greatest trophy in sports, at least in my humble opinion. It is the Stanley Cup, something every budding hockey player hopes to one day hold.
Today, teams spend millions of dollars for the chance to win the Stanley Cup but back in 1893, it was a simple fruit bowl.
In this episode, I am going to look at the first-ever Stanley Cup Series, held in 1894.
The first Stanley Cups series begins with the man himself, Lord Stanley of Preston, the Governor General of Canada.
Stanley had first seen hockey at the 1889 Winter Carnival in Montreal. The Montreal Gazette reported that he quote:
“Expressed his great delight with the game of hockey and the expertise of the players.”
Stanley decided to donate a silver bowl that was initially known as the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup, which would be awarded to the best amateur hockey club in Canada.
On March 18, 1892, Stanley sent the following message to the three-time champion Ottawa Hockey Club, who were celebrating at Russell House Hotel in Ottawa.
“I have for some time been thinking that it would be a good thing if there were a challenge cup which should be held from year to year by the champion hockey team in the Dominion of Canada. There does not appear to be any such outward sign of a championship at present, and considering the general interest which matches now elicit, and the importance of having the game played fairly and under rules generally recognized, I am willing to give a cup which shall be held from year to year by the winning team.”
The cost of the decorative punch bowl would be $48, or about $1,400 today. He then had the words Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup engraved on the outside rim with “From Stanley of Preston”
On May 1, 1893, the name Stanley Cup was first used in an article by the Ottawa Journal which stated in bold letters as the headline “The Stanley Cup”
It reported quote:
“The Governor General, in accordance with a promise made last year, has given a hockey challenge cup to be held from year to year by the winning team in the Dominion.”
The first team to win the Stanley Cup were the Montreal Hockey Club, who earned the Cup on March 17, 1893 as they were the AHAC champions. No official series was played for the Stanley Cup. That would come a year later.
The team that year was led by Tom Paton, who had joined the team when it was formed in 1885. Today, he is considered to be the goaltender of that early era and someone who would have won the Vezina Trophy. In 1890 and 1891, he was undefeated. After Montreal won the Stanley Cup in 1893, he retired as a player and became the first goalie to retire from Stanley Cup hockey competition as a champion. While it is hard to rate statistics from that time, he played 41 games in his career, finishing with 34 wins, six losses and one tie. He also had six shutouts and a goals against average of 1.61.
Despite winning the Stanley Cup, the Montreal Hockey Club was not given possession of the cup until almost a year later. The Montreal Gazette reported on Feb. 23, 1894 quote:
“The trustees of the Stanley hockey challenge cup learn that through an accidental misunderstanding the cup has not yet come into the possession of the Montreal Hockey Club, whose team last year won the championship.”
In 1894, after four teams in the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada tied with a record of five wins and three losses, there was a need to deal with who would be the champions and earn the Cup. No tiebreaking system was in place at the time in the league.
The Montreal Gazette reported quote:
“The hockey men were in session last night, and they had important business to transact. It was no less than the discussion of the conditions which will in future govern the hockey championship of Canada as typified by the cup donated by the last Governor General of Canada and entitled The Stanley Cup.”
After a long negotiation, a three-team tournament would take place between the Montreal Victorias, the Ottawa Hockey Club and the Montreal Hockey Club. The Quebec team had withdrawn from contention.
The first Stanley Cup game was played on March 17, 1894 between the Montreal Hockey Club and the Montreal Victorias at Victoria rink.
The Montreal Hockey Club won the game 3-2. The ice conditions were not very good according to most reports, but the game was considered to be exciting nonetheless.
The Montreal Hockey Club had no one of note on the team, despite their dominance against another teams. As for the Montreal Victorias, they had the future Hall of Fame player Mike Grant, who is regarded as the first defenceman to rush forward with the puck. Although his first season was 1894, and he was still a rookie when he played in the first Stanley Cup playoff game. Things would work out for him though. From 1894 to 1902, his entire playing career, he would win the Stanley Cup five times with the Montreal Victorias.
On March 22, the Montreal Hockey Club played the Ottawa Hockey Club for the Stanley Cup.
The Ottawa Journal states quote:
“The ice was not very bad, although there was some water on it. Perhaps this assisted the Ottawas, as on keen ice the Montrealers are thought by many to be the faster team. However that may be, the ice last night was good enough for the very best hockey and the very best hockey was shown.”
Many Montreal fans were in the building to show their support for the team, but the local Ottawa fans were in greater numbers, cheering on their team in the hopes it would capture the new trophy.
Ottawa would take the lead at the 12 minute mark of the first period. Within minutes, Montreal evened the score. The Ottawa Journal stated quote:
“The cheering at this nearly raised the roof.”
The score settled at 1-1 after the first period. The Ottawa Journal continues its description of the game quote:
“So far the game had largely been defence for Ottawa. The queer turn that now was to come was that Ottawa should gain the better of the play and lose the match. The famed Montreal luck was to come in strong.”
The second period was a wild affair. At one point, Sam McDougall was laid out when his head hit a stairway projecting out on the ice, while another player got cut so bad on the wrist that a doctor had to sew it up before he could go back on the ice.
The Ottawa Journal continues quote:
“Young and Kirby were simply phenomenal. Young in the opinion of many put up the finest defence game ever witness in hockey. He was everywhere and always in the right place, nothing could pass him if he had half a chance at it. Kirby was the star of the forward lines on both sides.”
By the end of the second period, Montreal was up 2-1. The Ottawa Journal continues quote:
“On resuming play, the most desperate hockey of the night was shown with the Ottawas still having slightly the call but a quick side lift by Barlow at a sharp angle twittered through goal a couple of minutes later and Ottawa’s chance was gone. The men from the capital played up gallantly still but could do nothing in the few minutes that remained and time was called without another score.”
That goal by Barlow is credited as being the first Stanley Cup winning goal in hockey history. Barlow would be given a ring for winning the Stanley Cup, which is now on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
With the game ending 3-1, the Montreal Hockey Club repeated as Stanley Cup champions, taking the first ever series played for the Cup.
The Ottawa Journal writes quote:
“Thus ended the most exciting hockey season on record, and one which has established the game in Canada in popularity only second to lacrosse. The Montrealers by their victory win both the hockey association cup and the Stanley Cup.”
Once again, the Montreal Hockey Club had no one of future note, but Ottawa had Harvey Pulford, who would eventually be one of the first nine people inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1945. He would play his entire career with the Ottawa Hockey Club, which would become the Ottawa Senators, the first hockey dynasty. He was the captain of the team when it became the Ottawa Silver Seven and won the Stanley Cup in 1903, holding it for three straight years.
The Montreal Hockey Club would hold onto the Stanley Cup until 1896, when the Winnipeg Victorias unseated them as champions.
The Stanley Cup would eventually be awarded to professional teams and in 1926, only teams in the NHL could compete for it.
While the original trophy was only seven inches, it is now 36 inches and weighs 35 pounds. The trophy has also become a treasured national icon of Canada.
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Biographi, Wikipedia, NHL.com, History.com, Montreal Gazette,