In 1993, the NHL honored the centennial of the Stanley Cup by giving every member of the champion Montreal Canadiens a chance to spend a day with the ultimate prize. During the summer of 1994, members of the New York Rangers gave the trophy such a beating that, starting in 1995, a "Keeper of the Cup" from the Hockey Hall of Fame has always been assigned to chaperone the big mug during its summer vacation. Since then, stories of the Stanley Cup's journeys have tended to focus on the new places it's visited, and the heartwarming ways in which players have chosen to share their moments. On occasion, there have still been reports on unusual incidents, such as during the summer of 2011 when the trophy fell off a table and was dented during Michael Ryder's visit to St. John's, Newfoundland. Still, the stories of the Stanley Cup's adventures these days are pretty tame compared to the legendary moments most hockey history fans can rattle off without much effort.
But how many of those legendary stories are true?
One of the most famous stories of Stanley Cup hijinks is the tale of the Montreal Canadiens leaving the trophy by the side of the road after winning it in 1924. No doubt the story was already well known by 1953, but that's the year that Leo Dandurand's telling of the tale appeared in "The Hockey Book" by longtime hockey writer Bill Roche:
When Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1924 by defeating Ottawa, Vancouver and Calgary in the playoffs, we were honoured by the University of Montreal in a public reception at the National Monument in Montreal.
During the ceremonies, the Cup was officially presented to the team, and all the players received mementos from the University. It is the only time in history that a professional hockey club has been so honored by a major seat of learning.
After the reception, the Canadiens went to my home for an informal get-together. Georges Vezina, Sprague Cleghorn, Sylvio Mantha and I, got into a model T Ford to make the trip. The tin lizzy stalled going up Cote St. Antoine Road in Westmount, and we all got out to push.
Cleghorn, who had been jealously carrying the hard-won Stanley Cup in his lap, deposited it on the curb at the roadside before he joined us in shoving the car up the hill. When we reached the top, we hopped back into the car and resumed our hockey chatter as we got going again.
Upon reaching my house, we all started in on a big bowl of punch which my wife had prepared. It wasn't until she asked, "Well... where is this Stanley Cup you've been talking about?" that we realized that Cleghorn had left it on the side of the road. Sprague and I drove hurriedly back to the spot almost an hour after we had pushed the car up the hill. There was the Cup, in all its shining majesty, still sitting on the curb of the busy street!"
Leo Dandurand was certainly not above stretching the truth. He is responsible for the stories (which are NOT true) that Georges Vezina fathered twenty-something children. But this story mostly matches with the historical record. The Canadiens were actually presented with the Stanley Cup at a banquet attended by 450 people at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal on April 1, 1924. However, there was another banquet two nights later hosted by the University of Montreal in which Dandurand, the players, and the Stanley Cup were again in attendance. The Gazette makes no mention of the roadside mishap in the days following its coverage of the either banquet, but perhaps other Montreal newspapers do. If anyone ever finds a report, please pass it on!
Frank Calder, president of the NHL from its inception in 1917 until his death on February 4, 1943, certainly believed this story was true. A Canadian Press report that appeared in newspapers across the country the day after Calder's death said that while many people found him gruff and even curt, once Calder got talking, he "would spin hockey tales by the hour." One of his favourites was the story of the Stanley Cup being left by the side of the road.
Interestingly, the Calder write-up touches on the other most famous tale of misadventure from the early days ... that of an Ottawa player dropping (not drop-kicking) the Stanley Cup into the Rideau Canal. Paul Kitchen, who literally wrote the book on early Ottawa hockey history, states that he has NEVER been able to find a record of this story from that time (usually said to be 1905) in any Ottawa newspaper. "Calder," says the 1943 CP report, "always maintained the story was a fable."
Another early Stanley Cup story has it that a member of the Montreal Wanderers once kept the Cup at his bowling alley, were he loaded it up with gumballs for his patrons. It's usually said that this occurred in 1910 ... but the Wanderers never actually received the trophy that year! Though they did win it, when Sam Lichtenheim took over ownership of the team he was unaware of the requirement of putting up a $1,000 bond for the Cup's safe keeping. He never did, and the team never got the trophy. Still, there might be some truth to this tale ... though it was likely several years later, and definitely a different trophy.
"At one time," says the 1943 CP report of another favourite Calder story, "one of the trophies disappeared for several years. No one seemed to have the slightest idea what happened to it.
"'I found it by luck, in a Montreal bowling alley,' recalled Calder. 'I just happened to drop in and imagine my surprise when I saw this lost NHL trophy being used by the alley owner as a water trough for his dogs.'"
So, which trophy was it?
A story in the Boston Globe, from April 13, 1927, when the Bruins were playing for the Stanley Cup for the first time against the Ottawa Senators, sheds some light. This was the first year that competition for the Stanley Cup was restricted to NHL teams. The Bruins and Senators were actually competing for three trophies, the Stanley Cup, the Prince of Wales Trophy, and the old O'Brien Trophy, first donated as the championship emblem of the National Hockey Association, by M.J. O'Brien of Renfrew in 1910.
According to the official record, the O'Brien Trophy (which actually has the name "O'Brien Cup" engraved on it) had remained with the Montreal Canadiens after their NHA championship of 1916–17 until Calder found it among the effects of team owner George Kennedy when he passed away in 1921. It was then re-donated to NHL. But according to Bruins owner Charles Adams in the 1927 Globe story, the O'Brien Cup "had been lost in bowling alleys in Montreal during the war [until it was] found by Pres. Calder." In Adams' telling of the tale, it was cats, not dogs that were drinking water from it, but this MUST be the same story. It seems pretty unlike to have happened twice!
In more recent times, Clark Gillies of the New York Islanders (1980) and Jean-Sebastien Giguere of Anaheim (2007) are known to have fed their dogs from the Stanley Cup ... but at least they'd both won the right to do so.