Lord Stanley’s Dilemma by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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About this time every year, two teams, two cities, and two legions of crazy fans vie for the honor of hoisting the Stanley Cup, the holy grail of professional hockey. This year, it’s Washington (a franchise that has never won a Cup) versus Las Vegas (a franchise that didn’t even exist a year ago). Talk about theater of the absurd!

Be that as it may, this year’s Finals puts me square in the middle of a dilemma. You see, I grew up in Pittsburgh, a.k.a. the City of Champions. My Penguins have won a total of five Stanley Cups including the last two. But this year, the Capitals sent the Penguins into early estivation in the second round of the playoffs and so I have had to adopt my wife’s hometown heroes, the Washington Capitals, if I am to maintain even a modicum of interest in the chase for the Cup. That means I have to don something red every time the Capitals play, a false flag operation I use to deflect my wife’s attention from the truth of my black-and-gold heart.

 

Today’s Stanley Cup didn’t start out that way. It was originally commissioned in 1892 as the Dominion Challenge Hockey Cup and is the oldest continual championship trophy in professional sports. The Cup was rechristened to honor Lord Stanley of Preston, the Governor General of Canada who donated the Cup as a yearly award to Canada’s best amateur hockey club. The Montreal Hockey Club was the first Cup recipient in 1893; professional teams became eligible to compete for the trophy in 1906 but it wasn’t until 1947 that the Cup became the celebrated prize of today’s National Hockey League. Oh—and by the way—did I mention that the Pittsburgh Penguins have won the Cup five times? I did? Oh well…

It turns out there are really three Stanley Cups: the original Dominion Challenge Hockey Cup Bowl, the Presentation Cup given to the winning team, and the Permanent Cup which resides in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. The one we see annually hoisted at the conclusion of the Final Series—the Presentation Cup—is some serious hardware: it’s made of silver and a nickel alloy, stands nearly 3 feet tall, and weighs almost 35 pounds, but it must seem weightless to the players on the team that finally gets to lift it. The Cup’s present configuration dates to 1958 and contains a replica of the original Cup and five bands, each band capable of containing the names of players on thirteen championship teams per band. When a band is full, it is retired to the Hockey Hall of Fame and a new band is added.

The Cup’s provenance is officially regulated not by the NHL but by two appointed Trustees who serve until their death. Serious business to be sure but there is plenty of tomfoolery, too. Each championship team is allotted one-hundred days to enjoy the Cup during the off-season. During that time, each member of that team gets his own personal day with the Cup. Players have been known to sleep with it, drink from it, swim with it, use it as a dog bowl, or even baptize their children in it. I wonder what I would do with it on my day. Hmmm…

This year, I’ll admit that I have enjoyed watching my wife and her large family of rabid fans root for the Caps. As I write this, the Caps are up three games to one in the final best-of-seven series so this may well be their year. We’ll know soon enough. If it is, I’ll be happy on the outside. But on the inside is another story: revenge is a Cup best served cold with a champagne glass of wait-until-next year.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Michael Brunner says:

    “City of Champions” ??? Let’s compare. Major sports championships. Pittsburgh – 16. Boston – 36.

    I will now light my victory cigar.

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