You will excuse the Prince of Wales Trophy and Clarence Campbell Bowl if they are feeling a little neglected these days. On Saturday night the Chicago Blackhawks won their third Western Conference Championship. Predictably, Jonathan Toews avoided touching the Campbell Bowl and had this to say about it, “Three conference finals we won in recent years, we haven’t touched it. It’s been a good record so far, so knock on wood, hopefully it pays off again”.
Steven Stamkos says "I asked around" about whether to touch the Prince of Wales Trophy.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) May 30, 2015
The Tampa Bay Lightning did the same thing a night earlier with Steven Stamkos also snubbing the hardware. You can only imagine the jealous rage that Wales and Campbell must have for that Stanley guy.
It didn’t used to be this way
Denis Potvin accepted the Wales Trophy in 1982 and 1983, when it was first awarded to playoff conference winners. Previously, the trophies were awarded to regular season champions. Potvin raised the trophy and went on to win his 3rd and 4th Stanley Cups. Mario Lemieux lifted the Wales Trophy in both 1991 and 1992. The Penguins went on to win two Stanley Cups.
That used to be the norm. Players like Messier, Yzerman, Stevens and Sakic have all touched their respective conference trophies and won championships.
From 1982 to 2003, only three instances could be found where conference champion captains avoided touching their trophy. That is just 3 out of 44 over 22 seasons. How did those three superstitious captains do? They all lost in the Stanley Cup Final.
Eric Lindros was the first memorable award rejecter. In 1997 he awkwardly refused to even look in the trophy’s general direction, as though it was a Quebec Nordiques jersey. The Flyers were swept 4-0 by the Red Wings and their trophy-touching captain, Steve Yzerman.
Two years later, Buffalo Sabres captain Mike Peca did not touch the Wales Trophy. Their opponents were the Dallas Stars. Although Darien Hatcher did not lift the Campbell Bowl, he did touch it. Dallas would go on to win the cup by a toe.
Then in 2003, Paul Kariya and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks did not touch the award but lost to the New Jersey Devils. Scott Stevens raised the Wales Trophy for the 4th time and won his 3rd Cup.
The legend of the jinx grows
Then it all changed in 2004. Dave Andreychuk decided not to touch the Wales Trophy while Jarome Iginla did touch the Campbell Bowl. Tampa Bay went on to defeat Calgary to win the Stanley Cup. That was the tipping point when the trophy-touching jinx began to take on a life of its own.
In the subsequent 11 seasons (2004-2015), 18 out of 22 captains have not touched their conference trophies. After Iginla, Daniel Alfredsson of the Ottawa Senators touched the Wales Trophy in 2007. His teammate Wade Redden also picked it up. They lost to the Anaheim Ducks after Scott Niedermayer ignored the Campbell Bowl.
Sydney Crosby famously had a change of heart in 2009. In the previous year, he did not touch the Wales Trophy but lost to the Detroit Red Wings. The second time around he raised the trophy and would go on to win the Stanley Cup.
The last captain to touch a conference trophy was Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010. His opponent, “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews, has never touched the Campbell Bowl after a conference victory. His Chicago Blackhawks went on to win their first of two (and counting) championships.
Results say it doesn’t matter
If both teams touch or don’t touch the trophy in the same year, they are just cancelling out each other’s good or bad karma. However, there have been seven seasons when only one team touches their conference trophy. The team that touched it has won four times (1997, 1999, 2003, 2009). The team that avoided touching the trophy has won only three times (2004, 2007, 2010). Every bit of logic will tell you this jinx is nothing more than an irrational myth.
You should go ahead and enjoy your conference win with a trophy victory lap. However, this is playoff hockey and everything matters, from players growing beards to putting the right skate on first. Meanwhile, fans wear the same shirt and sit in the same chair as they did for their team’s last victory. The results say there is no merit to this conference trophy jinx. However, the phenomenon will likely be around for years to come.