The Day the Stanley Cup was Stolen

There are few objects in sports that inspire such reverence and awe as the Stanley Cup. The simplicity and elegance of the trophy that bears the names of all of its recipients puts championship awards from other sports to shame.

But did you know that on a cold day in December nearly fifty years ago, the Stanley Cup was almost lost forever? Let’s take a journey back to December 5, 1970: the day the Stanley Cup was stolen.

A Stanley Cup Caper

Following the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Stanley Cup championship in 1962 (one of four the Maple Leafs would win that decade), the original bowl and trophy collar of the Cup were retired and enshrined on display in the Hockey Hall of Fame. It seemed the most logical and safest place for such important pieces of history.

Tom Barrasso Pittsburgh Penguins
Tom Barrasso, Pittsburgh Penguins, 1991 Stanley Cup (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)

But, in a piece of the NHL’s lesser-known history, thieves stole the Stanley Cup, along with the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Bill Masterson Trophy, just a few years later.

The Conn Smythe and Masterson Trophies were quickly recovered by police; however, the original Stanley Cup collar would remain missing for much longer. Though it’s almost too surreal to be believed, the original collar remained at large for an entire seven years! One of the thieves even reportedly threatened to toss the Stanley Cup into Lake Ontario if her demands were not met.

But that’s where the story starts to get clouded. Officials recovered the Cup seven years later, but there are multiple stories as to how. The most popular narrative is that the police received an anonymous tip. The caller told them that a significant piece of history could be found in the back storage room of a Toronto cleaning store.

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The police arrived not knowing what to expect. What they found was an irreplaceable artifact: the Stanley Cup that had been stolen in 1970. No one knew exactly who had taken it or where it had been for the past seven years, but it was finally back in safe hands.

As popular as that narrative is, there are two other popular stories: the first states that the Cup reappeared when it was abandoned in a police officer’s driveway. The other suggests that the real Stanley Cup was safe in a bank vault all along and that the stolen object was merely a display piece for the Hall of Fame.

Whatever the real story, there’s no question that the true Stanley Cup was back in safe hands once again. And there it would stay for the following 40-plus years…

Or would it?

Lord Stanley Stolen Again?

Stafford Smythe and Harold Ballard
Stafford Smythe and Harold Ballard (THW Archives)

Seemingly safe after its theft, the Stanley Cup was almost stolen once again, this time in 1977. The story goes that seven men approached the Cup in the Hall of Fame with a large gym bag. However, an alert employee noticed the men and chased them out of the building. In their car, police found copies of the Hockey Hall of Fame floor plan and lists of the equipment necessary to steal Lord Stanley’s Cup. It had almost been lost again.

Fortunately, despite all of its well-documented travels in more recent history, the Stanley Cup has managed to remain safe, whether it be in the hands of players, executives, or on display in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The Greatest Trophy In Sports

Purchased in 1892 by Lord Stanley himself, governor-general of Canada, the silver punch bowl which became the Stanley Cup cost Stanley roughly $48, or what amounts to a little over $1,000 today. It was a brilliant investment. Though estimates vary, experts unanimously agree the Cup is the most valuable trophy in American sports, and one estimate suggests a value of over $23,000.

Clearly, the Stanley Cup has a substantial monetary value, yet its history and symbolic significance in hockey history are what make Lord Stanley’s Cup an invaluable, priceless object. Thankfully its security has improved because the greatest trophy in the sporting world is irreplaceable.

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