This article was originally published in June, 2013.
The Stanley Cup is perhaps the most revered and respected of all the professional trophies handed out to an athlete for their accomplishments. The eclectic history of the 120-year-old silver chalice only adds to its mystique and aura. The Cup is easily identifiable to any sports fan, even to the novice or casual spectators out there. The same, however, cannot be said for the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl or the Prince of Wales Trophy, which are awarded to each of the NHL’s conference champions.
Despite their lack of prominence and respect, these trophies possess a substantial amount of historical significance to the sport of hockey. On the eve of the start to the Eastern and Western Finals, I believe a quick history lesson is in order.
The Prince of Wales Trophy
The Prince of Wales Trophy has been part of the NHL’s landscape for decades and is currently awarded to the Eastern Conference Playoff Champions. Hockey’s popularity exploded in the “Roaring Twenties.” The booming era gave rise to many of hockey’s great names, including George Vezina, Eddie Shore, Art Ross, Frank “King” Clancy and the list goes on and on and on. As for the Wales trophy, it too was born in this golden age of our sport.
First introduced by the actual Prince of Wales, the trophy was donated to a budding NHL. For those of you not very familiar with British Monarchy, the Prince of Wales is the title given to the figure next in line to become the King of England. That reason alone should be enough to at least garner a tad more respect for this historic artefact.
Now consider the similarities between the trophies birth and its existence as we know it today. Handed over to the league from a future King some 90 years ago, the Prince of Wales trophy in now awarded to a team who may be next in line to be the NHL’s next “King.”
Evolution of the Prince of Wales Trophy
The silver trophy resembles a silver ice cream shake cup which is supported on all sides by little hockey sticks. It was originally given to the Montreal Canadiens for winning the first game ever played at Madison Square Garden in December of 1925. Since then the trophy has worn many championship hats throughout the years. The following two seasons saw the “Wales Trophy,” as it’s also known by, awarded to the NHL’s playoff winner.
Then from 1927-28 through 1937-38, it was presented to the NHL’s American Division Champion, while the Canadien Division Champion skated home with the less awe inspiring “O’Brien Trophy.” From 1938-39 until the expansion era in 1967-68, it went to the leagues regular season winner. NHL expansion finally changed all that and it was once again relegated to divisional duties as the trophy awarded to the East Division regular-season winner.
In 1974-75, the royal chalice once again took on a new roll. This time as the award presented to the winner of the Prince of Wales conference. Six years later the NHL decided to drop the “Prince of” part from the conferences name and the trophy found itself in the arms of the Wales Conference champ. Finally, in 1993-94, the league adopted a more geographical approach to its conferences and the Prince of Wales trophy made its home with the reigning Eastern Conference Champions.
The Campbell S. Conference Bowl
Clarence S. Campbell was the father of modern NHL expansion. He served as President of the NHL from 1946-47 to 1976-77 and was credited with helping the game reach the level it’s at today. The Bowl is made of silver and was originally crafted in the late 1870s in Britain. If you didn’t know it was a trophy you might actually mistake it for some kind of elaborate and ornate urn. But, I assure you there are no ashes in this piece of hardware.
The Bowl has served as the counterpart for the Wales Trophy for the last 45 years and is awarded to the Western Conference playoff champion. Unlike its brother out East, it has a far less interesting past.
Evolution of the Campbell Bowl
The Bowl was presented to the league from its own teams in 1968 “for perpetual competition by the National Hockey League in recognition of the services of Clarence S. Campbell.” (NHL.com) From its arrival in the late ’60s until 1973-74, the bowl found a new home each season with the West Division winner. From 1974-75 to 1981-82, the Bowl was awarded to the Clarence Campbell Conference champions. In 1992-93 the league opted to drop “Clarence” from the conference name and the Bowl became the possession of Campbell Conference victors. A year later the Western Conference was born and the Campbell Bowl become the trophy presented to its playoff winner and it has remained so up until today.
Of course winning one’s respective conference is quite an accomplishment, but it is often of little consolation to the losing team in the Cup Finals. So much so, that players refuse to even touch either trophy for fear that it will somehow minimize or even jinx their chances of winning the real prize – the Stanley Cup. As a result of this odd superstition, both fans and media alike seem to disregard the significance of the conference titles and the subsequent awarding of each trophy.
In 2012, Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown made sure not to touch the Campbell Bowl after his team advanced to the Cup Finals. The Kings didn’t even let the Bowl on the plane ride home with them. The Kings defeated the New Jersey Devils and then-captain Zach Parise, who opted not to lay even a finger on the Wales Trophy, in six games. So who was jinxed? I guess it depends on who you ask.
I doubt I’ve done very little to change the public’s perception of these two beautiful, iconic and historic trophies, but maybe, just maybe we can all learn to appreciate what they actually mean to our sport and to the franchises that have held the honor of calling themselves conference champions.