When the Stanley Cup Champions Were Challenged

Once upon a time, hockey teams didn’t have to wait till the end of the season to challenge for the Stanley Cup.

It was possible for a team like the San Jose Sharks to contest the Pittsburgh Penguins (2016 Stanley Cup champions) at any point during their season.

Sidney Crosby
(Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

The Sharks could take the Cup away from the Penguins or Pittsburgh could be forced to defend their Stanley Cup win numerous times throughout the hockey season. Of course, these scenarios would not happen in the NHL today. The challenges happened when the teams were awarded the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup. Obviously, that particular prize would eventually be known as the Stanley Cup.

Lord Stanley

Source: Wikimedia
Source: Wikimedia

The Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup was presented to the winners because of Frederick Arthur Stanley – Lord Stanley of Preston, Earl of Derby.

The man was born in London, England in 1841. Queen Victoria had appointed him as the Governor General of Canada in 1888 and he served until 1893.

Lord Stanley became a fan of the game of hockey after attending the Montreal Winter Carnival, where he watched a 2-1 win by the Montreal Victorias over their rivals, the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association.

After this, Lord Stanley decided there needed to be something for teams to compete for within Canada. The idea was raised in 1892 at a dinner for the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Association and the suggestion was endorsed.

Lord Stanley bought the trophy for over $50.

The first-ever winner was the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association (MAAA), whose affiliate team the Montreal Hockey Club was the 1892–93 champion of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada.

According to Hockey Hall of Fame records, Lord Stanley would never witness either a championship game or his namesake trophy being presented to the victors. Stanley’s term as Governor General was to finish in September 1893. Due to the fact that Stanley’s brother, the 15th Earl of Derby, died, Frederick would become the 16th Earl of Derby. It was required that he return to the Liverpool area.

In 1945, the donation of the Stanley Cup earned Lord Stanley’s admission to the Hockey Hall of Fame as a Builder of the sport.

First Stanley Cup Winners

During the first few years of the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup’s existence, there were only amateur clubs to compete for it. The National Hockey Association began to take part in the top prize in 1910, and this is when professional teams started to get involved.

From NHL records, while the MAAA won in 1893, the challenges were not acceptable until 1894, and that was when ice conditions were suitable. The MAAA won again that year but the Ottawa Generals tried to win the Cup.

In 1896, it was the first double winner with the Montreal Victorias and Winnipeg Victorias. The Ottawa Silver Seven’s first win in 1904 was one of the heaviest contested seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings, Montreal Wanderers, Toronto Marlboros and Winnipeg Rowing Club issuing challenges. The Ottawa Silver Seven would win all of them. The Montreal Wanderers and Ottawa Senators were the last double winners in 1910.

In 1912, a decision was made by the Stanley Cup trustees (simply, these are people who care for the cup and the main responsibility of the trustees was to maintain the rules and govern the competitions). They said if any team wanted to challenge for the Stanley Cup it could only come at the end of the champion’s regular season.

The 1914 season was to be the last one to feature any kind of challenges for the Stanley Cup. The Toronto Blueshirts were the overall winners and the Victoria Cougars and Montreal Canadiens contested it, but ultimately failed.

The National Hockey Association and Pacific Coast Hockey Association decided that the Cup should be battled for by their league champions in 1915. This decision would bring to an end the challenge era and the domination by numerous teams from Montreal and the Ottawa Silver Seven, the Winnipeg Victorias, the Ottawa Senators and the Quebec Bulldogs.

Cup Retired

The Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup would officially remain as part of the Stanley Cup until the late 1960s and would be retired. The National Hockey League had taken full control of the prize in 1926 and only NHL teams had the opportunity to win it from that point on.

The Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup can still be found within the Hockey Hall of Fame.