Three Special Trophies, Three Slices of Canadian Hockey
Spring is the time of the year that all hockey fans from both sides of the border are focused on the Stanley Cup. Rightfully so, as it’s a championship trophy steeped in tradition and represents the best professional league in the world.
Up here in Canada, however, we have two other trophies that are contested each and every year and are coveted in their own right. I'm talking, of course, about the Memorial Cup and the Allan Cup.
All three trophies are competed for in the same manner: a lengthy season, then several rounds of best-of-seven playoffs. The winner for each championship series celebrates in the same way, by drinking out of the cup that they just won.
This tradition has been longstanding. It is a very unique and special feeling that is played out in many dressing rooms across Canada. It doesn’t matter whether the team is young or old, professional, junior, or minor hockey, or whether it is a Slurpee, soda pop, beer, or champagne being consumed in the dressing room, the players don’t care because they are drinking out of the championship cup.
I was coaching a nine-year-old spring hockey team a few years back and we won the big spring tournament that we had entered. We were presented with a huge trophy with an equally big cup.
I didn’t waste any time. I took that trophy to the concession stand and had it filled with Slurpees. I must say, the result was some of the best hockey-related celebration pictures ever. Brain freeze never felt so good!
Of course we all know about the Stanley Cup with its history and its traditions. The Stanley Cup has been awarded annually since 1893, with the exception of 1919, the Spanish Flu epidemic and the NHL lockout season of 2004-05.
If you are unfamiliar with the other two major hockey trophy races in Canada this year, let me bring you up to speed. The Allan Cup has already been awarded and the Memorial Cup is being played right now in my hometown of London, Ontario.
The Allan Cup was first awarded in 1909. It is presented each year to the Senior Men’s National Amateur Champions. This trophy’s history is as deep as the Stanley Cup but unfortunately it has lost a little lustre over the past number of years.
There was a time back in the day when there were many top Senior teams could beat some NHL teams on any given night. For much of the 1900s, the team that won the Allan Cup represented Canada at the Olympics and the World Championships, so as you can imagine there was a lot at stake when it came to the finals.
What is neat about the Allan Cup teams both then and now is that they represent small town Canada or in many cases, the rural areas. To be star on many of the Allan Cup teams brought you the same local notoriety as you got by playing on a NHL team.
Today in the NHL, there are 30 teams. Before the league doubled in size in 1967, there were only 6 teams. Back in the Original Six days, where do you think many of the remaining players went to play, if they were not in the minor leagues? Europe wasn't an option back in those days. So the players went the Men’s Senior League!
In fact, although the players were classified as amateurs, many were given jobs by the various teams in the league. There were a number of top players that were making more playing in the Senior league then they would have if they were playing on the fringes of the NHL. Of course the difference was that they had to “work” for their money.
I don’t have any personal experience with the Allan Cup or the Senior league, but several of my older Alumni buddies did and it’s great to sit back over a beer and listen to their stories.
My Junior B coach, Ted Powers, was regarded as one of the best players in all of Canada even though Ted never played in the NHL. He opted to play Senior hockey and take the job that came with it.
The Memorial Cup was first awarded in 1919, it is awarded to the top Junior team in Canada. There are many who think that the Memorial Cup is the most difficult championship to win from season to season. The NHL Entry Draft happens every year and every team losing some of its best players to the pro ranks or to aging out of junior hockey eligibility. That’s what makes this trophy so hard to win. Teams are always rebuilding.
The origins of the Memorial Cup are quite unique. The Memorial Cup was created simply to honour the young Canadian Hockey players that had lost their lives while fighting for Canada in the First World War. The Cup was to be awarded to the best Junior team in Canada to commemorate what those men gave for their.
Currently, the Memorial Cup is awarded following a four team round robin tournament between a host team and the champions of the Canadian Hockey Junior League. A total of 60 teams are represented in the three leagues and all of the teams are eligible to compete for the Cup.
I never won the Memorial Cup during my junior playing days nor did I even get to participate in one. However, I have been involved in three Memorial Cups in off-ice capacities recent years.
On three separate occasions, I have been asked to be a part of the bidding committee that bids on hosting the Cup and all of the festivities that surrounds it. Twice, I was a part of the Ottawa 67’s bid to host and once I was a part of the London Knights committee. We were successful in our bids to host the Cup twice in 1999 and in 2005 with London; we lost the bid to host in 2002.
The neat thing with being a part of the successful bids was that both times the hometown team that was hosting the Memorial Cup won the championship. Of course, it was not as good as being on the ice and being presented with the Championship trophy and I didn’t get to drink out of the Cup in the dressing room with my teammates. Nevertheless, I must admit that the beer did taste a little better after those wins, even if I was sitting behind the scenes with my fellow bid committee members.
Ever since I retired as a player, I have learned that there is more than one way to be a part of a successful team.