MONTREAL – A Stanley Cup guardian says it would be a shame to see the historic trophy mothballed if the National Hockey League season is cancelled.
Howard Borrow thinks that perhaps allowing non-NHL teams to compete for hockey’s Holy Grail wouldn’t be such a bad idea, if the lockout eventually wipes out the 2012-13 season.
Of course, such a competition would have to be approved by the Stanley Cup’s trustees, added Borrow, who stressed that he doesn’t have the authority to make such a decision.
“I guess it would be exciting to try to have some kind of a mock tournament or something, where maybe somebody else might win it,” Borrow said in response to a reporter’s question Thursday at a Cup event in Montreal.
“People have always dreamed about maybe winning it, even if they don’t play at the NHL level. It would be kind of fun, I guess.”
The prospect of another lost season raises the question: Does the Stanley Cup, a gift to the people of Canada and a piece of the national heritage, remain the exclusive property of a private New York-based company, the NHL?
Fans have suggested putting the cherished piece of hockey hardware up for grabs at an amateur contest or even an international tournament.
The trophy, after all, was a gift to be awarded to the top hockey team in the Dominion of Canada — long before the NHL began presenting it to its annual champion.
“The Cup doesn’t really belong to anybody, it almost belongs to everybody,” said Borrow, who was in Montreal to escort the trophy to a surprise event for a peewee hockey team.
“So, technically it could be played for.”
But Borrow doesn’t know if it would ever happen.
He said organizing another competition for the Cup could be a difficult undertaking and he believes that most Canadians would prefer to see an NHL club win it anyway.
“It’s been such a long history of the NHL playing for it, I don’t know if it would be right to have anybody else play for it,” said Borrow, one of four official Cup keepers provided by the Hockey Hall of Fame to travel with the trophy.
“But it’s always a nice dream… to have.”
In September, one of the Cup’s trustees said they have the legal authority to allow non-NHL teams play for the chance to hoist the trophy.
But Brian O’Neill, a former NHL vice-president, said he had no intention to do so out of concern such a champion would “demean” the trophy.
Since 1893, only two situations have prevented the Stanley Cup from being awarded.
The first, in 1919, was due to an outbreak of the Spanish flu.
The trophy was again shelved for a year during what was supposed to be the 2004-05 NHL season. It was cancelled due to a lockout.
Created in England, the Cup was originally presented to the Canadian people in 1892 as a gift from then-governor general Lord Stanley — the representative to Canada of Queen Victoria.
To be clear, the original Cup is sitting in an old bank vault in Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame. A replacement Cup has been awarded to NHL teams for decades.
Trustees eventually handed over control of the trophy to the NHL under a 1947 agreement, which was revised in 2000. It stated the Cup could not be awarded to a non-NHL team in the case of a lost season.
A couple of Toronto hockey fans launched a legal challenge during the 2004-05 lockout to amend this aspect of the deal between trustees and the league, which led to an out-of-court settlement the following later.
The beer-league hockey players didn’t want to see Lord Stanley’s Mug put on ice again over the quarrels of millionaires.
At the Montreal arena that hosted the trophy earlier this week, opinions about the fate of Cup in the event of a cancelled season were far from unanimous.
Many of the 11- and 12-year-olds on Les Elites, the hockey team selected through a Scotiabank initiative to spend time with the Cup, supported the idea of letting non-NHLers battle for the legendary prize.
“For sure, it would be fun because they would replace the NHL while they’re in a lockout,” said Benjamin Fillion, minutes after he spent time reading the names on the Cup.
His teammate, 11-year-old left-winger Kinsly Parent, said it would be “cool” to let junior players compete for the trophy.
“At least other people would get to raise the Stanley Cup instead of just people in the NHL,” Parent said.
The head coach of Les Elites agreed.
“Of course, I would love to see amateur teams compete for the Stanley Cup,” Valerio Desiato said. “It’d be great for hockey.”
But other team members, including assistant coach Vince Desua, thinks the Stanley Cup should be exclusive to the NHL.
“There’s something that just wouldn’t mix with that,” he said.
Goaltender Luca Armenio said having weaker players compete for the Cup wouldn’t be the same: “Yeah, there could be (a non-NHL competition), but it’s going to be boring.”
Borrow, who has worked as a Cup handler for nearly four years, said he hopes the lockout will end soon to ensure there will be 2012-13 NHL champions to lift the trophy.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed and I’m sure it will all get worked out.”