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A century of the Cup.

"NINE-TEEN NEV-ER! Nine-teen nev-er!" came the raucous chant from the Nassau Coliseum cheap seats. New York Islander fans were having fun at the expense of the New Jersey Devils--and why not? For years, the Islander faithful have delighted in tormenting long-suffering New York Ranger rooters with the mean-spirited, but totally appropriate, rink-rattling jeer of "Nine-teen for-ty! Nine-teen for-ty!" --the last year in which the inept Broadway Blueshirts won the Stanley Cup. The Devils, of course, never have taken home Lord Stanley's ultimate prize, thus the Jersey twist on the old Ranger albatross. Islander followers have reason to gloat. While recent times have been lean on Long Island--both in terms of hockey titles and economic solvency--the Isles nevertheless are one of only four franchises ever to win four consecutive Stanley Cups.

Holding on to hockey history can be a comfort, especially this season, as the Stanley Cup--the oldest professional team trophy in the Western Hemisphere--celebrates its centennial. Unfortunately for the sport's traditionalists, the NHL is trying to force-feed the dawning of a new era. Its rookie commissioner (NBA import Gary Bettman) is preaching the commandment of nonviolence and espousing the virtues of bottom-line economics, all the while hoping to turn North America's most gritty game into a spring version of the Super Bowl on ice--endless Madison Avenue profiteering with the sloth-bellied sportswriters coming along for the ride. Still, even Bettman and his marketing minions can't dull the luster of Lord Stanley's Cup, first awarded to the Montreal AAA club in 1893.

"Victor/Victoria"

Three years later, it was the 19th-century Valentine's version of "Victor/Victoria" as the Winnipeg Victorias victimized the Montreal Victorias on Feb. 14, 1896. The day before New Year's Eve of that same year, Montreal reclaimed the Cup from Winnipeg, the first of four straight finals triumphs, the last of which again matched the "opposing" Victorias. The Winnipeg version earned its second "Victor-y" in 1901 and again in 1902, before regaining its bridesmaid status in the next two championship contests.

The old franchise names evoke memories of a time when games were played outdoors with no boards, no subs, and certainly no Zamboni. Among the Stanley Cup winners in the early years of the 20th century were the Ottawa Silver Seven and Ottawa Senators (certainly no relation to today's expansion flops); the Vancouver Millionaires (who says salary escalation is a modern problem?); the Victoria Cougars (just what is Victoria's secret to success?); the Toronto St. Pats, Arenas, and Blueshirts, respectively (and later, the Maple Leafs); the Montreal Canadiens (of course) as well as Mt. Royal entries called the Wanderers, Maroons, and Shamrocks; and Seattle Metropolitans (the first U.S. team to cop the Cup).

Even more interesting, perhaps, are the colorful nicknames of those who fell in the finals: the Ottawa Victorias and Moncton Victories, Rat Portage Thistles, Toronto Trolley Leaguers and Marlboros, Brandon Wheat Kings, Dawson City Nuggets, New Glascow Cubs, Edmonton Eskimos, Berlin Union Jacks, Port Arthur Bearcats, Portland Rosebuds (did they every play the Thistles?), and Calgary Tigers.

Nineteen-nineteen--the year baseball's World Series was tainted forever by the Black Sox scandal--was the only time the Stanley Cup went unclaimed. Montreal and Seattle called off their title-deciding encounter because of the influenza epidemic that left thousands dead all across the U.S. and Canada.

Undying hopes

Stanley Cup hopes, however, never die--not even for the Nineteen-Nevers of this world. After all, 13 of the NHL's 24 teams never have sipped victory champagne from the punch bowl-shaped symbol of hockey excellence. The Rangers' purgatory of 53 years is the longest stretch without a title, but the Detroit Red Wings have waited 38 seasons, Chicago Blackhawks 32, Toronto Maple Leafs 26, and Boston Bruins 21.

The modern-day dynasties, quite naturally, are grabbing most of the hockey headlines during the centennial celebration. Moreover, the tales of their exploits are still quite fresh. The Edmonton Oilers won five Cups between 1984 and 1990. Before the Islanders enjoyed their 1980-83 run, the Montreal Canadiens also won four years in a row (1976-79), not quite matching their forefathers' feat of five straight, as the Habs had everyone's number from 1956 to 1960. Les Habitants also pushed their way into the record books with four Cups from the mid 1960s till the end of the decade, as did the Maple Leafs with a four-time celebration between 1962 and 1967. One wonders if those Toronto teams were as good another four-time titlist, the Leafs of 1947-51. And how would they have fared against the reigning Red Wings of 1950, 1952, 1954, and 1955, or the dominating Ottawa Senators of 1920, 1921, 1923, and 1927?

Hockey, however, need not rely on its past for popularity, the new hierarchy notwithstanding. The Pittsburgh Penguins, two-time defending Cup champions entering the 1992-93 campaign, may be the ice kingdom's latest--and perhaps greatest--dynasty in the making. Or they could go the way of other repeat champs who faded into memory after relinquishing the throne. In another 100 years, when Lord Stanley's enduring gift to hockey commemorates its bicentennial, the NHL's most fervent followers finally will know if the Pens' legacy did indeed withstand the test of time.
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Title Annotation:Stanley Cup
Author:Barrett, Wayne M.
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:857
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