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This Day in Sports History: The Stanley Cup is Born

One of the most storied trophies in sports was conceived exactly 128 years ago. 

Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley, the Governor General of Canada and Hockey Hall-of-Famer, announced on March 18, 1892 that he'd donate a trophy to be awarded to Canada's top amateur ice hockey team. He later purchased a silver bowl for 10 guineas, a roughly $50 value at the time, inscribed it as the "Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup" and donated it to fulfill his commitment. 

Now named after Lord Stanley, the Stanley Cup stands as the oldest existing trophy of professional sports in North America. 

The Stanley Cup has been the NHL's championship trophy since 1927, but it first served as the award for the winner of the Challenge Cup, in which several Canadian amateur teams competed. The first Cup was a bowl made of silver that was 7.28 inches high and 11.42 inches wide, now on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame. The Montreal Hockey Club was the first-ever team to receive the Cup in 1893. 

The competition expanded in 1906 and began allowing professional teams to compete for the Cup. It later became the trophy for the yearly championship game between the National Hockey Association (NHA) and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) in 1915 and the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL) in 1922. The NHA, which later became the NHL, was the only professional league remaining after both the PCHA and WCHL folded, bringing the Stanley Cup to its current home in 1926. Other leagues and clubs continued to issue challenges for the Cup, but the NHL reached an agreement with Canadian trustees to be granted control of the Cup, allowing it to reject any other challengers. 

The Stanley Cup has been awarded every year since its creation except for 1919, due to the Spanish flu epidemic, and 2005, due to a league lockout. 

The current Cup includes a replica of the original silver bowl, is 35.25 inches tall and weighs 34.5 pounds. Since 1924, the silver and nickel alloy has been engraved with the names of players and staff from each championship team. While a new band was added nearly every year until 1940, the Cup started to grow too high, leading to a reduction of the bands in 1947 and the final configuration in 1958—five bands that each hold 13 championship teams.

Once the bottom band of the Cup is filled, the oldest one is removed and preserved at the Hockey Hall of Fame. A new band is then added to the bottom for the next championship teams, keeping the Cup at the same five-band height. The Montreal Canadiens have been engraved on the Cup a record 24 times. 

When a team wins the Stanley Cup, it keeps the trophy during the summer and for a limited number of days during the season. The curator at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Phil Pritchard, always travels with the Cup, as he's done for the last 30 years.  

The St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history last June.