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Writing hockey history

by Archives October 7, 2008

Few people, few players ever get to say they’ve made an indelible mark on the game of hockey. For Louise St. Jacques, writing hockey history is just another day on the job.
With the Montreal Canadiens’ still chasing their 25th Stanley Cup, fans will no doubt entertain visions of Lord Stanley of Preston’s fabled cup winging its way to Montreal for the team’s 100th season.
Little do many fans know that each year for the last quarter century, the Cup has already made an annual pilgrimage of sorts to Montreal.
For over 25 years, hockey’s greatest prize has returned yearly to Boffey Promotions, a small shop located on St. Francois-Xavier Street, near the Old Port. The Cup is delivered to the silversmith shop and placed in the care of St. Jacques, who will literally write hockey history. Actually she’ll engrave it on the trophy, adding another chapter to 115 years of hockey lore.
In 1893, Governor General of Canada Lord Frederick Stanley purchased a decorative bowl from the London Silversmith G.R. Collis and Company, for 10 guineas; approximately US$50. The words “Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup” were engraved on one side of the bowl’s rim, and “From Stanley of Preston” was engraved on the opposite side. This bowl would become one of the most recognizable trophies in professional sports.
St. Jacques is only the fourth official engraver of the Stanley Cup since its commissioning. She has been engraving the cup since 1988, when Wayne Gretzky and his Edmonton Oilers claimed the most coveted trophy in professional hockey, sweeping the Boston Bruins.
“It means a great deal to me [to be the official engraver]. It’s one of the nicest trophies in sports and it’s quite an opportunity to have the Stanley Cup and engrave it every year. It’s almost a privilege,” said St. Jacques. “Some people dream of just touching it, and having the opportunity to engrave it every year is quite something.”
Being from Montreal, St. Jacques hopes to transcribe the Canadiens’ roster onto the final ring of the cup this year. “Any team is still going to be very nice to engrave, but if the Canadiens win it, it will make it even more special.” The Canadiens have won only one cup since St. Jacques has been engraving Lord Stanley’s Mug.
Every September, the Hockey Hall of Fame delivers the Stanley Cup to St. Jacques’ second floor studio. The cup is accompanied by a list of names of the winning players, coaches, management, and club staff, which has been pre-approved by the National Hockey League. St. Jacques then begins the task of etching the names with surgical precision, 1/32 of an inch deep into the sterling silver of the holy grail of hockey.
During the engraving process, the hollow cylindrical Cup is dismantled from top to bottom, separating the bowl, the neck and the five rows of rings that make up the 89.54 cm tall, 34-pound trophy. The bottom band is the one that features the names of the newly crowned champions. The band is placed on a circular jig that creates a steel background for the stamping of the names. St. Jacques then uses special hammers with varying head weights to strike a letter-stamp against the silver and nickel alloy band. St. Jacques must engrave no more than 52 names on the space allotted to each champion team. Completing the spread is a tall order – it takes approximately 10 hours spread over a period of five days or so. Each name takes approximately a half hour to engrave. The meticulous engraver usually completes three names before taking a break from the nerve-racking process.
In 1993, St. Jacques created the Stanley Cup duplicate. The replica is used as a stand-in whenever the authentic version of the Cup is not available at the Hockey Hall of Fame. That means double the work for her. She must engrave the real Cup in September, while the duplicate sits in the Hall of Fame in Toronto. Once the presentation cup is engraved, the duplicate is then sent to Boffey. But the work doesn’t stop there. Boffey also creates the 13-inch replica Cups given to players and other team officials, and is the official engraver of all the NHL trophies.
St. Jacques insists on having a very tranquil environment in her shop during the process. “I just want to make sure there are no mistakes, I don’t want to be disturbed in any way. The phones are off, the music’s off; and away I go.”
According to St. Jacques, the worst thing that can happen is to make a mistake. The sterling silver is soft, so it would be possible to correct mistakes by banging the letter from behind, however this would be very time consuming. Still, the Cup is no stranger to mistakes. Although Jacques Plante won five successive cups with the Habs beginning in 1956, his name is spelled differently each single time. In 1974-1975 Bob Gainey’s name was misspelled as Gainy.
Since she began, St. Jacques has engraved 891 names on the trophy. The winning team’s general managers usually oversee the engraving of the Stanley Cup. So, if the Canadiens do go all the way this year, you can imagine Gainey will make sure his name is spelled correctly this time around.

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