There's no guarantee that touching or not touching either the Prince of Wales Trophy or the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl in honor of winning your respective conference ultimately means a Stanley Cup championship is in your near future.
Just don't tell any hockey players that, as they're known to be some of the most superstitious athletes on the planet.
It's NHL tradition among players that unless you win the Stanley Cup, you never, ever touch Lord Stanley's charitable donation from 118 years ago. Just ask New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal(notes) and Carolina Hurricanes prospect Jared Staal. The two brothers have had to attend two separate Stanley Cup parties at their childhood home in Thunder Bay, Ontario, in the last four years to help celebrate titles won by brothers Eric and Jordan. The ultimate prize of the hockey season has rested comfortably on a dining room table inside their home staring them in the face and all they could do is stare right back.
The conference trophies are a different animal altogether. Sometimes they're shown love like Mike Richards(notes) of the Philadelphia Flyers did Monday night, picking it up and skating it into the locker room. Other times, the poor trophies are given the cold shoulder like Jim Balsillie at a Phoenix Coyotes Booster Club meeting. Take Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews(notes), for example. When he accepted the Campbell Bowl from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly on Sunday afternoon, it was abundantly clear that he wanted to be as far away from it as possible.
So why did Richards break tradition and Toews stick with superstition?
Richards was just keeping in line with how Philadelphia's season has gone.
"It was actually a little bit of a debate on the ice," Richards said minutes after the Flyers advanced to the Finals with a 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens in Game 5 of the East Finals on Monday. "I thought a little about it last night and my first instinct was to grab it. We haven't done anything conventional all year — especially in these playoffs — so might as well go against the grain one more time."
Blackhawks assistant captain Patrick Sharp(notes) said after Game 4 on Sunday that he and Toews discussed their plans prior to the game and ultimately decided that the bigger prize was more worthy of being touched.
So we have Richards touching the Wales Trophy and Toews leaving the Campbell Bowl alone. Obviously one of them has to win the Stanley Cup and when they do, the legend of whether or not to touch the conference finals trophy will be continued. If the Flyers win, those on the "To hell with silly superstition" crowd will continue to champion their cause for another year. Should the Blackhawks be victorious, firm believers of "Thou shalt not touch" will continue to kneel at the altar of the hockey gods.
But in the end, touching or not touching the trophies doesn't matter. After leaving the Wales Trophy on a small table at center ice of Mellon Arena in 2008 and going on to lose to the Detroit Red Wings in the finals, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby(notes) changed up the mojo last year and decided to pose for pictures with assistant captains Evgeni Malkin(notes) and Sergei Gonchar(notes) all while holding a part of the Wales Trophy.
It worked for Crosby last year, but didn't work out so well for Jarome Iginla(notes) and the Calgary Flames in 2004 when Iggy grabbed the Campbell Bowl and skated off the ice with it before they would eventually lose in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning, whose captain, Dave Andreychuk, left the Wales Trophy alone.
According to ESPN.com, since 2001, teams that have left the trophy alone have won the Cup four times and those who have touched it have lost four times.
Silly superstition? Sure. One of the peculiarities that keep the rich tradition of the NHL alive, and set the league and its players apart from everyone else? Absolutely.
- Stanley Cup championship