Group: Lockout shouldn't stop awarding of Cup

Updated: April 13, 2005, 10:21 PM ET
Associated Press

TORONTO -- A group of amateur hockey players is taking the NHL to court to determine whether somebody can play for the Stanley Cup.

The 'Wednesday Nighters' filed a claim in Ontario Superior Court on Wednesday asking it to clarify the terms under which Canadian Governor-General Lord Stanley donated the Cup in 1892. The NHL season was canceled in February amid a labor dispute.

"The fact that the NHL has suspended its play this year doesn't mean that Canadians and others don't have the right to compete for the Stanley Cup," said Tim Gilbert, the groups' lawyer.

Gilbert said Lord Stanley's intention when he donated the Stanley Cup was to have teams compete for the trophy every year, and a labor dispute shouldn't prevent that from happening.

He hopes the court will force Stanley Cup trustees Brian O'Neill and Ian Morrison to find teams to compete for the Cup.

"We do not take this lightly," said Gard Shelley, an amateur hockey player in his mid-50s. "The Stanley Cup is the greatest sports trophy anywhere, ever. It is unique and a huge part of our culture and heritage."

The 'Wednesday Nighters' initially offered to play for it themselves -- white jerseys against black -- but eventually decided that competitive teams should play for it. They don't even use goalies in their league.

"This did start off as an amusing idea after Wednesday night hockey one night," amateur David Burt said. "I'm frustrated as most hockey fans are that the NHL and the NHLPA lost the season. I don't know which side of that issue I'm on. I'm just frustrated with the fact that there is no hockey being played. I don't think that's what Lord Stanley intended. I think he had a higher purpose for his donation."

Current Canadian Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson suggested in February that if the NHL won't award the Stanley Cup this year, then it should be the top prize in women's hockey.

O'Neill declined to comment Wednesday but said the claims would be contested.

In February, O'Neill said there was no legal way the trophy could be awarded for another competition under an agreement with the NHL. He said it would only be possible if the NHL decided it didn't want the Stanley Cup anymore, or if the league went out of business.

The 'Wednesday Nighters' application is scheduled to be heard by the court July 18 -- well after the Stanley Cup is usually awarded -- but Gilbert hopes to have the date moved up to sometime in May.

This could be just the second time the Stanley Cup isn't awarded. The last was 1919, when a flu epidemic forced the finals to be called off.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press