The Stanley Cup is often regarded as the most difficult trophy to win of all the professional (North American) sports. While the mental side of every sport yields its own respective challenges, there is simply no comparison to the physical endurance required to outlast the NHL calendar.
If the Stanley Cup is professional sport’s most illusive piece of hardware, then the Memorial Cup has to be in the same argument amongst junior and amateur level athletes. Drawing many similar comparisons from the former, the Memorial Cup presents a grind seldom witnessed outside of professional sport.
So the question is posed. Of hockey’s two Holy Grails, which is more difficult to win?
Before you so quickly jump to Lord Stanley’s Mug, consider the following, keeping in mind the young men competing for the Memorial Cup can be as green as 16-years-old.
Moving forward, the NHL’s season lasts roughly 10 months for those who attend training camp and are lucky enough to make it to the finals. Over those 10 months, the Stanley Cup champion can play anywhere from 103 – 118 games including the NHL pre-season. Additional games can include the all-star game and every 4 seasons, a possible Olympic appearance. A season in the Canadian Hockey League can last up to 11 months including anywhere from 93 – 112 games en route to the Memorial Cup final. However in the CHL, additional games may include all-star games, the top prospects game, Canada VS Russia challenge, and the annual World Junior Championships.
Travel wise, NHL clubs covered anywhere from 37, 969 miles (Washington) to 50, 208 miles (Anaheim) in 2011-12. The distance is fairly staggering but it must be kept in mind these teams travel in the utmost of class and care. Canadian Hockey League clubs do not cover anywhere near the distance, however overnight bus trips are a weekend ritual. Picturing going back-and-forth by bus from Seattle to Saskatoon. Sure, these aren’t your grandma’s buses, but it’s a far cry from the chartered jets in the pros.
Off-ice extracurricular activities are fairly comparable nowadays. Video sessions, fitness training, practices, charity and promotional events exist in the junior levels mostly on par with their professional counterparts. Also, to differentiate the two’s journeys, it comes down to mental longevity and the Canadian Hockey League boasts something unique. In the CHL you must first win a league championship before focusing on the championship.
Regardless, both historical trophies are a testament to the determination and sacrifice involved in winning hockey’s most coveted rewards.