How the Isobel Cup got her name

Michelle Jay / NWHL

Last Saturday night, the Boston Pride made history by being the first team in NWHL history to win the Isobel Cup twice.

While the Cup is the end goal for each competing NWHL team, the name behind the trophy carries more significance than just its six short years as the championship prize. Its namesake goes back to 1875, with the birth of Lady Isobel Gathorne-Hardy (née Stanley).

That’s right, Stanley. As in, daughter of Lord Frederick Arthur Stanley, the namesake of the Stanley Cup. You could say playing hockey ran in the family.

Gathorne-Hardy and her family moved to Ottawa when her father became the governor-general of Canada. It was here she developed a love of hockey and played on a rink outside Rideau Hall.

She became one of the first female hockey players in Canada and would regularly play on the rink her father built for her and her nine siblings. A photo captured around 1890 shows her out on the ice playing hockey with a group of women. Gathorne-Hardy is hard to miss dressed in white.

Library and Archives Canada

She was also instrumental in encouraging her father to purchase and donate what we now know as the Stanley Cup.

When Lord Stanley’s time as governor-general came to an end, he and his family moved back to England. Before they left, Gathorne-Hardy and her siblings convinced their father to buy a silver cup to present to the best amateur hockey team in Canada. Now, 124 years later, the Cup has become the highly coveted championship prize in the NHL.

The name for the Isobel Cup was released before the Game 2 final in 2016, which, coincidentally, the Boston Pride had won that year as well. NWHL founder and former Commissioner Dani Rylan said in a pre-game press conference that once she heard the story of Gathorne-Hardy, using her name for the Cup was a done deal.

Part of the inscription on the Isobel Cup reads, “The Lady Isobel Gathorne-Hardy Cup 1875-1963. This Cup shall be awarded annually to the greatest professional women’s hockey team in North America. All who pursue this Cup, pursue a dream; a dream born with Isobel, that shall never die.”

There is no doubt that Gathorne-Hardy left an immense legacy behind, and every year an NWHL team emerges victorious and raises the Isobel Cup in triumph, her legacy is one that will continue to be upheld for generations to come.

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