Saturday, 11 July 2009

Lady Byng: The Lady Loves Hockey

In continuing with our look at how NHL trophies came to be, we need to examine the origins of the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, perhaps the only trophy opposite of what we think hockey players should be when on the ice. The Lady Byng Trophy is awarded annually to "player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability" in the NHL. While sportsmanship is highly encouraged, the trophy annually goes to a player with an amazingly low total of penalty minutes - opposite of the tough hombres that generate headlines and highlights with their aggressive play. So how did such a trophy come about? Who is Lady Byng? What is interesting about this trophy?

The trophy itself is named after Marie Evelyn Moreton, known as Lady Byng, who was the wife of the 12th Governor General of Canada, Lord Julian Hedworth George Byng. Lady Byng was born on August 11, 1870 in London, England to parents Sir Richard Charles Reynolds-Moreton and Janie Ralli. Sir Richard Charles Reynolds-Moreton was comptroller at Rideau Hall, the residence of the Governor General in Canada.

In 1897, Miss Moreton met Major The Honourable Julian Byng who, in Moreton's words, seemed to have different depending on the day,

"When we met of a morning out riding, if he was free, the fun began – though it wasn't always fun for me because I was bewildered, as he was never the same two days running. Talk of women being mutable – he could have given points and a beating to any one of them! On Monday he would be in his most enchanting mood; Tuesday he would treat me as a pal and a man; Wednesday he would hardly remember that I existed; Thursday he would be icily polite; Friday he would thaw a little and by Saturday be back in Monday's delightful mood! What could anybody make of such vagaries?"
The Byngs would travel extensively due to Major The Honourable Byng's military service, spending periods of time in places such as South Africa, India, England, Egypt, and France - the latter where he led the Canadian forces in battle to victory at Vimy Ridge.

On August 2, 1921, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George appointed then-retired General Byng (official title of General The Right Honourable The Lord Byng of Vimy) as his representative in Canada, thus making him the Governor General of Canada. Byng's position allowed he and Lady Byng the privilege to travel across Canada, meeting the people and immersing themselves in the culture of the country. It was here where the Byngs developed a passion for the game of hockey, particularly for the hometown Ottawa Senators. It is said that the Byngs never missed a Senators game, enjoying the fast-paced action of the early NHL.

After falling in love with the game in the early years of their living in Canada, Lady Byng donated a trophy in 1925 to the NHL which would be called the Lady Byng Trophy in her honour. She awarded the first Lady Byng Trophy to Ottawa Senator Frank Nighbor at Rideau Hall where she presented him the newest trophy in the NHL's collection for being the NHL's most gentlemanly player. Nighbor accepted, and the tradition of awarding it annually began.

The original Lady Byng Trophy was given to Frank Boucher of the New York Rangers by Lady Byng after she was impressed with him winning it seven times in eight years from 1928-35. The only year he lost it in that span was in 1931-32 when Joe Primeau of the Toronto Maple Leafs won the trophy. Because Boucher was given the trophy, Lady Byng donated another trophy to replace the first one. Lady Byng continued to award the trophy to NHL players annually until she passed away on June 20, 1949.

With Lady Byng passing, the NHL created another trophy and began awarding the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy - the trophy that the players receive today. The original trophy given to Frank Boucher was lost in a fire at Boucher's home in 1962. The second trophy now resides in the vault at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Now that you know how the trophy came to be, let's take a look at some of the interesting facts about the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. The winners are determined through voting by the members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA):
  • The Lady Byng Trophy has been awarded 84 times to 50 different players since 1925.
  • Frank Boucher of the Rangers has won the most times, with seven wins under his belt. Wayne Gretzky won five times, and Red Kelly and Pavel Datsyuk have won four times each.
  • The New York Rangers, paced by Boucher, have won the award 15 times, the most in NHL history. The Detroit Red Wings have 14 Lady Byng Trophy winners, and Toronto sits third all-time with nine Lady Byng Trophy winners.
  • Only two defencemen have ever won the Lady Byng Trophy, and both players played for the Detroit Red Wings. Defenceman Bill Quackenbush (1948-49) was the first blueliner to earn the trophy, and Red Kelly was the other. Kelly won the Lady Byng Trophy three times - 1950-51, 1952-53, and 1953-54.
  • No goaltender has ever won the Lady Byng Trophy in NHL history.
  • Frank Nighbor of the Ottawa Senators was the first centerman to win the Lady Byng Trophy in 1924-25, the first time it was ever awarded.
  • Gordie Drillon of the Toronto Maple Leafs was the first right winger to win the award. He earned the trophy in 1937-38.
  • Toe Blake of the Montreal Canadiens was the first left winger to win the award. He earned his trophy in 1945-46.
  • Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk and New York's Frank Boucher share the record for most consecutive Lady Byng Trophy wins with four wins each.
  • Only five players have won the Hart Trophy and the Lady Byng Trophy in the same season - New York Ranger Buddy O'Connor ('47-48), Chicago's Bobby Hull ('64-65), Chicago's Stan Mikita ('66-67 and '67-68), Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky ('79-80), and Colorado's Joe Sakic (2000-01).
  • Wayne Gretzky is the only player in history to have won the award with three different teams - Edmonton, Los Angeles, and the New York Rangers.
  • Billy Burch was the first American-born player to win the Lady Byng Trophy. The New York Americans centerman did so in 1926-27.
  • Stan Mikita, despite having Canadian citizenship and having trained in Canada, was the first non-North American player to win the Lady Byng Trophy. The Slovakian-born centerman won his first Lady Byng Trophy in 1966-67.
  • The first European-born and European-trained player to win the Lady Byng Trophy was Montreal's Mats Naslund. Naslund, born and trained in Sweden, earned his award in 1987-88.
  • Bobby and Brett Hull are the only father-son tandem to win the Lady Byng Trophy. Bobby won his in 1964-65, while Brett picked his up in 1989-90.
  • The highest total of penalty minutes for any winner was 40 PIMs. This total was reached by two winners - Ottawa's Frank Nighbor in 1925-26, and New York Americans' Billy Burch in 1926-27.
Now that you know how the Lady Byng Trophy came about, along with some interesting facts about the winners, you can see why gentlemanly play is encouraged by coaches. While we look for tough hockey players, these men who have won the Lady Byng Trophy also score points at an extremely high rate. By not spending a lot of time in the penalty box, this allows them to score more often.

And isn't that what all coaches preach?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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