The Stanley Cup is one of the most recognized professional sports trophies in the world, but it didn't start out that way. When it was created in 1893, the Stanley Cup was just a challenge cup and the only way to win it was for a team to play in the same league as the team that last won it and then compete against them for a season.
In November, 1909, when the Cup was just 16 years-old, millionaire businessman M.J. O'Brien of the Town of Renfrew and his son Ambrose decided they wanted to win the Stanley Cup. With that decision, they changed Canadian hockey forever.
The O'Briens had a hockey team, the Renfrew Creamery Kings, that were part of the Upper Ottawa Valley Hockey League and they issued a Stanley Cup Challenge to the reigning team, the Montreal Wanderers. According to the rules of the day, this was one of the two ways a team could win the Cup.
But the Wanderers turned down the challenge and, as they were part of the Eastern Canadian Hockey Association – a different League than the Renfrew Creamery Kings – it seemed the O'Briens had no way to grasp this sacred cup.
Not willing to give up easily, Ambrose O'Brien went to Ottawa for the annual meeting of the Eastern Canadian Hockey Association in November, 1909, to ask to join the League. But with hockey quickly becoming recognized as a profitable venture, Association members decided to limit membership to maximize profits, so they dismantled the Association and then restructured it to form the Canadian Hockey Association (CHA).
The newly formed CHA then rejected the Renfrew Creamery Kings as well as the Montreal Wanderers from the new League. Angry but undaunted, the O'Briens teamed up with an equally livid Jimmy Gardner, owner of the Montreal Wanderers, and set out to establish their own League. Despite jeers from other hockey organizations and the press, the O'Briens announced loudly and clearly that their League would be the one to watch.
By December, 1909, the National Hockey Association (NHA) consisting of five teams was formed. M.J. O'Brien financed four teams in the League comsistimg of the Renfrew Creamery Kings (which became the Renfrew Millionaires) as well as Cobalt, Haileybury and Les Canadiens of Montreal. The fifth team was the Montreal Wanderers.
After signing numerous highly expensive star players and seeing the NHA grow to include the Cup-holding Ottawa Senators, by the second season the O'Briens realized that their dream of winning the Cup was eluding them. High salaries and competing interests in the railroad forced M J. and Ambrose to close the two Renfrew franchises in 1912. But the League they created didn't die or fade away. Instead it thrived and eventually became the NHL we all know and love today.