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The Kelly Cup controversy is the summer’s funniest story

The ECHL’s mysterious trophy debacle with Colorado almost seems too wild to be true

Photo courtesy of Standout Imagery

It’s not every day that you have a professional sports team and a professional sports league feuding on Twitter.

There have been secondhand reports of teams and leagues going to battle, with tales circulating any time a franchise folds and anecdotal stories of chaos making their way through the rumor mill. But publicly, brazenly going to battle on social media using the ‘he said/she said’ method of warfare? Utter madness.

Here we are, though. 2019, baby!

The rundown is about as convoluted as one might expect in a social media hearsay battle. According to the ECHL, the Colorado Eagles kept the Kelly Cup — the league’s championship trophy — upon winning it in 2018, but the Colorado Eagles insist that the league simply refused to retrieve it when the team offered it up.

“The management of the ECHL has full knowledge of the situation with the Kelly Cup. We have made numerous attempts to return it. They have chosen to ignore our requests, therefore the Kelly Cup remains in Colorado. This is all that will be released regarding this matter,” said the Eagles owner, Martin Lind.

Initially, the ECHL released a statement of their own insisting that the Eagles — who are now in the American Hockey League — had ignored multiple opportunities to give the cup back.

“As stated by ECHL Commissioner Emeritus Patrick J. Kelly yesterday morning, the tradition of returning the Championship Trophy to the League was not honored by the Colorado Eagles. Despite a confirmed plan with Eagles’ management to return the Kelly Cup to the ECHL in December 2018, the arrangement was not fulfilled,” the league wrote on June 1st. They revealed that a new Kelly Cup had been made, and threw some barely-disguised shade at the Eagles by suggesting that the original cup could be returned for preservation and exhibition at any point in time.

“If the Colorado Eagles do intend to return the Kelly Cup, the ECHL welcomes its return so that it too may be a part of hockey history.”

By the next morning, though, that particular link had been taken down, and it was re-posted from a different (but nearly identical) link that didn’t link to the social media tweet initially put up. It was the kind of chaos that one would expect from a semi-pro team far from the reaches of social media, but not from the third-highest men’s professional hockey league in North America.


In theory, the Eagles aren’t the first team to keep a championship trophy and leave the league to make a new one. Once upon a time, it was actually accepted in professional soccer; prior to 2009, teams that won the Champions League either five cumulative times or three consecutive times could keep the trophy for good, and Brazil won the right to keep the original World Cup trophy for good when they won that particular championship for a third time in 1970.

The Champions League did away with their rule eventually, though, handing out a replica instead, and the World Cup trophy has been kept locked away since 2006 while a replica gets handed out there as well.

Replica trophies aren’t as rare as one might think, either. The current Kelly Cup isn’t the original — as the league stated in their bizarre clapback, there are three previous models already enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame as well — and even the Stanley Cup handed out isn’t the original trophy itself. Trophies are stolen and replaced, with the Minnesota Vikings even outright misplacing the Ed Thorpe trophy until it was rediscovered in 2015 and mysteriously ended up in custody of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame.

If the Ed Thorpe debacle is any indication, there’s a lot of bad juju surrounding teams that get messy with their handling of championship trophies. The Vikings have long held the belief that the misplacing of the Memorial Trophy sparked a jinx that’s prevailed over the team ever since, leaving them with a 50-year dry spell they still haven’t broken.

In theory, that leaves the Eagles safe from any sort of jinx, since they technically moved up a league to the AHL rather than merging with another league like the Vikings did following their own misplacement of a trophy. And the Eagles simply kept their own controversy-surrounded trophy in team custody rather than handing it back over to a league, so maybe they’ll escape a jinx by not outright losing the thing.

Overall, though, it seems like a whole lot of drama over what likely amounts to nothing more than a shipping charges dispute. And while it’s a bit of a bummer that the Toledo Walleye and the Newfoundland Growlers are having their own championship series overshadowed by the whole mess, it’s hard to deny that it’s one of the funniest things to happen in a long time.