100th Oxford vs Cambridge Varsity Match

22/03/2018

The Oldest Rivalry in Hockey

On March 24th 2018, the Oxford University Blues will face off against the Cambridge University Blues for the 100th instalment of the ice hockey Varsity Match – the sport’s oldest rivalry.

The rivalry between the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge dates back to 1209, when scholars who left Oxford, founded the University of Cambridge. From the arena of academia, this rivalry extends to the water, the pitch and of course the ice, culminating in the annual Varsity Match for Oxford and Cambridge’s student-athletes. The Varsity Match is the pinnacle of these institutions’ sporting rivalry and the highlight of the sporting calendar.



2015 Cambridge Varsity Hype video

First played on an outdoor rink in St Moritz, Switzerland in 1885, the Varsity Match predates the first NHL game by several decades. The 1885 Varsity Match took place eight years before the inaugural presentation of the Stanley Cup to Montreal HC in 1893 by Lord Stanley of Preston. Two years after the first Stanley Cup presentation, Lord Stanley (as part of a House of Commons ice hockey team) faced off against Prince Edward VII, the namesake of the Varsity Match trophy, and a team of Oxford and Cambridge alumni, on the lake at Buckingham Palace one week before the 2nd Varsity Match in 1895.1

Fittingly, the 100th Varsity Match returns to where it all started, with the fixture being played outdoors in St Moritz amongst the backdrop of the Swiss Alps. Should bad weather occur, the game will be played in the Allianz arena, the spectacular Hockey Cathedral, home of Davos HC and the Spengler Cup. The game was played occasionally played in Switzerland  (including Wengen, Mürren) before moving permanently to Britain in 1933 as both Oxford and Cambridge were awarded Blues by their respective universities. In recent times the Varsity Match has alternated between Oxford and Peterborough (Cambridge’s home rink).

Despite the first game taking place 133 years ago, the fixture has taken a little longer to reach its centenary year, which also happens to be the NHL centenary season. There were understandably some years in which the fixture did not take place, such as during the World Wars.

After the First World War, the Oxford University Ice Hockey Club were officially constituted in 1920. They were a powerhouse in European Hockey, boasting star names such as Lester B. Pearson and Clarence S. Campbell, both of whom currently have had NHL trophies in their name and distinguished careers in their respective fields beyond the hockey rink. Oxford were so formidable during the 1920s that they were invited to the inaugural Spengler Cup tournament in 1923, and won. They went on to win four Spengler Cups in total over the next decade (1925, 31, and sharing the 1932 title with LTC Prague). Cambridge University also excelled in the European hockey scene, finishing as runners up in the 1928 Spengler Cup tournament matching up to some of Europe’s best teams.

Any contest between Cambridge University and Oxford University, whether of the intellectual variety, or in the sporting arena is steeped in history and fiercely competed. On the ice is no different!

But what do they play for? As well as the obligatory bragging rights over their Oxbridge rivals, the winning side is presented with the Varsity Match trophy, the King Edward VII Cup. Previously, the Varsity Match victors were presented with the Patton Cup. Named after Major B.M. Patton, a founding member of the IIHF, IBSF/FIBT and the inaugural British Ice Hockey Association. The Patton Conference in the Elite Ice Hockey League is named in Patton's honour. The Patton cup was first presented in 1927.

Adding to the festivities at the 100th Varsity celebration will be  the  annual Varsity Match between the Cambridge Eskimos and Oxford Vikings University teams prior to the match up of the Blues. A rivalry nearly as old as the Blues with both teams having foundations in the touring second teams of both Clubs in the 1920s.

A Live Stream of the game will be available at https://www.enjoystmoritz.ch/

1 The 99th Varsity Match Official Programme