Monthly Archives: May 2015

Hell Freezes Over

I don’t mean to write off Chicago, and certainly not New York. Nor do I truly intend to demean the Ducks or the Lightning. But could anything say hockey LESS than Anaheim, California, facing Tampa, Florida, for the Stanley Cup … in June!?!

It would be a kick in the teeth for Canadian fans who await our country’s first NHL championship in 22 years and counting.

Hell will have truly frozen over.

Well, OK, maybe not. But when Montreal last won the Stanley Cup in 1993, it marked the eighth time in ten seasons that a Canadian team had won the title. Canadian teams were outnumbered by Americans at least two to one during the 50 seasons from 1944 through 1993, but Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary still took home the Stanley Cup 35 times!

What’s happened since?!?

In the earliest days of hockey, Canadian teams won the Stanley Cup all the time. That’s because when Lord Stanley donated his trophy in 1893, he intended it to be awarded to the championship team in the Dominion of Canada. The first official Stanley Cup enquiry by an American team came in February of 1907 when the Pittsburgh Pros announced they would challenge for the Stanley Cup if they won the International Hockey League championship. On February 15, 1907, The Globe in Toronto reported that Stanley Cup trustee Philip Dansken Ross would refuse the challenge. “Trustee Ross of the Stanley Cup says the trophy is for Canadian competition only…”

Cup 1907

Five years later, Ross’s fellow trustee William Foran refused to even accept the idea that two Canadian teams might play for the Stanley Cup on American ice, even if only to take advantage of the artificial ice in the Boston Arena. “Defending teams may play for the silverware in any rink or in any city they may choose, but not in the United States. The cup was donated for the championship of Canada, and we will certainly oppose any move to play for it outside the Dominion.”

But on December 8, 1915, the trustees changed their tune. “The Stanley Cup is not emblematic of the Canadian honors,” said Mr. Foran, “but of the hockey championship of the world. Hence, if Portland or Seattle were to win … they would be allowed to [claim] the trophy.”

Why the sudden change? Well, at this time hockey had two major leagues: the National Hockey Association (forerunner of the NHL) and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. Like the NHL and the WHA many years later, players would pit owners against each other, jumping from league to league and driving up salaries. But with the NHA continually breaking its agreements with the PCHA, there was a very real chance that the Stanley Cup would be scrapped. Declaring that the PCHA’s American franchises could compete for the Cup was a way to help keep the peace. In 1916, the Portland (Oregon) Rosebuds became the first American team to play in a Stanley Cup series. They were beaten by the Montreal Canadiens. A year later, the Seattle Metropolitans defeated Montreal, and the Stanley Cup went south of the border for the very first time.

Cup 1915

The NHL replaced the NHA in 1917-18, but didn’t expand southward until the 1924-25 season when the addition of the Boston Bruins (as well as the Montreal Maroons) saw the league grow from four teams to six. By the 1926-27 season, the NHL had grown to ten clubs with six of them based in the United States. American teams have outnumbered Canadians ever since. In 1928, the New York Rangers became the NHL’s first American Stanley Cup champion and one year later, the Bruins defeated the Rangers in the first All-American Stanley Cup Final.

Sportswriters in American cities found the NHL’s protracted playoffs to be laughable, even in 1929 when Boston wrapped up the season on March 29. The Bruins had already beaten the Rangers to finish first in the American Division during the 1928-29 regular season, so why did they have to play them again for the Stanley Cup? This certainly didn’t happen in baseball, where only the first-place teams in the National and American leagues advanced to the World Series.

“[W]hy not evolve some plan for flooding and freezing the ball parks,” wondered a writer known only as “Sportsman” who penned the Live Tips and Topics column in the Boston Globe, “and [have] hockey all summer?”

Cup 1929

Hmmm. Maybe the NHL has missed something by staging all those outdoor games in the dead of winter!

Kitty Bars the Door Again 100 Years Later

You don’t hear the terms Neutral Zone Trap or Left Wing Lock much these days, but the NHL is once again in a scoring slump. There’ve been exciting games in the current playoffs, and a few 6-2 scores, but basically, postseason play has resembled the low-scoring pre-lockout days of the late 1990s and early 2000s, complete with plenty of clutching and grabbing.

“When I came into the league,” said Sidney Crosby shortly after his Pittsburgh Penguins were eliminated in round one by the New York Rangers, “you knew [penalties] were going to be called because the league was promoting a certain style of play. Now I don’t know… Cleary the standards have changed.”

During the regular season, Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars won the Art Ross Trophy with just 87 points in 82 games. It’s the lowest total in a non-lockout season since Stan Mikita scored 87 in 72 games in 1968–69, and the lowest points-per-game total since Elmer Lach led the NHL with 61 points in 60 games in 1947–48. That was the year that Art Ross and sons donated their trophy to the NHL to reward the league’s leading scorer.

The Art Ross Trophy is what Art Ross is best known for today. To many fans, it’s all he’s known for – although students of NHL history know he spent 30 years running the Boston Bruins from their inception in 1924 through 1954. Before that, during the pre-NHL years from 1905 to 1917, Ross was one of the best defensemen in hockey. His was a high-scoring era, and Ross was a star at both ends of the ice. He wasn’t Bobby Orr on offense. Probably closer to Raymond Bourque, only rougher. (It was once said of Ross that he never started a fight, but never came out second best in one either!) His stamina would make Chicago’s Duncan Keith look like a shirker – although Ross was one of the first to speak out in favor of more frequent substitutions in an era of 60-minute men.

Captain Art Ross of the 1911-12 Montreal Wanderers is pictured in the center square.

Today, his name is synonymous with offense, but Art Ross is credited for coming up with hockey’s original defensive-trap system 100 years ago this spring … although Ross’s role in devising it may be less fact and more fiction.

Ross was playing with the Ottawa Senators in 1914–15 and was going up against his longtime former team, the Montreal Wanderers, in a tie-breaking playoff to decide the championship of the National Hockey Association, forerunner of the NHL. The Wanderers of Sprague and Odie Cleghorn, Gord Roberts, and Harry Hyland (largely forgotten now, but big names in their era) were hockey’s best offensive team. They scored 127 goals during the 20-game schedule of 1914–15 for an average of 6.35 goals-per-game! Ottawa scored just seventy-four times, but the Senators’ sixty-five goals against were by far the fewest in NHA.

But this was a time when scorers ruled the ice, so the Wanderers were favoured over the Senators when their two-game, total-goals playoff opened on March 10, 1915. Even after Ottawa won the opener 4–0 at home (future Hall of Famer Clint Benedict’s shutout that night was the first in the NHA all season!) the Wanderers were expected to rally at home. After all, they’d beaten the Senators 15–6 and 8–1 in their two regular-season meetings in Montreal.

Newspapers speculated that Ottawa would come out hard in game two on Saturday night, March 13, looking for a few more goals to put the series away. But right from the opening face-off the Senators’ true intentions were clear. Ottawa employed only a center plus one winger on the forward line and spread out three defensemen across the ice.

Journal 1

“I was the only man to move,” Ross recalled around 1949. “I played right defense and if a Wanderer came down their right wing I’d move up and crash him while the other fellows shifted over to cover my position. If the puck-carrier came down on my side I’d go up to check him as I would have naturally.” With forward passing against the rules at this time, “we stopped them cold.” The result was a tediously dull game, and though the Wanderers got the only goal, Ottawa took the series with a combined victory of 4–1.

Ross remembered that he and his teammates came up with their three-man defensive system while on the train from Ottawa to Montreal, but on the day of the game, The Ottawa Journal reported that Ross was already in Montreal (where he lived) when the rest of the Senators departed from the Capital. In reporting on the game in their Monday edition, The Journal repeatedly stated that the Senators were “acting under the instructions of Coach Alf Smith” in employing their defensive system. Ottawa had obviously been a strong defensive team all season, and it certainly makes more sense for their long-time coach to have devised their tactics rather than their newly signed defenseman, even if he was one of the game’s biggest stars. Yet over the years, legendary sportswriters Baz O’Meara and Elmer Ferguson would repeatedly credit (or blame) Ross for the development.

Journal 2

“Tracking back along the history of hockey,” Ferguson wrote in his syndicated column Inside Hockey in 1933, “it’s difficult to place the finger on a certain game or a certain date and declare that a new type of play started with that date, or with that game. But it is pretty safe to assert that on the night of March 13, 1915, there was born a young lady named “Kitty” who since has been a very bothersome factor in professional hockey. “Kitty, Bar the Door,” is her full name … [and] crafty Art Ross [devised] the play.”

By then, Ross had introduced many changes to the NHL rule book designed to improve offensive play, and his Bruins routinely boasted many of the league’s best scorers, yet the defensive reputation stuck to him. Perhaps that’s why he eventually donated the trophy that he did.


2015 Silver Birch Awards

The Silver Birch Awards ceremony was held in Toronto at the Harbourfront Centre on May 13. While I admit I would have liked to have won for “The Big Book of Hockey,” winning and losing isn’t really the point. The point is to get children excited about books, and they certainly seemed to be!

On Stage

On stage with fellow nominees Stephen Shapiro and Hugh Brewster.

Auto 1

Signing autographs.

Auto 2

Reading from my Grade 5 newsbooks during a “Workshop.”


Annaleise Carr was the winner in my category for her book “Annaleise Carr: How I conquered Lake Ontario to help kids battling cancer.” She’s practically still a kid herself (only about 17) and swam the lake when she was 14. Pretty amazing … but her mother told me at an event a few days later in Whitby that Annaleise’s younger brother voted for my book!

The Bye Series of 1924

As a Canadian hockey fan, I was probably not alone as the second round got under way in thinking about the long-shot possibility of a Montreal-Calgary Stanley Cup Final. Definitely not a dream matchup for the NHL or NBC, but it would have been big up here north of the border! Calgary’s out now, but there’s still a chance for Montreal. We’ll know a little more about that tonight…

The Flames and Canadiens have met for the Stanley Cup twice already, back in the 1980s when Canadian teams were still reaching the Finals on a pretty regular basis. The Canadiens won in 1986 and the Flames won in 1989. But the first meeting of Calgary and Montreal for the Stanley Cup dates back 65 years before the Flames’ victory of 1989 to when the Canadiens swept the Calgary Tigers in a best-of-three Final in 1924.

For a brief period from 1922 to 1924, competition for the Stanley Cup was a three-league affair involving the NHL, the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, and the Western Canada Hockey League. In 1922, the PCHA champion Vancouver Millionaires defeated the WCHL champion Regina Capitals and earned the right to go east to face the Toronto St. Pats for the Stanley Cup. Toronto won. In 1923, Ottawa came west to Vancouver. They defeated the home team (now known as the Maroons) in a best-of-five series, and then defeated the Edmonton Eskimos in a best-of-three final to claim the Cup.

Bye Series

In 1924, Vancouver won the PCHA again and Calgary won the WCHL. Montreal won the NHL and, despite the arrangements in 1923, expected the western teams to send one winner east to play for the Stanley Cup as they had in 1922. Frank Patrick was in charge of both the PCHA and the Vancouver Maroons then, and he wrote about this in the final installment of an eight-part series about his life in the Boston Sunday Globe on March 18, 1935 while he was the coach of the Boston Bruins:

I decided that both teams should come East to play Les Canadiens,” said Patrick. It was my idea that the Eastern fans would like to see both Vancouver and Calgary in action against the famous Canadiens.

At first,” Patrick continued, “I thought we could toss a coin to decide which club would oppose Les Canadiens first. Then the thought occurred to me to play off for the ‘bye’ berth…

Patrick got in touch with Calgary Tigers manager Lloyd Turner and made the arrangements. Calgary came west to Vancouver for game one of the series with game two played in Calgary. When both teams won on home ice in front of what Patrick recalled were capacity crowds, the best-of-three series was tied.

Meanwhile, the National Hockey League in general and Les Canadiens in particular, were burning up. It was getting late in the season, it was a natural ice rink in Montreal with the danger of poor ice for the series, and Les Canadiens didn’t want to play two clubs anyway.”

Frank Patrick with his son Joe, circa 1927.

Vancouver and Calgary played their finale in Winnipeg on March 15, 1924, while en route east. Calgary won 3-1 in front of “another capacity house” to get the bye berth directly into the Stanley Cup Final. Vancouver would play Montreal in a semifinal, but NHL president Frank Calder and Canadiens boss Leo Dandurand were decidedly unhappy with the Western arrangement. They wondered, among other things, what right Vancouver would have (having already lost to the Tigers) to play Calgary for the Stanley Cup if they beat Montreal, and worried about who might show up for the Final if the hometown Canadiens weren’t in it! After a few days of squabbling, the western teams refused to back down and the NHL grudgingly agreed to the awkward format.

When we arrived in Montreal,” Patrick recalled, “Leo Dandurand wouldn’t even speak to me. He staged a party for the Western clubs and invited everybody but me. Finally, after a couple of days, Leo weakened and ask me what we had played the bye series for. ‘For $20,000,’ I calmly replied. Then he laughed. He knew what I meant.

What Patrick meant, of course, was the Western teams’ profits from the gate receipts of those three extra playoff games!

Having already swept Ottawa in two straight to win the NHL title, the Canadiens beat Vancouver in two and then took two in a row from Calgary to win the Stanley Cup … although warm, spring weather during the last week in March meant the final game on March 25, 1924, had to be moved from the natural ice surface of Montreal’s Mount Royal Arena to the artificial ice of the Ottawa Auditorium. Even so, a respectably large crowd for the era of 7,000 fans showed up.

1924 Final

Patrick had one more story to tell from the 1924 Stanley Cup Final, about Art Ross refereeing during the series. Ross tells the same story too, so it may even be true!

At the end of the game in Ottawa, Charlie Reid, the Calgary goalie, skated up to Art and said: ‘As long as you’re refereeing the Stanley Cup will stay in the East.’ Quick as a flash Art came back: ‘Well, as long as you’re goal-tending, the Stanley Cup certainly won’t go West.

Stanley Cup: Your Ad Here

My wife and I are both fans of the show “Elementary” which, if you don’t know, is a modern-day take on Sherlock Holmes in New York. Last week, the opening shot was a close-up on the inside of the rim of an elaborate bowl. To me, it was instantly recognizable, although I meant it as a joke when I said to Barbara, “It’s the Stanley Cup.” I actually thought it would be just an antique bowl, and I was curious to see how much it resembled the bowl atop the Stanley Cup. Then, they pulled back, and it was the real thing.


I’m not sure how this bit of product placement helps sell fans of TV mysteries on hockey, or helps sell hockey fans on this particular TV mystery (especially given that it runs on a network that doesn’t carry NHL games). And it didn’t really have anything to do with the plot, but it was still kind of neat!

As it happens, using the Stanley Cup to sell products that don’t always seem like a natural fit has been going on for a lot longer than you probably think. Almost since the very beginning of the Cup itself.

When the second edition of Total Hockey appeared in 2000, I had a story in it arguing that the 1896 Stanley Cup rematch between the Montreal Victorias and Winnipeg Victorias, played in Winnipeg on December 30 of that year, was the moment that made the Stanley Cup. Before the Winnipeg Vics came east to beat their Montreal counterparts on February 14, 1896, the Stanley Cup had hardly attracted any notice beyond the stretch of country from Toronto to Quebec City and was probably all but unknown to anyone but hard-core hockey fans. The win by Winnipeg, and the subsequent attention when Montreal challenged and won it back, made the Stanley Cup national news. Apparently, it also made it good sales copy.

Presumably, J. Erzinger had a celebratory promotion planned if Winnipeg won, but here’s what appeared on page eight of the Manitoba Free Press on December 31, 1896, just a few hours after the hometown Victorias had been defeated:

1896 Cup ad

It seems the idea of using the Stanley Cup to sell ones wares was more than good enough for James Henry Ashdown, the “Merchant Prince of Winnipeg.” With the Christmas season approaching, Ashdown ran a somewhat more on-topic ad in the Winnipeg Tribune on November 24, 1897:

1897 Cup ad

So it would seem that more than 100 years before Winnipeg fans made “the whiteout” famous in the 1990s, certain citizens of the Manitoba capital were already capitalizing on their hockey heroes!