Family Secrets…

It is truly amazing the things that can be discovered online these days. Some times, maybe, it’s too much. I admit, this story almost feels like an invasion of privacy. Or even exploitive. But, it’s been going around in my head for days so I’ve written it all down.

I remember, years ago, when Barbara sent away for the complete military records of her grandfathers, who both served in World War I. Both survived, and Barbara knew them well when she was young. She adored her mother’s father, but the family had a more difficult relationship with her father’s father. She knew that her mother’s father had been wounded badly enough some time in 1918 that he spent the rest of the War in a hospital in England. He had difficulties because of his injuries until he died in 1964. After seeing his War records, we began to refer to him as “World War I’s most wounded soldier.” It seemed he just kept getting wounded, getting patched up, and getting sent back out there … until it almost killed him. The most notable thing about her father’s father was how often he was treated for venereal disease! I remember both Barbara and her mother saying how appalled he would be that they knew this about him.

But, at least those stories were all in the family. This one certainly isn’t. But here goes…

Recently, I wrote about Babe Dye being perhaps the first Babe Ruth of Hockey. I already knew a lot about his story, and have written about him here before, back in 2015 and 2016. Dye was a multi-sport star who became a top scorer in the NHL with the Toronto St. Pats in the 1920s while also playing high-level minor league baseball, mostly with the Buffalo Bisons and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Like Babe Ruth, Babe Dye was a left hander who pitched and played the outfield. Dye was also a fine football player, but was never a halfback with the Toronto Argonauts, as old hockey biographies used to say. He actually starred with a Toronto team called the Capitals from 1917 to 1920.

In baseball, Babe Dye threw and batted left. In hockey, he shot right.

As a baseball player, Dye was good enough that the legendary Connie Mack wanted him for his Philadelphia Athletics. Hockey records long claimed that Mack offered $25,000 to Dye in 1921, which is what was reported in the Toronto Star along with an obituary for Dye on January 4, 1962, a day after he died. In truth, the offer came in 1923, and it appears to have been for $30,000. Hockey stories say Dye turned down Mack in order to concentrate on his NHL career, but the Buffalo Enquirer of August 29, 1923, makes it pretty clear that it was the Bisons who were actually offered the money to buy Dye’s rights. It was also the Buffalo team that turned down Mack because the Bisons wanted players in return, not money, if they were going to give up a perennial .300 hitter.

Babe Dye with the Stanley Cup champion Toronto St. Pats of 1921-22.
The Buffalo Bisons gave Dye permission to report late to spring training as
the St. Pats faced the Vancouver Millionaires in the Cup Final late in March.

And by the way, what an amazing coincidence that the day after Connie Mack was in Buffalo, the New York Yankees were in town to play an exhibition game against the Bisons … and that Babe Dye and Babe Ruth both hit home runs in the same game! (The Yankees beat the Bisons 13–7.)

The Buffalo Enquirer from August 29 and August 30, 1923.

So, by now you’re wondering, “what’s so personal about all this?” Well, bear with me a little longer…

While poking around old newspaper stories about Babe Dye last week, I discovered that in May of 1918, he enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force for service in World War I. Dye joined the 69th Battery of Toronto and was sent to Camp Petawawa (near Ottawa) to train as a gunner. (I had no idea of this, but others did. Alan Livingstone MacLeod writes about it in his book From Rinks to Regiments, and tells me that Dye’s name was on a list of hockey playing soldiers produced by the Department of Veterans Affairs.)

With the War ending on November 11, 1918, Dye was never sent overseas before being discharged on December 20. He seems to have spent an awful lot of his army time playing sports; often back home in Toronto. Dye played for the 69th Battery baseball team, and also pitched for his old Toronto baseball team, the Hillcrests, while home on leave a couple of times during the summer. He also played a few football games in Toronto with the Capitals on leave in the fall.

The 69th Battery won the military baseball championship at Camp Petawawa and actually played against the Hillcrests in the Ontario semifinals. The game was originally scheduled for Saturday, October 5, 1918, but wet grounds forced a postponement and the game was played the following weekend, on October 12. Though he had pitched for the Hillcrests during the season, Dye was given permission to pitch against them. Through five innings, he kept things close … until he hurt is ankle sliding into third in the top of the sixth. Dye attempted to continue pitching, but he couldn’t, and the Hillcrests (who were leading 2-1) scored six late runs for an 8-3 victory.

Later in life, Babe Dye would credit his athletic prowess to his mother, who apparently taught him to skate and play hockey and to pitch and play baseball. “My mother knew more about hockey than I ever did,” Dye once recalled, “and she could throw a baseball right out of the park.”

Dye, it was said, never knew his father, who died when he was only one year old. The family was living in Hamilton then, but his mother Esther brought young Cecil (Babe’s given name) and a brother back to Toronto, where she and her late husband were both from.

OK. Here’s where we get to the personal/privacy stuff!

There’s not much military information in Babe Dye’s military records, but there’s some fascinating family information.

In July of 1918, Esther Dye filled out an application for financial assistance, claiming that her son who was now in the military, was her main source of support. But she was not a widow. Her application states that her husband, Sydney Dye, (John Sydney Alexander Dye, I would later discover) had deserted her on January 13, 1898. She had received no support from him since then, and his whereabouts were unknown.

But what about the other son? Babe’s brother of the hockey stories, who Esther had apparently brought to Toronto after her husband died? Couldn’t he support his mother?

Apparently not.

Sydney Earle Dye “lives with an aunt,” Esther wrote. “Has never contributed to my support.”

It wasn’t so much that he never had, but that he never could.

“From the physical viewpoint, he is neither an invalid nor is he incapacitated,” wrote Dr. George B. Smith on Esther’s form in August of 1918. “From the mental viewpoint, he is totally neurotic and if not carefully handled his brainstorms would be unbearable…. He is unsuited to meet the public at large. He shuns publicity and society.” How long had he been like this? “From childhood.”

Not in the military records, but available if one searches hard enough on Ancestry, is the rest of the story…

John Sydney Alexander Dye married the former Esther Swinbourne on May 22, 1891 (above, left). Sydney Earle Dye was born on September 6, 1891 (above, right). Do the math. That’s barely four months after the wedding. Esther must have been five months pregnant at the time. And, by coincidence (or maybe not?) Esther also seems to have been about five months pregnant when her husband left her in January of 1898, as baby Cecil would be born on May 13, 1898 (below).

Esther raised Cecil on her own. She had two sisters who never married, but older brother Sydney (who went by Earl) was actually brought up by one of his father’s brothers and his wife. So the Dye family didn’t abandon Esther completely. And it further turns out that Babe Dye was one of three sons, not two. He had a second older brother, William Vernon Dye, who was born on August 20, 1896, but died of meningitis on January 20, 1911. Life was more difficult in those days, but it still must have been a difficult childhood. Sports must have been a comforting refuge.

William Dye’s birth record on the left, and death certificate on the right.

These were definitely family stories you wouldn’t have read in an old-time biography of Babe Dye. I imagine it was stuff the family rarely spoke of. If ever.

But all the facts are out there now.

If you dig deep enough.

So, now we know.

The Babe Ruth of Hockey

Well, in what’s been a pretty tricky year for most of us, there was something of a treat for sports fans this week courtesy of Covid-19. Less than 24 hours after the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup on Monday night, the Major League Baseball playoffs started Tuesday afternoon. (The Blue Jays lost, but at least there’s another chance among the eight games today!) It’s a doubleheader you’re just not going to see in a normal year, so what better time for a bit of historical fun involving my two favourite sports…

Ask most hockey historians if they know who “the Babe Ruth of Hockey” was and they’re likely to tell you, “Howie Morenz.”

Morenz was a star, mainly with the Montreal Canadiens, from 1923 until 1937. A three-time winner of the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP, Morenz was considered the game’s best scorer and its fastest skater. Speed was what led to most of his nicknames. He was known as “the Mitchell Meteor” (for his home town of Mitchell, Ontario), “the Hurtling Habitant,” “the Canadien Comet,” and, most famously, “the Stratford Streak” (for the Ontario town he grew up in).

Howie Morenz was a flashy personality who put fans in the stands at a time when the NHL was first expanding into the United States. Hence, the comparisons to Babe Ruth. Still, years ago, when searching newspapers online was just starting out, I tried to find stories about this and couldn’t really find anything definitive from the height of Howie’s career. With so many more papers to search, it was easy enough this time. But the moniker wasn’t exactly exclusive…

Howie Morenz, Babe Dye, Eddie Shore, Charlie Conacher, Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky and Alain Caron would all be tagged “the Babe Ruth of Hockey.”

This wasn’t really an exhaustive research project, but it certainly looks like Howie Morenz wasn’t the first player to be known as “the Babe Ruth of Hockey.” Nor would he be the last. The first references are to Cecil Dye of the Toronto St. Pats … better known to hockey fans as Babe Dye.

Dye was nowhere near the explosive skater Morenz was, but he was hockey’s best scorer at the time Morenz was just coming into the NHL. In the offseason, Dye played minor league baseball, and was good enough to attract Major League interest. It’s said that his hockey teammates in Toronto called him “Babe” because of his baseball prowess (he was known as “Babe” by at least 1917, when Ruth was still mainly a pitcher) … but it seems it was the New York press that first called Dye “the Babe Ruth of Hockey.” (Or perhaps the Ottawa Journal was just taking exception to the New York papers referring to Billy Burch this way. See the bottom of this post.)

The Ottawa Journal, December 21, 1925.
The Miami Herald, February 16, 1926.

A broken leg in 1927 ended Dye’s baseball career, and marked a sharp decline in his hockey career too. That appears to be when the title “the Babe Ruth of Hockey” passed to Morenz.

The Windsor Star, November 30, 1927. (There would be other rumours of other
trades or sales of Morenz by the Canadiens at the end of the 1928-29 season.)
This image appeared in various newspapers. This one is
from The Times of Munster, Indiana, on March 9, 1928.

But there would be challengers. In Boston in particular, but in other cities too, Eddie Shore was soon being called “the Babe Ruth of Hockey.” Shore was a defenseman who didn’t put up the big scoring numbers of Morenz, but he was also a very colourful character and a big box-office draw. A huge star himself, Shore was the first four-time winner of the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP.

The Ottawa Citizen, March 11, 1931.

Charlie Conacher of the Toronto Maple Leaf was (like Shore) a larger-than-life personality and (like Morenz) a great scorer. He had already won two goal-scoring titles by the 1932-33 season (he’d become the first to league the league in goals five times) when he was considered an heir apparent to the “Babe Ruth” moniker.

The Brooklyn Times Union, December 28, 1932

Still, at the time of his death on March 8, 1937 (two months after the broken leg that ended his career), it seems that Morenz had taken back the title from Shore and Conacher and truly was “the Babe Ruth of Hockey.”

The Brooklyn Times Union, March 9, 1937

The nickname doesn’t seem to appear again until another flashy Montreal Canadiens superstar was tagged with it. Maurice Richard was already well known as “the Rocket” when New York writers began referring to him as “the Babe Ruth of Hockey” in 1950.

New York Daily News, October 29, 1950.

The nickname stuck as Richard surpassed Nels Stewart (who had topped Howie Morenz) as the NHL’s all-time goal-scoring leader in 1952 and went on to become hockey’s first 500-goal scorer. Gordie Howe would, of course, break all of Rocket’s scoring records, and the Babe Ruth tag would attach itself to him too.

The Decatur Daily Review, October 22, 1957.
The Bismarck Tribune, March 3, 1967.

Skilled as he was, though, Howe never had Richard’s flair, which is why Conn Smythe back in 1951 had thought the Babe Ruth tag rightfully belonged to the Rocket. (Howe was maybe more like the “the Lou Gehrig of Hockey.”)

The Boston Globe, April 16, 1951.

Bobby Hull (or Bobby Orr) might have been a worthy recipient of the nickname too, but only Gordie Howe had it…

The Kingsport News, March 29, 1967.

And as Howe eventually put up numbers that were, well, Ruthian, the name stuck — although not like Mr. Hockey would!

Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 5, 1968.

The most unlikely “Babe Ruth of Hockey” is undoubtedly Alain Caron. Caron was a huge scorer in minor league hockey who had 77 goals and 48 assists for 125 points for the St. Louis Braves of the Central Professional Hockey League in 1963-64 when his article appeared. He played just 60 games in the NHL over two seasons, but was a decent scorer later during two years in the World Hockey Association.

The Chicago Tribune, March 25, 1964.

Not surprisingly with the numbers he would put up, Wayne Gretzky would also draw comparisons with Babe Ruth.

The Boston Globe, February 25, 1982.

Although when it comes to nicknames, it’s tough to top “The Great One.”

NOTE: a couple of late additions. I knew that the New York Americans promoted Billy Burch as “the Babe Ruth of Hockey,” though forgot to include him. Not sure if I’d ever come across Ching Johnson.

Billy Burch clipping from the Yonkers Statesman, December 8, 1925.
Ching Johnson cartoon from the Cushing Daily Citizen, March 10, 1928.

AND a further eight more from 1920 to 1926…

Newsy Lalonde, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 14, 1920.
Frank Fredrickson (misspelled) from the Vancouver Province, January 7, 1921.
Raymie Skilton, Boston Post. January 29, 1921.
Vernon “Jake” Forbes from the Ottawa Journal, December 5, 1921.
Herb Drury (misspelled) in Collyer’s Eye from January 7, 1922.
Art Duncan from the Calgary Herald, March 3, 1924.
Either Red Green (Redvers, not Redford) or his brother
Shorty (Wilfred), Brooklyn Daily Eagle on November 29, 1925.
Bullet Joe Simpson, the Ottawa Journal. February 5, 1926.

… But Who’s Counting?

Turns out, the historic 85-save effort by Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo in the 5 overtime, 150 minutes, 27 seconds, 3-2 loss to Tampa Bay the other night wasn’t quite as historic as the NHL says.

Back on April 3–4, 1933, the Maple Leafs beat the Bruins 1-0 in a 6 OT, 164:46 OT game in which Toronto outshot Boston 114–93 … meaning Leafs goalie Lorne Chabot made 93 saves and the Bruins’ Tiny Thompson made 113.

That game was the longest in NHL history at the time, and still ranks second to the 1936 6 OT game in which the Detroit Red Wings beat the Montreal Maroons 1-0 in 176:30. Lorne Chabot was the losing goalie on that night, but faced “only” 67 shots. Winning goalie Normie Smith of Detroit stopped all 90 shots he faced (some newspapers show 91) … but that’s still not what Thompson did!

So, why doesn’t the NHL recognize Thompson’s record? I haven’t seen the game sheets for that one, but my guess is, the NHL wasn’t officially tracking shots that night. (Shots on goal didn’t become an official statistic until 1955-56.) Obviously, some one at Maple Leaf Gardens was tracking them, though. Still, from what I’ve seen of the old game sheets, I’d say that in the early games where the NHL (unofficially?) did track shots, it’s more likely they were counting shots AT goal than shots ON goal … meaning a defencemen might have blocked some, and that possibly even some of the shots went wide. Unfortunately, there’s no real way to know that for that historic Toronto–Boston game.

And as for Seth Jones’ record time on ice of 65:06 the other night? Well, I’d bet a lot of money that Eddie Shore was on the ice for a lot more time than that back on April 3–4 of 1933! As likely were Boston’s Lionel Hitchman, George Owen, and Alex Smith, and perhaps all four of Toronto’s King Clancy, Hap Day, Red Horner and Alex Levinsky as well. Some early NHL game sheets did track time … but I don’t think we’re ever going to know this one for certain.

Toronto Star, April 4, 1933.
Boston Globe, April 4, 1933.
The Windsor Star of April 4, 1933, shows Tiny Thompson
with 114 saves … but that’s probably the total shots fired at him.
Shots on goal from the longest overtime game in NHL history.

Sports Musings from Now and Then…

Normally — when it happens in April! — I always say of the start of the baseball season and the hockey playoffs, “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” I know there are lots of sports fans out there who are thrilled to be watching again … but this year, I’m not so sure.

(If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this Toronto Life story about my Mom and baseball.)

Yes, I imagine I’ll be watching too (at least some of the Maple Leafs games and I’m already watching the Blue Jays — the Buffalo Wings?), but I’m still not convinced it’s a very good idea. Hockey and basketball at least seem theoretically safer in their “bubbles,” but all that travelling in baseball seems to be courting disaster. I hope not, and I hope everyone gets through this safely, but look at what’s already happening to the Miami Marlins.

But, thus endeth the sermon. Really, I’m just posting this today to have a little fun.

As some of you know (some of you who are my friends on Facebook), I’m working on a new book. It’s a history of the 1907 Stanley Cup champion Kenora Thistles for a writer/publisher friend in Kenora. Yes, it’s pretty old time hockey, but if you read it when it comes out in 2021 — and I hope you will — I think it’ll make a pretty compelling case that hockey was always as popular (and obsessive!) with its fans in its earliest days as it still is today.

But, not everything from the old days was the same!

Sportscasters these days seem to consider themselves pretty funny (or punny, anyway), but you don’t see a lot of satire like this anymore.

What follows below was written by someone named C.M. Kyle of Winnipeg on March 17, 1905 and printed in the Winnipeg Telegram three days later. For context, the Ottawa “Silver Seven” had just defeated the Rat Portage Thistles (Rat Portage would officially be renamed Kenora on May 11, 1905) in a rough, best-of-three challenge series. It was the third straight season that Ottawa was the Stanley Cup champion, but fans outside the Canadian capital were become increasingly unhappy with the team’s tough tactics.

The Silver Seven were the Broad Street Bullies (the Bank Street Bullies?) of their time. Their style of play could be downright scary. So, as one who’s not so much a fan of violence in hockey, I hereby present…

THE RAVEN (REVISED)
Once upon a midnight dreary,
as the Ottawas, weak and weary
Pondered over three great cup games
and from which they still felt sore;
Suddenly there came a tapping,
as of some one gently rapping,
As of some one gently rapping,
rapping on their club-room door.
Merely this and nothing more.
Seeing that it was not heeded,
once again it was repeated,
Till at least it drew attention,
some one opened wide the door.
Entered then a stately raven,
plumage heavily snow-laden,
Who flapped his wings then took a perch
above their club-room door,
Saying sadly, “Never more.”
“What meanest thou” immediately
   arose the natural query,
“What brings thee here on this strange visit;
   ne’er heard of before?
With a sigh the raven turned,
   and pointing to their hockey colors,
Put his head beneath his wing,
   and whispered as he had before,
      Sadly, softly, “Never more.”
Dumb, astonished, scarcely breathing,
   wondering what could be the meaning,
Of those words so sadly uttered
   by the bird above the door;
Once again an explanation
   was demanded in vexation,
But the raven once again for
   loss of words, did as before,
      Mournfully saying “Never more.”
Losing patience, and at random
these mysterious words to fathom,
For the last time asked the question
of the bird above the door:
“Speak though coal-black imp of Satan,
or by he who sent the chasing,
’Round the country with the message
that shalt see the sun no more,
What mean these words, ‘Never more?’”
Seeing there was no evading
expectations now, the raven
Gazed bitingly upon the players
crowded ‘round the door,
And with grace and style enthralling,
but vehemence most appalling,
Said, “If you guys would play hockey
you’d be champions no more.”
Merely this, and nothing more.
Smarting from the raven’s satire,
but determined yet to know more,
From their strange yet noble visitor
who spoke in terms so sure,
Said “Pray tell us noble raven,
ere departing for they haven,
What makes thee think our Ottawas
will ne’er be champions more?
Why use these words, ‘Never more?’”
As if answering their query
that strange raven from his eyrie,
Said in tones so deep and solemn,
they cut right to the core,
“If you people would play hockey,
you would not now be so cocky,
For the first team you ran up against
would bang in twice the score.
Then you’d ne’er by champions more.”
(MORAL)
Ottawa has got some players,
but they’ve got a few man-slayers
On their team who think it noble,
their check’s face to cut and scar.
And until they are removed,
or until Father Time removes them,
Ottawa will hold the Stanley Cup
as they have done before,
But by hockey? — NEVER MORE!

And, hey, it that doesn’t do it for you, you can always check out The Simpsons version

Sports and Protests…

I’ve never been much for taking a stand. You know that story, “and when they came for me, there was no one left…” I’ve always thought that would be me. I’m not proud of it … but I know myself. These days, though, “Silence is Violence,” so here’s what I’d like to see in terms of sports protests.

First of all, despite all the plans now in place, I’m not convinced that any sports will (or should) start up right now. And if they do, it’s one thing for the Canadian government to say we’ll allow NHL players into Toronto (or Edmonton or Vancouver) because at least they’ll be sort of self-isolating. But, despite writing and commenting mostly about hockey, I’m a baseball fan above all else. A Blue Jays fan above all else. Still, I sure as hell hope the Canadian government won’t let the Blue Jays play at home, coming and going from the United States every three days to a week, and bringing in players from visiting American teams equally as often. That seems like madness to me. If Dunedin is unsafe (and I sure wouldn’t want to be in Florida right now), let the Blue Jays play out of Buffalo.

IF sports do resume, I hope that athletes will continue to protest. But if they do, here’s what I’d like to see. Please do not protest during the National Anthem. Not that I disagree with doing that, but by removing the National Anthem from the protests, you’d remove all the wrong-headed “they’re disrespecting the flag” nonsense. Don’t give them the chance.

Instead, when the referee or umpire brings the teams together for the opening kick-off, face-off, tip-off, or pitch, please take a knee then. On opening day, in each sport, perhaps take a knee for the 8-and-a-half minutes it took to murder George Floyd. The rest of the time, maybe a symbolic 30-seconds will do.

Stadiums will mostly be empty, but, if not, I bet there’d be a fair share of people booing and expressing “shut up and play” sentiments. Even if many people wouldn’t feel emboldened to speak out these days, I suspect plenty still feel that way. Even without the ability to say it, I’m sure there are too many who would like to see Black people kept in their place. I hope I’m wrong.

You may disagree with me if you’d like. Maybe my thoughts are naive. I won’t respond to comments on this story regardless of whether they’re positive or negative. If you agree with my thoughts on protesting, feel free to share this post. I’m not on Twitter, but if you are, and you agree, I’d be happy to have you Tweet this. But that’s up to you.

Anyway, that’s what I’m thinking…

I Don’t Know Medicine … but I Do Know History

I don’t have a medical opinion. And I don’t usually weigh on on things I don’t know about. Still, I don’t really understand why the NHL seems so gung-ho to get back to business. Intellectually, I understand it. Hockey is big business … and, specifically, they’re not looking to extend any of their current television contracts any further than they have to, which they might be forced to do if they are no playoffs this year. Personally, I couldn’t possibly care less about that reason.

Emotionally, I understand it too. Fans say they want to see hockey back. I care a little bit more about that. Still, I have a hard time taking Gary Bettman at his word when he says “our fans are telling us” they want it. I certainly believe that most fans do want it… I just don’t believe that sways Mr. Bettman as much as he wants us to think. Yes, I seem to recall Bettman saying something along the lines of, “our fans are telling us they want us to get our economic house in order,” during the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 NHL season. But my guess is, most of those fans would also have said they didn’t want to see the entire season cancelled. (And they DO want NHL players at the Olympics.) So, I basically believe Gary Bettman says and does what’s good for Gary Bettman and the NHL … which is his job, after all.

Gary Bettman announced the NHL’s plans in a video on Tuesday.

We have to trust that Bettman is being sincere when he says the NHL won’t come back if it isn’t safe to play … but I wouldn’t want to bet my life on it! I’m not a doctor. I don’t know where we’re headed any better than most of you do. Still, I don’t believe it’s right for thousands upon thousands of tests (or personal safety equipment) to be made available to professional athletes when so many people who truly need them are still going without. It also seems to me that the athletes themselves are being treated by the owners as little more than chattel – well-paid chattel, admittedly – when they’re being told they might have to isolate for months and months to get the season done. But if they agree, then it’s not for me to decide.

Personally, I’d have no problem if the NHL just called off the season and concentrated on restarting anew in the fall if it proves safe to do so. I’ve yet to watch any of the German soccer games without crowds, and I don’t really know what NHL hockey in empty arenas will be like. I’m also not sure I care to be inside watching hockey games in July and August … unless we’re all forced to be inside again by then. And if we are, how safe will it be to play these games?

The one thing on which I do agree with Gary Bettman is that IF conditions prove safe enough for the return of hockey, the proposal the NHL has made to crown a champion seems like an interesting one that should determine a worthy champion.

The Stanley Cup has undergone many “format” changes
during its long history. So have the Stanley Cup playoffs.

For those who haven’t been paying attention, the NHL has called an end to the regular season. Because no one had completed the schedule yet, and not all teams have played the same number of games, the playoffs that will (might!) commence will be expanded from 16 teams to 24. There will be 12 playoff teams in each of the two conferences. The teams will be housed in two yet-to-be-determined “hub” cities where all the games will take place. The top four teams in each conference based on points percentage from the standings when play was halted will be given a bye through the opening “qualifying round.” While the lower 16 teams are playing in best-of-five series to determine which eight teams will continue in the playoffs, the top teams will play round-robin tournaments to determine their seedings as the top teams in each conference. The playoffs will then proceed with 16 teams playing four rounds to decide the Stanley Cup champion. It isn’t known yet if all the playoff rounds will be best-of-sevens as we’ve become used to, or if the first two rounds might be something shorter.

A while back, I heard several NHL players on TV saying how the only true and fair way to determine the Stanley Cup champion is through four rounds of best-of-seven playoffs. I’ve read writers who’ve commented that with anything less, “historians will call the championship into question.” Well, this is one historian who will never call it into question!

The NHL likes to boast that the Stanley Cup is the hardest championship of all to win. That may be true, but the NHL playoff format has hardly been carved in stone! Yes, the NHL has been playing four rounds of playoffs since 1980, and all four rounds have been best of sevens since 1987. Yet even within that setup, the NHL has tinkered plenty. And before that? Does anyone question the greatness of the 1970s Montreal dynasty because they didn’t have to win 16 playoff games? (Only 12.) Or any of the great teams of the so-called “Original Six” era because they had to win just two rounds of playoffs? Hell, even the great Islanders teams of the early 1980s, who won an astounding 19 straight playoffs series, only had to win 15 games, not 16.

The 1987 Edmonton Oilers were the first champions that had to win 16 games.

And even if it’s true that the NHL is mainly trying to salvage the playoffs for financial reasons, it’s also true that the playoffs in professional hockey have almost always been about the money!

In the early days of hockey, there were no playoffs at all. League champions were simply the team that finished the schedule with the best record. Postseason games were only played to break ties if two teams topped the standings with identical records. Once the Stanley Cup came along in 1893, championship teams from rival leagues were allowed to challenge the reigning champion for the trophy. There were still no league playoffs, and some of these teams played as few as four regular-season games. None in these early years played more than 20. Before 1914, the Stanley Cup challenges these teams took part in were either a one-game, winner-take-all match, a two-game, total-goals series, or a best-of-three playoff.

Ottawa dropped out of its league after playing just four games in 1904. The defending Stanley Cup champions were still allowed to accept challenges for the trophy.

These limited Stanley Cup formats were first called into question before the start of the 1912-13 season. Lester Patrick and his brother Frank had created the Pacific Coast Hockey Association the year before. In October of 1912 (likely influenced by the Boston Red Sox thrilling World Series win over the New York Giants), Lester Patrick spoke of his desire to see the Stanley Cup playoffs enlarged to a best-of-seven series, or even a best-five-of-nine. When Lester’s 1912–13 Victoria Aristocrats won the PCHA championship, he would have liked to challenge the National Hockey Association’s Quebec Bulldogs for the Stanley Cup. However, he realized that he wouldn’t even be able to cover his expenses if he took his team some 3,000 miles across Canada by train to play a two-game series in Quebec’s tiny home arena. The following season, the PCHA and the NHA agreed that their two champions would meet in an annual best-of-five Stanley Cup series. The NHL would continue that agreement, and a best-of-five mostly remained the Stanley Cup standard (with a couple of best-of-threes on occasion) until the first best-of-seven Final in 1939.

As for league playoffs en route to the Stanley Cup, the first time a top hockey league created its own independent playoff was in 1916-17 when the NHA split its regular season into two parts. The champions from the first half of the schedule met the champions from the second in a postseason playoff for the right to take on the PCHA champions for the Stanley Cup. (The NHL continued that set up through 1921.) What we think of as the modern playoff format was introduced by the Patricks in the PCHA in 1917-18. Their system pitted the top two teams against each other at the end of a full slate of regular season games.

Lester Patrick (left) and his brother Frank weren’t much older
than this when they created sports first modern playoff format.

The reason the Patricks gave for introducing their new format was that a second-place team might be coming on strong at the end of a season while a first-place team was struggling to hang on after a fast start. Perhaps the second-place team was truly the better team by the end of the season, and didn’t they deserve a chance to go after the Stanley Cup? But if even it hadn’t dawned on them right away (which it probably did!), the Patricks quickly realized that the playoffs kept up fan interest in cities that might otherwise be out of contention … and that these new postseason games were a pretty good way to make a buck!

This reality was hammered home to the NHL in 1924 after Frank Patrick’s Vancouver Maroons finished in second place in the PCHA standings, and then eliminated the first-place Seattle Metropolitans. A new league – the Western Canada Hockey League – had emerged onto the Stanley Cup scene in 1922, but there was no real consensus yet on how to work out a three-team playoff. Frank Patrick decided that his team should play a best-of-three series against the WCHL champion Calgary Tigers en route to Montreal … even though both Western teams would still have a chance to face the Canadiens for the Stanley Cup. This angered NHL executives.

“When we arrived in Montreal,” Frank recalled, “[Canadiens owner] 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!

Both the PCHA and the WHL were gone from hockey by 1927, leaving the NHL as the only top pro league remaining. Their playoff formats got more and more elaborate after that. And when the Great Depression was turning baseball into a money loser during the 1930s, Lester Patrick – then running the New York Rangers – suggested that baseball should expand its playoff format as hockey had done. Americans mostly laughed at the idea. Right up until 1968, the teams that finished the season in first place in the American League and the National League advanced directly to the World Series. Additional playoff rounds weren’t introduced in Major League Baseball until 1969.

If baseball manages to get going this summer, they’re talking about expanding their playoff format from 10 teams to 14. So it’s not just the NHL that’s experimenting. Back in 1919, people thought the Spanish Flu was all but over when they started the Stanley Cup playoffs, and that turned out to be fatal. Let’s hope they won’t be experimenting with people’s lives this time.

Another Story of the Spanish Flu

Since moving to Owen Sound in the fall of 2006, I’ve done most of my work from home. And when I haven’t had a ton of actual paying work (freelancing can be pretty boom or bust), I often manage to keep myself busy reading and noodling away on my computer. So, I guess I’ve been better equipped than many to handle what’s become day-to-day life these days.

This story may read like the efforts of someone who’s got too much time on his hands (which I do right now), but, really, it’s not very different from what my “real” life was like before. It’s also a pretty good example of why I always try my best to help anyone who contacts me with a question as quickly as possible … because I often have to rely on similar help myself. And when I do, I like to get my answers NOW!

In my Spanish Flu story last week, I said that I was limiting myself to how the pandemic affected pro hockey players. Still, the story of one amateur player that popped up in my research stuck in my mind. His name was Frank Montgomery.

The Globe, Toronto. November 2, 1918.

Montgomery was not someone I’d heard of before, so I started doing a little digging. I began with the web site of the Society for International Hockey Research. No one by the name of Frank Montgomery showed up in the statistical database. However, there were eight players with the last name Montgomery and no first name. Only two of them had stats ranges that made sense, and only one of those two had an entry showing that he’d played in Sarnia in 1917–18. There was no other information. No first name; no date of birth or death; no statistics; no other seasons.

Montgomery’s death was apparently national news. This item is from the Victoria Daily Times. I also found stories in newspapers from Vancouver and Edmonton.

A little more searching through old issues of the Globe online determined that a Montgomery did play in Sarnia in 1917–18, and that he was a defenseman. Better than the nothing that was there for him before, so I sent along what I’d found to my friend and fellow SIHR member Aubrey Ferguson.

Sarnia’s Junior team played only three games in the OHA in January of 1918. Montgomery (no first name) was highlighted as a star in two of them.

The short obituary in the Globe had already told us that Frank Montgomery was from Peterborough, Ontario, so Aubrey passed along the information to a Peterborough SIHR colleague, Peter Pearson:

Hi Peter
Thought you would find this interesting, if only to put a Ptbo hockey twist on the Spanish Flu. Also thought you might have something from local sources on him.
Cheers, Aubrey

Following the email chain that would soon make its way back to me, Peter contacted Sylvia Best, who found a much more detailed obituary from the Peterborough Evening Examiner on October 28, 1918. There was plenty more information on Frank Montgomery in there, as well as the sad fact that not only had the family suffered his death from the Spanish Flu, but they had also learned at almost the exact same time that another family member had been seriously wounded fighting in World War I:

Frank Montgomery Died This Morning
- The Deceased Was Well Known in Local Athletic Circles -
Word was received late this after noon that Mr. Frank Montgomery had succumbed to pneumonia in Oshawa this morning. Mr. Montgomery had been ill with pneumonia for 12 days which succeeded Spanish influenza. Mr. Montgomery played on the Peterboro Junior O.H.A hockey team for Peterboro in the season of 1916-17. Last winter he played for the Sarnia team. He left for Oshawa in the latter part of July where he intended playing hockey this winter. The deceased also played for the Matthews-Blackwell team in the Twilight league.

The body will be brought to the city and the funeral will take place from the residence of his sister, Mrs. Thomas H. Skinner, 354 Stewart Street to Little Lake Cemetery. Rev. Mr. MacKenzie of Knox Presbyterian Church will officiate.

Mrs. Skinner received word on Saturday night that her husband Pte. Thomas Skinner of the 21st Canadians, had been badly wounded.

A big thank you to Peter and to Sylvia (neither of whom I know) and to Aubrey for their efforts … but I was still curious.

A Google street image of 354 Stewart Street. (Left half of the semi seen here.)

For one thing, I went to Trent University in Peterborough from 1982 to 1985. In my last year there, I shared a house with a few friends. It was on Stewart Street in the same part of town! What were the chances that I’d actually lived in that house? (Turns out, I didn’t. We were about two blocks away, at 264 Stewart.)

The house on the right is 264 Stewart Street. The balconies have
been enlarged since I lived there, and the ramp has been added.

Really, what I hoped to find was a birth date for Frank Montgomery. The Spanish Flu was notorious for killing men and women in the prime of life, with a huge percentage of deaths occurring in people between the ages of 20 and 40. As a junior hockey player, Montgomery was likely to be under 21. So — though I know they can be notoriously unreliable — I turned to the records of the Canadian census for 1901 and 1911.

In 1901, I found a Montgomery family from Peterborough. (A later search through city directories showed the family lived at 33 Louis Street then … not too far from Stewart Street.) There was a father named John and a mother named Jane, plus four daughters … and then another daughter named Francis J.

The area of Peterborough where the Montgomery/Skinner familes (and I) lived.

Francis J. would actually turn out to be our guy Frank. (The J. stands for John.) The birth date in 1901 is listed as January 7, 1899. By the 1911 Census, father John is no longer there. (I would later discover that he’d driven a team of horses for the fire department, and that he passed away around 1907. NOTE: Daniel Doyon found the death certificate confirming that John Montgomery died of pneumonia on Jan. 19, 1907.) Jane is now the head of the household and youngest daughter Geraldine is still at home. (The much smaller family by then was living at 262 Dalhousie, in the same neighbourhood.) Frank is now a boy, at least, but his birth is listed as July of 1899, not January.

As I said, those old Censuses can be unreliable

However, in both 1901 and 1911, the family also has boarders in their home. In 1911, two of those boarders are T.H. Skinner and Edith Skinner. I assumed that Edith (there had been an Edith Montgomery in 1901) must be the sister from the obituary who was married to Thomas Skinner, and he must be the T.H. from the Census.

I knew I’d be able to confirm all this if I still had a membership to Ancestry.com but I’d cancelled that a while back. So, friends to the rescue once again! I called on Lynda Chiotti to ask if she could hunt down a birth record for Frank Montgomery, his death certificate, and anything on the marriage of Thomas and Edith when she had some time.

The official record of the birth of Frank Montgomery. (See the last line.)

Meanwhile, as I waited to hear back from Lynda, I was also curious as to whether or not Thomas Skinner had survived the war wounds mentioned in Frank’s obituary. I was able to find his complete military record through Library and Archives Canada. Turns out, Thomas Skinner suffered gun shot wounds in his arms and legs on October 24, 1918, but survived and returned safely to Canada in 1919. (Thomas and Edith were still living with Jane Montgomery, and Frank, at 262 Dalhousie Street when Thomas enlisted in 1915, but both Thomas’s war records and the Peterborough city directory show their address as 354 Stewart by 1917.)

Lynda did find the marriage record for me. Skinner, Thomas Henry, was a carpenter who married Edith Maud Montgomery, daughter of John and Jane, on November 9, 1909. She also found a family tree showing that Thomas lived until September 19, 1960 and that Edith died on March 5, 1974, when she would have been nearing 100 years old. (City directories help to confirm this.)

As for Frank Montgomery, the birth records show that he was actually born on January 5, 1899, in Peterborough, to John and Martha Jane Montgomery. The death certificate confirms that he was only 19 years of age when he died in Oshawa on October 28, 1918. The cause of death is listed as “Pneumonia following flu.” The body was turned over to Mrs. Jane Montgomery, 354 Stewart, Peterborough.

The official death record for Frank Montgomery. (Middle column.)

All the pieces of this sad story fit. Still, it was satisfying to put them all together.

Well, maybe not all the pieces. The family tree that Lynda found actually shows Frank Montgomery listed as the son of his sister Edith! Edith Montgomery would have been about 22 (and unmarried) when Frank was born, while Jane would have been about 42. So, it’s certainly possible that grandmother Jane raised Frank as her own … but it might just have been an error in the listing. As of now, there’s been no way to know for sure. Family histories can certainly be mysteries.

Hockey in the Time of the Spanish Flu

One hundred and one years ago yesterday, on April 5, 1919, Joe Hall passed away at the Columbus Sanitarium in Seattle, Washington. Hall died of pneumonia, as did so many victims of the Spanish Flu epidemic around the world between 1918 and 1920. (Sources used to put the death toll around 20 million worldwide, but more recent estimates have moved that number to more like 100 million.)

Last year on April 5, I visited Joe Hall’s gravesite in Vancouver on the 100th anniversary of his death. Hall’s illness, along with several other of his Montreal Canadiens teammates, is the reason that the deciding game of the 1919 Stanley Cup Final was never played. The fact that Hall died just four days after the series was cancelled makes him the most famous hockey victim of the Spanish Flu … but he wasn’t the only one.

George Kennedy owned and operated the Montreal Canadiens from 1910 until his death on October 19, 1921. Kennedy also contracted the Spanish Flu while the team was in Seattle for the Stanley Cup in 1919. Although he lived for another 2 1/2 years, it was said that Kennedy never really recovered.

Three years before George Kennedy died, Hamby Shore of the Ottawa Senators had been the first member of the hockey community to fall to the Spanish Flu. Shore caught the disease while nursing his wife, who made a complete recovery. Sadly, he died on October 13, 1918.

On the day of Hamby Shore’s funeral in Ottawa on October 16, 1918, the hockey world suffered another loss when the son of Jack Marshall (who had starred at the game’s highest level from 1900 to 1917) died of the flu. Bob Marshall was just 12 years old.

Having been called on a few times of late to share my knowledge of the Spanish Flu and the 1919 Stanley Cup, I was asked recently if I knew how many hockey players had been sick during the epidemic. I spent an hour or two last week trying to put together a list. This may not be a complete compilation, but it’s certainly a start. Everyone listed here seems to have made a complete recovery. (Most of the pictures accompanying the newspaper stories are courtesy of the Society for International Hockey Research.)

I decided to limit myself to professional hockey players, but I did come across a few other big names from other sports. Babe Ruth’s case was said to be a mild one, but imagine how different the history of baseball would be if Ruth had died in the fall of 1918!

Jim Jeffries was the heavyweight boxing champion of the world from 1899 to 1904, and famously came out of retirement in 1910 to fight Jack Johnson as the “Great White Hope.” Jeffries recovered from the Spanish Flu, as his doctors believed he would.

Former Canadian heavyweight champ Tommy Burns (who lost the title to Jack Johnson in 1908) also came down with the flu in 1918 while in training with the army in Vancouver. Though his case sounds bad, it was soon reported that Burns was improving.

As for other hockey players, while Hamby Shore was dying in the fall of 1918, his Ottawa teammate Eddie Gerard was recovering from his own bout of Spanish Flu.

And at least two club executives in Ottawa were reported to be down with the flu as well. Still, the NHL meeting went on as scheduled on October 19 … although only three delegates were in attendance.

Frank Foyston of the Seattle Metropolitans was also sick in October of 1918. He was training with the Royal Air Force in Toronto during World War I at the time. Toronto newspapers mention that he was sick, some articles noting he had the Spanish Flu, which was confirmed by his former teammate Norm Fowler in a letter to Pacific Coast Hockey Association President Frank Patrick in Vancouver. (The War ended before Foyston was ever sent overseas.)

Fowler, who was in the army and training in Victoria, British Columbia, late in 1918 before serving in the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force to bolster the Allied presence during the Russian Revolution, would also become a sufferer of the Spanish Flu. Fowler recovered, and after missing the 1918–19 season due to his military service, he signed on with the Victoria Aristocrats hockey team in 1919–20.

The British Columbia capital seemed to be a particularly difficult place for hockey players during the Spanish Flu epidemic. Dubbie Kerr, who hadn’t played hockey at all in 1917–18 and would play just one game for Victoria during the 1918–19 season was reported sick with Spanish Flu in the fall of 1918.

Aristocrats captain Eddie Oatman came down with a case in late December of 1918 and missed the team’s first game of the PCHA season before returning to action in January.

After Oatman recovered, team owner, coach and star player Lester Patrick came down with the disease.

Though it’s said that Lester was extremely diligent in insisting that other players be sent home if they experienced any symptoms, Moose Johnson, Clem Loughlin, Bob Genge and Alf Barbour of the Aristocrats all got sick too. Every Victoria player recovered.

Given that many sporting events were cancelled in Victoria in the fall of 1918 (as they were all across North America, where – like today – meetings, schools, theaters and the like had all been shut down) it’s amazing to me that the PCHA never closed the rinks during the 1918–19 season. Of course, the league only had three teams, as did the NHL, but whereas the Spanish Flu epidemic was considered essentially over in November on the East Coast – well before the the NHL season began in late December — life didn’t really get back to normal on the West Coast until January. And, of course the disease would flare up again later.

It’s long been said that the Montreal players who got sick at the end of March during the 1919 Stanley Cup Final contracted the disease while in Victoria. I don’t believe that to be true. (In my research, the team was never in Victoria en route from Montreal to Seattle.) I think it was just an easy story for lazy writers who knew that so many Victoria hockey players had been sick. I also doubt they picked up the virus in Vancouver, which is another theory. The Canadiens were in Vancouver for barely 24 hours nearly two weeks before anyone got sick, and unlike COVID-19, the Spanish flu presented symptoms almost immediately.

Although there were no deaths associated with the flu in Seattle during March of 1919, I think the Canadiens contracted the disease while they were there. In addition to Joe Hall and George Kennedy, Canadiens who got sick in Seattle include Jack McDonald, Newsy Lalonde, Billy Coutu, Louis Berlinguette, and Odie Cleghorn. Roy Rickey, Muzz Murray and manager Pete Muldoon of the Seattle Metropolitans were also stricken with influenza. All would recover fairly quickly.

For more on this topic, you can see the story I wrote here in March of 2017, or search out several interesting stories by others writers about Joe Hall, Hamby Shore, and the 1919 Stanley Cup that have been written since the start of the COVID 19 pandemic.

LATE ADDITION (October 5, 2020): While researching my upcoming book on the Kenora Thistles (due out in the fall of 2021), I discovered that Si Griffis was also stricken with the Spanish Flu. The former Thistles star had announced his retirement from the Vancouver Millionaires late in the 1917-18 season, but despite coming down with the flu in January or February of 1919, returned to the Millionaires in March.

And one more. Harry Mummery was reported as having the flu in Toronto’s Globe newspaper on December 16, 1918. I’d say that’s a decent reason why he missed the first five games of the 1918-19 season and didn’t play his first until January 9.

April First (No Fooling!)

From anything I’ve read (and I’m just talking newspapers and web sites; I don’t have any inside information) the NHL is really hoping the COVID-19 crisis clears up in time to complete the season and then have a full playoff for the Stanley Cup. Apparently, arenas across the NHL have guaranteed that ice will be available into July and August.

Understandably, there has never been a Stanley Cup game played in July or August before. But it might surprise you to learn that if championship games are played this summer, it would mean that over the years since 1893, Stanley Cup games will have been played in nine of the 12 months on the calendar. If there is a series in July and August, only September, October and November would never have seen a Stanley Cup game.

In the earliest years of its competition, the Stanley Cup was a challenge trophy available to championship teams in any major senior provincial hockey league anywhere in Canada. With travel limited to trains, leagues were small in those days (anywhere from just two to seven teams) and, with arenas requiring cold temperatures to keep natural ice surfaces frozen, seasons were short. Schedules generally began in late December or early January and extended only to the beginning of March.

The Ottawa Senators won their first Stanley Cup as an NHL team on April 1, 1920.

As championship teams from more and more leagues wished to challenge for the Stanley Cup, the trustees in charge of the trophy often had to arrange title games at any time during the hockey schedule. Sometimes the Stanley Cup was contested before the regular season started; sometimes right smack dab in the middle. For that reason, from 1893 to 1910, Stanley Cup games were played in December, January, February and March. Although no formal announcement seems to have been made, all Stanley Cup games since 1911 have always been played at the end of the hockey season.

Beginning in 1914, Stanley Cup play was limited to the National Hockey Association (forerunner of the NHL) and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, whose championship teams would meet at the end of the season in a Stanley Cup Final often referred to as the World Series of Hockey. During this World Series era, all the games in a best-of-five series were scheduled for just one city. It could take six or seven days to travel across the continent by train, so the entire series was played in the eastern winner’s city one year and the western winner’s city the next.

If not for the Spanish Flu epidemic, the Stanley Cup Final of 1919 in Seattle would have stretched into April, but since the last game of that series wasn’t played, the first Stanley Cup game ever played in April took place one year later – 100 years ago today – on April 1, 1920. The teams that year were the NHL champion Ottawa Senators and the PCHA champion Seattle Metropolitans … yet the first Stanley Cup game to be played in April actually took place in Toronto.

As these Ottawa Citizen articles of March 10 and 11, indicate, whether or not the Senators would be able to host the 1920 Stanley Cup Final wasn’t entirely clear.

With the NHL newly expanded to four teams, and with the schedule extended to 24 games, the 1919–20 NHL season began on December 23, 1919, which was slightly later than the start of the first two seasons in league history and didn’t end until March 13, 1920 – which was also the latest date yet. In this era, the NHL used a split schedule, with a first-half champion and a second-half champion. The playoffs then pitted the first-half winner against the second-half winner to determine the league championship.

In 1920, Ottawa won the first half of the schedule in a tight race with the Montreal Canadiens. The Senators also won the second half, clinching it with a win over the Toronto St. Pats on March 3 with 10 days (and three games for each team) still left in the season. This meant there was no need for an NHL playoff and thoughts turned immediately to the Stanley Cup Final with the PCHA.

Would the 1920 Stanley Cup Final be moved to Toronto?
The Globe newspaper said yes on March 5, but no on March 9.

Out west, the PCHA had three teams in 1919–20: the Vancouver Millionaires, the Victoria Aristocrats, and Seattle. The PCHA played a full schedule, which was expanded to 22 games this season (each team played its two opponents 11 times at home and 11 times away) and ran from December 26 to March 10. Back in 1917-18, the PCHA had created what many consider to be the first modern-style playoff system in which the first-place team and second-place team would meet in a two-game, total-goal postseason series. In 1920, the second-place Millionaires won the first playoff game 3–1 on the road in Seattle on March 12, but the first-place Metropolitans stormed back for a 6–0 win in Vancouver three days later and took the series 7–3. The Mets left for Ottawa on March 16 and arrived in the Canadian capital on Sunday, March 21. The first game of the Stanley Cup Final was played the following evening.

Since clinching the NHL title nearly three weeks earlier, the Senators, their fans, and team executives (as well as NHL president Frank Calder, who would be in charge of the Stanley Cup series) had been keeping a nervous eye on the Ottawa weather. It had been unseasonably warm since the start of March, and was only getting warmer. There had been good, natural, ice available in Ottawa at the Arena on Laurier Avenue into the first week of April in 1919, but there were serious doubts the surface would hold up that long this time.

An ad from the Ottawa Journal on March 20 showing the
original dates of the first three games of the 1920 Stanley Cup Final.

There had been some talk in the newspapers about moving the 1920 Stanley Cup Final out West, where all three PCHA teams had artificial ice rinks. It’s unclear how serious those reports were. As early as March 5, there were stories about the NHL seeking to move the series to the Arena Gardens in Toronto — which also had artificial ice — but the finals of the Memorial Cup (junior hockey championship) and the Allan Cup (senior amateur championship) were already scheduled there in March. Since no firms plans could be made to move the Stanley Cup Final, it began in Ottawa despite the poor ice conditions.

The Senators hoped to play the entire series in front of their home fans, but the weather kept getting warmer … and the ice kept getting softer. With Seattle clearly hampered by the bad ice, the Senators won the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final. Game three was originally set for Friday night, March 26, but it was postponed until Saturday the 27th when the forecast called for slightly cooler temperatures. The delay would also allow Arena staff an extra day to remove the top layer of slush and – hopefully! – get down to a firmer surface below. However, if Seattle managed to stay alive (which they did, with a 3–1 victory that surprised most experts) it had already been announced that any remaining games in the series would be moved to Toronto.

Ottawa Journal weather headlines. (Top: March 27. Bottom: March 25.)

Playing on the hard, fast, artificial ice in Toronto, the Metropolitans scored a 5–2 victory in game four on March 30 to stay alive once again and extend the series into April. A Canadian Press report prior to the deciding contest on April 1 stated that, “the result of this important and soon-to-be-historic game is as uncertain as any game ever was in advance.” As further proof, the report noted that, “no line could be obtained tonight on the probable betting odds.”

The game certainly start out close, with the score tied 1–1 after two periods. Defenseman Bobby Rowe starred for Seattle, scoring the first goal midway through the first period and helping to keep Ottawa’s offense bottled up. But during the second period, Rowe delivered a check on Eddie Gerard and was accidentally cut just below the left eye by the blade of the Ottawa captain’s stick. Rowe went down, semi-conscious, in a pool of blood. He had to be helped off the ice and was rushed to St. Michael’s Hospital, where it took several stitches to close the wound.

Even 100 years ago, the Stanley Cup was national news. The article on the left is
from the Edmonton Journal. The one on the right appeared in the Calgary Herald.

In an era when teams only carried a few substitute players, Seattle had to scramble. Winger Jim Riley was dropped back to take Rowe’s spot, leaving the team’s two other spares to fill in on the forward line. Five minutes into the third period, Jack Darragh went around Riley for a goal that put Ottawa up 2–1. Five minutes later, Eddie Gerard scored for the Senators. Ottawa went into a defensive shell after that, and Seattle cracked. The Mets were rarely able to get past center. Darragh scored again a few minutes later, and then he and Frank Nighbor added two quick goals late in the game as Ottawa pulled away for a 6–1 victory.

“I thought we had them until Rowe was hurt,” said Seattle star Frank Foyston, discussing the final game with local reporters after the team arrived home later in April, “but the Ottawas had saved themselves and skated us off our feet in the third period…. We were all sorry to lose, but we were beaten by a wonderful team. They’re a credit to the game.”

Ottawa Journal headlines on April 2 marking the Senator’s victory the night before.

“I noticed that you didn’t get the cold spell until the month of April,” wrote Mets coach Pete Muldoon in a letter to Ottawa hockey executives from his Seattle office. “Why don’t you get on better terms with the weather man. He’s about the only chap you fellows didn’t have pulling with you.” But even Muldoon had admitted on April 1 that, “the better team won tonight. It was a great series and we have no kick to make.” Still, the Seattle players believed their chances to win would have been better if the entire series had been played on better ice.

By 1927, the NHL was the only league left in competition for the Stanley Cup … and all its teams by then had artificial ice rinks. As the league – and its schedule – grew larger over the years, the first Stanley Cup game in May was played in 1965. The first game in June was played in 1992. Will this year mark the first time that Stanley Cup games are played in July and August? I guess we’ll have to wait and see…

Hockey Night in History

If I was an historian who specialized in Canada’s military in World War I, I feel like no one would question that. But I’m a person who likes Canadian hockey history from that same era. While it does occasionally make me someone of interest — say, during a global pandemic when reporters want to talk about the Spanish Flu and the 1919 Stanley Cup — people often find it strange.

I can’t really explain why it’s the early history of hockey — mostly before the formation of the NHL — that interests me the most. If you look at old pictures of hockey players from these pioneer days, it’s hard to believe that any of them could skate fast enough, or shoot hard enough, to actually play the game let alone to entertain anyone today. And, of course, if you put them in a time machine and brought them to the present, there’s no way they could keep up. But my personal theory is, if you put them in a time machine and brought them to a point in time where they’d be born to come of age currently, the best of them would still grow up to be stars today.

Of course, there’s no way to prove that, but the one thing that you can prove just by reading old newspapers is that the hockey played in every era was always the fastest and the best it could be … and that the fans loved it! No one in 1911 was saying, “this game will be great some day if they ever shorten the shifts, and these guys grow bigger, stronger, and faster.” Most people today don’t know many of the stories, or the personalities, from those early days … but I find them fascinating. Everything that truly formed the modern game was beginning to happen in its early days.

Hockey cards from 1910 and 1911 depicting Marty Walsh of the Ottawa Senators.

Back in 1911, Marty Walsh was one of the biggest names in hockey with the Ottawa Senators. He’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but not having played since 1912, he’s only remembered today by those who really know the early days well.

A native of Kingston, Ontario, Walsh had starred for the hockey team at Queen’s University from 1903 to 1906. He was also a top football player for Queen’s, and would coach the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1911.

Ottawa’s Stanley Cup team of 1909. Cyclone Taylor and Marty Walsh are circled.

Walsh joined the Ottawa Senators in 1907–08, a year after the Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association first allowed professional players to suit up with amateurs. Cyclone Taylor also arrived in the Canadian capital that year, and would serve as the Bobby Orr to Walsh’s Phil Esposito. They each appear to have added something new and lasting to hockey that season, with Taylor shouting for passes when he wanted the puck, and Walsh tapping his stick on the ice when he wanted it.

From the Ottawa Citizen on January 7, 1913.

Cyclone Taylor became a defenseman in Ottawa, and, like Bobby Orr, he could do it all. Marty Walsh was a center who scored goals like few others in his day. In what was essentially Walsh’s first season as a pro in 1907–08, he scored 27 goals in just nine games and placed second in the ECAHA behind Russell Bowie, who scored 31 times in 10 games. (Bowie is another name few know today, but he was the greatest scorer in hockey in the early 1900s when players routinely played all 60 minutes.) The next season, in 1908–09, Walsh led the league with 42 goals in 12 games as he and Taylor helped bring the Stanley Cup to Ottawa.

Two years later, in 1910–11, Walsh led the National Hockey Association (forerunner of the NHL) in scoring. Sources vary, but he either scored 35 goals or 37 in a 16-game season. What is undisputed is that in a single-game Stanley Cup challenge on March 13, 1911, Walsh scored three goals to provide the margin of victory in a 7–4 win over the Galt Professionals. Three days later in another one-game Stanley Cup challenge on March 16, Walsh scored 10 times in a 13–4 win over Port Arthur. That’s a performance topped only at the highest level of hockey by Frank McGee’s legendary 14 goals for Ottawa against Dawson City in 1905.

From the Ottawa Citizen on March 17, 1911.

Marty Walsh was more than just a hockey star. He was a guy that everybody seemed to like. Walsh was a man who could be quick with a quip, but was also as good as his word … even if others might not be.

After the Senators’ Stanley Cup win in 1909, the owners of what would become known as the Renfrew Millionaires hoped to attract several top stars to their tiny town in the Ottawa Valley. (This is a big part of the plot in my very first book, the novel Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada.) Renfrew had already signed Cyclone Taylor and looked certain to lure several other stars away from the Senators as well.

George Martel of Renfrew was reportedly offering Walsh $500 up front plus a contract paying him $2,500 for the 1909–10 season. Walsh had nothing but a gentleman’s agreement with his Ottawa team, and likely for only about half as much money, but he refused to jump.

From the Ottawa Citizen on May 3, 1917.

“I will give you three thousand cash for this season,” Martel shouted, unable to understand the Ottawa star’s hesitation.

“And I repeat,” said Walsh, “that you haven’t got money enough to make me sign until Mr. Bate releases me of my promise to him. A Walsh never broke his word.”

It’s said that Walsh’s refusal to take Renfrew’s money saved the Senators by convincing several other Ottawa players to stay with the team. But unfortunately for Walsh — and for all other hockey players of their day – after the free spending ways of the 1909–10 season, hockey owners hoped to recoup their losses by instituting the game’s first salary cap for the 1910–11 season. Teams in the NHA planned to sign no more than 10 players and to pay them just $5,000. Not $5,000 a piece… $5,000 for the entire team!

Senators players seemed particularly vocal in their displeasure. During preseason salary negotiations, when Walsh returned to Ottawa from his home in Kingston, it was reported that while he was looking forward to the coming winter, he felt that “$500 wouldn’t pay his beef steak bill at Benny Bowers’ (a cafe popular among Ottawa sportsmen) during the hockey season.”

From the Ottawa Citizen on November 16, 1910.

The salary dispute in 1910 briefly led to the game’s first player strike. It’s unclear how effectively NHA owners actually held the line on salaries that year, but the Senators were said to have signed only eight players and paid them all $625 apiece. (The decision to change the structure of the game from two 30-minute halves to three 20-minute periods may have made it slightly easier for Ottawa to get by with just seven regulars.) It’s also been said that, as a championship bonus, management allowed the Ottawa players to split all the gate receipts from their two Stanley Cup games and from a postseason tour of New York and Boston.

Despite any lingering resentment over the reduced salaries in 1910–11, the Senators had had no real competition that year. They started the 16-game schedule with 10 straight wins and finished the five-team regular season with a 13–3 record, well ahead of Renfrew and the Montreal Canadiens, who both finished 8–8. (The Montreal Wanderers were 7–9, while the Quebec Bulldogs went 4–12.)

Ottawa’s Stanley Cup team of 1911. Marty Walsh is seated first on the left.

A year later, in 1911–12, the NHA eliminated the position of rover — a seventh player who had lined up between the forwards and the defensemen — to create the six-man alignment that remains the standard in hockey to this day. It’s never been completely clear if this was done for competitive reasons or as just another way to save money, but Ottawa players weren’t happy with this move either. “You might as well do away with the shortstop in baseball,” Walsh complained.

From the Ottawa Citizen on October 13, 1911.

With essentially the same lineup as in 1910–11 but now playing six-man hockey in 1911–12, the Senators fell to 9–9 in the expanded 18-game season and dropped into second place in a tight four team race that saw Quebec top the NHA with a 10–8 record to claim the league title and the Stanley Cup. The loss of the rover had definitely hurt the Senators.

“When the rules were changed,” explained goalie and team captain Percy Lesueur, “we were completely at sea and it took half the season to get any system in our play…. In the seven-man game we used to play [a] three-man combination … [W]hen a combination was broken up, there was no one there to check the man; the rover had been done away with and there was no trailer to the three-man rush…

“In previous seasons we had depended a lot upon the center man being able to hang around the nets and get the rebounds, at which Marty Walsh shone.” Indeed, a description of Walsh’s style in the Ottawa Citizen a few years later, on February 11, 1916, noted that he often liked to flip a soft shot at the net and then — in an era where goalies didn’t have specialized gloves, carried their sticks with two hands like other players, and were not allowed to drop to the ice and smother shots – “take an extra swing if the first [shot] did not ring the bell.” But, as Lesueur explained back in 1912, “with the six-man game the center man had no chance to do that; he had to be back on the job [defending]. That threw us off a lot.”

From the Ottawa Journal on November 13, 1912.

Walsh basically lost his job as Ottawa’s main man at center during the 1911–12 season. He took part in only 12 of 18 scheduled games and dropped from 30+ goals to 11. He never played again. After just five seasons, and at only 27 years of age, Marty Walsh walked away.

Reports in April of 1912 indicated that Walsh was moving to Winnipeg with an Ottawa teammate, Dubbie Kerr. A story in May quoted an unnamed Senators star (probably not Walsh) as saying that players were still angry that management in Ottawa had failed to deliver on promises made when the players turned down the lucrative Renfrew offers. Walsh, it was said, was interested in playing for the rival Pacific Coast Hockey Association.

Walsh left for Winnipeg to join Dubbie Kerr at the end of May in 1912. Some newspapers claimed they were going to buy a Western cattle ranch. Others said they were looking for a farm. These stories may never have been true, as Walsh moved on to Edmonton in July and took a job with the Grand Trunk Pacific railway. (Kerr stayed in Winnipeg, but reportedly took a job with the Canadian Northern railway.) Rumors that Walsh would join a PCHA team — Vancouver was sometimes mentioned, but usually Victoria — continued into December.

From the Ottawa Citizen and the Vancouver Province, May 28, 1912.

There would soon be others stories saying that Ottawa wanted Walsh back, but he never signed with anyone. On December 28, 1912, the Edmonton Journal reported that he’d attended a local hockey game on Christmas Day (the Edmonton Eskimos defeated the Calgary Tigers 13–3) and Walsh soon joined the Eskimos as a coach. He remained in that role through the 1913–14 season.

During the fall of 1914, Marty Walsh left Edmonton. Around September, he relocated to a ranch outside of Cochrane, Alberta. Was it the cattle ranch he’d reportedly bought with Dubbie Kerr back in 1912? Maybe … but Walsh had actually moved on the advice of his doctors. Some time early in 1915, he moved again, this time to Gravenhurst in the Muskoka region of Ontario. Gravenhurst was the first site in Canada, and only the third in North America, with a sanitorium to treat patients suffering from tuberculosis.

From the Victoria Daily Times, December 23, 1914.

By the end of February in 1915, Walsh was reported as being gravely ill with the deadly disease. Friends in his hometown of Kingston established a fund, which would be supported as well by the hockey community in Ottawa. (Frank Patrick of the PCHA is known to have made a donation, and one would have to think that the Edmonton hockey community also contributed.)

Marty Walsh died of tuberculosis on March 27, 1915. His funeral was held four days later, on March 31, at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Kingston. He was survived only by a sister, Mrs. Loretta Keaney of Sudbury. Frank McGee, then in training with the Canadian army in Kingston, represented the Ottawa hockey club at the funeral. The fund for Walsh had raised sufficient money to cover all of his medical and funeral expenses with enough left over to erect a commemorative monument at his grave which stands there to this day. Largely through the work of his nephew Martin Keaney (who was only about four years old when his uncle died), Marty Walsh was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1962 and inducted in 1963.