The battles for the 1915 and 1921 Stanley Cup between the Vancouver Millionaires of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and the Ottawa Senators of the National Hockey Association were contests that defined a generation of hockey.
They are part of what the 2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic is celebrating with the game Sunday at BC Place (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC). To further celebrate the synergy between the turn-of-the-century hockey rivalry between the two cities and the current-day matchup, we asked hockey historian Craig Bowlsby to provide short biographies of the players who most influenced the two Stanley Cup Final showdowns between the clubs. As an added bonus, Bowlsby was asked to compare each of the players to an equivalent player in the NHL today.
Fred "Cyclone" Taylor, Vancouver
Between 1906 and 1918, Taylor was probably hockey's most sought-after player. He went on to win six professional scoring titles (one in the International League and five in the PCHA), with an overall point-per-game average of 1.91 in the PCHA. Taylor learned how to skate backward from the best skater in the world, Norval Baptie, and he loved to keep the puck away from his frustrated opposition. However, like Wayne Gretzky 70 years later, he was very hard to hit. "Cyclone" was usually his team's playmaker, often setting the pace of the attack as well, so Ottawa's main strategy in 1915 was to "get" Taylor.
Clint Benedict, Ottawa
Benedict was often spectacular in goal, outguessing opposing shooters over and over. He had a great sense of positional instinct, setting himself for each new shot quickly, rather than waiting at one side to bat the puck away. This led him to pioneer an early butterfly style. He was also a shutout king. In the 1920 season, Benedict had five shutouts in 24 games and led his Ottawa team to its first Stanley Cup title. When he met the Millionaires for the second time, in 1921, Benedict was in his prime, as sharp as a viper. He went on to win four Stanley Cups, the last with the Montreal Maroons in 1926.
Mickey MacKay, Vancouver
A rookie in 1914-15, MacKay was plucked from the B.C. Kootenay League at 19. He provided unexpected finesse and firepower. "Cyclone" Taylor would usually feed MacKay at the right moment, and they became a lethal one-two punch, like Adam Oates and Brett Hull of the St. Louis Blues of the 1990s. A superb stickhandler and skater, MacKay finished second to Taylor by one point for the scoring championship in his first season. He won the Western Canada Hockey League scoring championship in 1925. He won his final Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 1929.
Eddie Gerard, Ottawa
Gerard, who was destined to become one of the all-time greats, usually played left wing (or rover when there were seven men), and liked to "snake" through opposing defenses. He was not a prolific scorer in 1915, but he was a great passer and backchecker, and he finished second in the NHA that year for total points. Gerard was a great leader, and he won the Stanley Cup four times with Ottawa. He had the distinction of parachuting in to the 1922 Vancouver-Toronto Stanley Cup series for the fourth game to show Toronto how to defeat Vancouver. Toronto then went on to snatch victory from defeat to win the Cup in five games.
Frank Nighbor, Ottawa and Vancouver
Nighbor was the key to stopping opponents in their tracks with his devilish ability as a checker, and he was also a great sniper. He won the first Hart Trophy, in 1924, and the first Lady Byng Trophy, in 1925, repeating the feat the next season. He jumped from the Millionaires after the 1915 Stanley Cup series to join the Ottawa Senators. In 1917 he scored 41 goals in 19 games. He was the only player to win the Stanley Cup for both Vancouver and Ottawa. He played side by side with Gerard and likewise won four Cups with Ottawa, in 1920, 1921, 1923 and 1927.
Jack Darragh, Ottawa
Darragh was a stocky, strong and tireless forward. He was only No. 15 in goal-scoring in the NHA in 1915, and he was often used as a sub, but his nickname was "The Pinch Hitter" because he so often muscled through his opponents to score a game-winning or overtime goal. Darragh attributed his ability to withstand his opponent's body checks to his total abstinence from liquor. He was a key member of the Ottawa Senators for four Stanley Cup championships, in 1911, 1920, 1921 and 1923. In the 1921 return series against Vancouver, he scored both of Ottawa's goals in the deciding game for its victory.
Hugh Lehman, Vancouver
Before 1915, the piece missing from the Millionaires lineup was a top goalie. But the puzzle was completed for them in 1914-15, when Frank Patrick dictatorially lifted "Eagle Eye" Hugh Lehman from New Westminster (which was relocating to Portland). Lehman, 29 in 1915, was very experienced before arriving in the PCHA in 1911. He played for the Stanley Cup twice, for Berlin and Galt, but lost both series to the Montreal Wanderers. Nevertheless, Lehman went on to become the all-time wins leader in the PCHA. He played in six Stanley Cup Final series and two semifinals, ending his career with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Sprague Cleghorn, Ottawa
Cleghorn was possibly the toughest defenseman in the league, and he was perhaps also among the dirtiest players in Canada. He was suspended numerous times throughout his career and had been convicted for assault on the ice. In 1924 he was investigated by the NHL for deliberately injuring his opponents by putting a sharp object on the end of his stick, but was acquitted for lack of evidence. On the other hand, Cleghorn came in second in the vote for the first Hart Trophy. He was so popular that, at one time, the Spalding equipment company carried a line of hockey sticks autographed by two main defensemen: Lester Patrick and Cleghorn.
Frank Patrick, Vancouver
Stocky and tough, yet a great tactician, Frank Patrick was a rugged game-changing defenseman. His favorite tactic was to jump high through a thatch of players, with his skates scything past their legs, leaving trails of blood behind him in a move later deemed illegal. He still holds the record for most goals scored by a professional defenseman in one game (six). Frank was the playing coach of the Vancouver team from 1911 to 1917, and he coached them primarily from the bench until 1926. He forced professional hockey to accept the new rule allowing forward passing. He also invented regular playoffs for league play.
Art Ross, Ottawa
Ross, 29, was the old man of the 1915 Ottawa team. He won the Stanley Cup twice with Montreal, and he was the unofficial leader of Eastern hockey and considered already one of the greatest defensemen of his era. Tough as nails, he was also sharply talented. He had been kicked out of the NHA at the beginning of the 1914-15 season for helping to start a rival league. Then Ottawa found it needed a defenseman and lobbied to have Ross reinstated. He started the season working as a sub, and then gradually built up more playing time, until he was instrumental in defeating his old club, the Wanderers, for the NHA championship.
Modern NHL player equivalent: Drew Doughty, Kings
Craig H. Bowlsby is a Vancouver-based author. He wrote "Empire of Ice: The Rise and Fall of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, 1911-1926," which details the history of the Vancouver Millionaires, including the two Stanley Cup Final appearances against the Ottawa Senators of the National Hockey Association. The historian also published another hockey book, "The Knights of Winter," a history of hockey in British Columbia from 1895 to 1911.