Shaped like a punch bowl (and often used as same by celebrating champions), the Stanley Cup quickly became the prime objective of all hockey teams in Canada.
The first two decades of competition provide some of the most famous Cup incidents.
|1893 Stanley Cup champion Montreal Amateur Athletic Association hockey team|
Montreal AAA edged the Victorias, 3-2, for the right to play for the Cup against Ottawa on March 22. The game was very well played, and won by Montreal, 3-1, with Bill Barlow starring for the victors. A newspaper talent amusing by today's standards, read as follows:
The growth of hockey was so fantastic that by the next season, in 1895, practically every village in Canada thrived on hockey. The sport had jumped from the original hotbeds of Ontario and Quebec to the west coast, and lo and behold, a prairie team from Winnipeg, also known as the Victorias, was challenging for the Stanley Cup.
It was the Victorias of Montreal versus the Victorias of Winnipeg on February 14, 1896, at Montreal. Somehow, the westerners won, 2-0. It was such an upset, that a rematch came off less than a year later.
"The hockey championship was decided tonight, and never before in the history of the game was there so large a crowd or so much enthusiasm. There were fully five thousand persons present at the match; and the tin horns, strong lungs and a general rabble predominated. The match resulted in favor of Montreal by three goals to one. The referee forgot to see many things. The ice was fairly good."
-- Local newspaper reporter
This one was reported as "the greatest sporting event in Winnipeg history," and believe it or not, seats were supposedly "scalped" for as much as $12 apiece. The Montreal Victorias were also reported as the "much younger team ... having a more agile appearance and all were admired by ladies." It was a good scouting report, as the Montrealers overcame a 2-0 "half-time" deficit and returned the Stanley Cup to the east, with a final 6-5 victory. Ernie McLea scored the winning goal in what was modestly called "the finest match ever played in Canada."
One of the most interesting facets of hockey throughout the years has been the so-called "hat trick," referring to a player scoring three (originally three consecutive goals) in any given game. Hockey's first "team hat trick" was started with the winning of the Stanley Cup by the Montreal Victorias in December of 1896.
The "Vics" were so superior that many fans were surprised when they accepted a Cup challenge from Ottawa in December, 1897. Montreal's resounding 14-2 triumph was not quite so surprising. Originally, a two out of three series had been scheduled, but the Montreal victory was so decisive that the balance of the series was abandoned. The game received so little attention that no information on the goal scorers was published.
So powerful were the Victorias, in fact, that they made it an easy "Hat Trick" the next season by sweeping through the regular schedule with a perfect 8-0-0 record. There was no challenge to their supremacy, and the Montrealers had their three straight Stanley Cups.
Hockey in the early days was a seven-man game, 14 men on the ice in all. Today's game, six men to a side, is neater, more compact. The extra man in those days was called a "rover." He went anywhere, roaming the mostly outdoor rinks that were originally built for curling. One of the most famous rovers was Lester Patrick, who later became the first manager and coach of the New York Rangers.
Little of the sophistication of today's game was evident in the early days. A pair of portable poles, often with no net between them, constituted the goals. Goal judges, as we know them today, were practically non-existent. Certainly they were unprotected. They stood behind the poles, relatively close to the action, and wore no padding. There were, in fact, pretty good targets.
Overall, the conditions were truly rustic, almost primitive. The players, for the most part, provided their own equipment, and the games were subject to the whims of weather, which, fortunately, was almost always cold enough to maintain natural ice.
There were no sideboards in those days, and without much equipment of note, the players absorbed considerably more shock when hit with a body check. So, too, did the fans. It was a common occurrence for a player to land among the spectators after particularly successful check. At which point, the player would simply be shoved back into action by the spectators.
There were many reports, in fact, that opposing players were roughed up by partisan supporters of the opposition before being "returned" to the playing surface. Apparently, it was all considered in the spirit of the game, and anything gained at one point could be lost at another, and vice versa.
Fan enthusiasm ran so high during the early years of Cup competition that accurate attendance figures were often impossible. Patrons were often reported to have "broken down gates" in a scramble of admission.
Newspaper offices away from the locale of the game were frequently jammed with fans seeking the latest reports on the progress of Cup matches. Interest was especially high in Toronto in 1902, when the Toronto Street Railway came up with an effective, if not polished method of reporting the result of a Cup game. If the hometown Toronto Wellingtons were victorious, there would be two long blasts on their powerhouse whistle. If the locals lost, there would be three blasts. The time between the second and third blasts was especially long if you were among the gambling set.
Stanley Cup games had become a most prestigious event, indeed. It was an honor, in fact, to be able to see a deciding game, even at inflated prices. Referees, for instance, would customarily donate their services, rather than accept a monetary payment. The competing clubs, in turn, would usually present the referee with a memento of the occasion, paid for out of each club's funds.
|The Silver Seven kept the Cup in Ottawa for three straight years beginning in 1902|
Nine challenges, some at mid-season and some at the season's end, were thrown against the fabulous Silver Seven. All were repulsed, but none will ever match the one presented in 1905 by a team from Dawson City in the Yukon Territory. Such was the enthusiasm of the Yukon team, that the players themselves bankrolled part of the 4,400-mile trip out of their own pockets, hoping to regain the $3,000 cost from gate receipts. The trip has become a fantastic legend in Cup history.
A Yukon prospector by the name of Colonel Joe Boyle arranged the trip for the ambitious Klondikers. He encountered problems no modern day road secretary could ever imagine. The team traveled 46 miles by dogsled the first day and 41 miles the next. Temperatures were in the neighborhood of 20 below zero, and some players suffered blistered feet on the third day of traveling.
The team missed a boat connection on the west coast, and had to wait five days for another, which took them from Seattle to Vancouver. Then, it was a marathon train ride, Vancouver to Ottawa.
Somehow, the Dawson City team arrived, after 23 days of travel, just one day before the series with the Silver Seven was to begin. It was, and probably always will be, the longest any team ever traveled in quest of the Stanley Cup.
Sentimental favorites though they might have been, the Dawson City team was simply no match of the Silver Seven, losing the opening game, 9-2, and the second and deciding match, 22-3. Ottawa's Frank McGee scored the unbelievable total of 14 goals in the latter game, including eight tallies in just eight minutes and 20 seconds. Even more incredible is the fact that McGee had only one good eye.
Teams from Ontario and Quebec continued to dominate the Stanley Cup, although teams from the Maritime provinces, the prairies, and the west coast of Canada continued to challenge for the trophy. Most of them lost money, too, because of the travel expenses and the fact that the series were usually two out of three affairs.
Another thing that didn't change in Cup competition was the continuing series of strange and remarkable events associated with the games. Indeed, the Cup was often in jeopardy during the early years, mostly because of careless treatment by triumphant teams.
During the three-season reign of the Ottawa Silver Seven, the Cup spent a particularly harrowing night atop, of all places, the Rideau Canal near Ottawa. One of the celebrating players, fortified no doubt by several swigs of champagne from the Cup, was challenged to dropkick the trophy into the canal, a feat he promptly accomplished.
The battered old mug might have remained there too, had not the Ottawa players come to their senses the next morning and returned in search of their prize. Fortunately, for all concerned, the canal was solidly frozen, and the Cup was found, dented perhaps but certainly undaunted.
While the history of the Stanley Cup is filled with humorous, light-hearted adventures, there are many serious, somber incidents as well.
Only once in history has "no decision" been reached in Stanley Cup play. That was in 1919. The National Hockey League had been formed by then, and the Montreal Canadiens were League champions. The trustees decided on a series between the Canadiens and the Seattle Metropolitans, champions of the Pacific Coast Hockey League.
Montreal embarked on a long trip to he west, since the PCHL season had two more week's to run. The Canadiens were playing exhibition games along the way to keep sharp. The so-called "black flu" was sweeping the continent at the same time, although none of the players had been stricken.
Finally, the series began on March 19. In those days, "western rules" and "eastern rules" were used in alternate games, with the major difference being the fact that "western rules" permitted the use of a seventh skater, the rover. Accordingly, Seattle won the first game, under western rules, and Montreal won the second, under eastern rules, with the legendary Newsy Lalonde scoring all four goals in the 4-2 triumph.
Seattle won the third game, and the fourth was a scoreless tie. Montreal evened the series by winning the fifth game, but several of the Canadiens were feeling sick during the contest. Joe Hall and Jack McDonald were affected the worst, and Hall had to leave the game because of illness. Five players, in all, were sick, along with the team manager George Kennedy.
With two wins apiece, and a scoreless tie, the teams were scheduled to meet for the championship on April 1st, but the influenza epidemic intervened. Hall was now hospitalized with a fever of 105, and four other players, plus Kennedy, were all confined to bed.
Nonetheless, Kennedy gamely offered to complete the series, with the loan of several players from nearby Victoria. Seattle graciously declined, and for the first time the Stanley Cup had no bearer.
Towns like Renfrew, Haileybury and Cobalt, all in the mining area of northern Ontario, competed for the Stanley Cup with the more familiar clubs from Montreal and Ottawa. The National Hockey Association was hockey's first truly professional league, and it was the forerunner of the National Hockey League, which was organized in 1917.
NHL franchises went to the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Quebec Bulldogs and Toronto Arenas. Despite having a franchise, Quebec was unable to operate the first season. The teams played a 22-game schedule, and the Toronto Arenas captured the first Stanley Cup ever won by a National Hockey League team.
This marked the start of hockey's modern era, one that has seen the sport reach incredible heights of success, culminating in the big expansion of 1967 that doubled the league's size from six to twelve teams. Further expansion brought more and more teams into play, and by 1975, the NHL would encompass 18 teams.