Thursday, June 2, 2011

The last time Vancouver won the Stanley Cup

The Vancouver Millionaires swept the visiting Ottawa Senators in three straight games in 1915 to bring the Stanley Cup west of Winnipeg for the first time.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
June 1, 2011

VANCOUVER

The Ottawa team traversed a frozen continent to play hockey in a city bereft of ice except for an artificial sheet at the arena.

A party of 13, a “hoodoo number” complained some of the more superstitious among them, alighted from a Great Northern train at Central Station to be greeted by dignitaries bearing gifts.

Within hours, the athletes skated in practice, every maneuvre studied by fans who flocked to witness the spectacle of the Eastern champions in action.

The Ottawa Senators journeyed to Vancouver to engage a challenge for the Stanley Cup, commissioned only 23 years earlier. The visitors neglected to bring with them the storied trophy, “a thoughtless bit of work,” one reporter noted.

The local professionals were known as the Millionaires. In 1915, it was a superlative, not a salary.

Frank Patrick, whose father had been a lumber baron, assembled a brilliant — and expensive — aggregation of ice mercenaries.

The roster included Mickey MacKay, a dazzling goal scorer and smooth skater called The Wee Scot; Barney Stanley, a young forward who had only played five games as a pro; Lloyd (Farmer) Cook, a steady if unspectacular forward; Frank (the Pembroke Peach) Nighbor, a gentlemanly opponent whose patented poke-check drove rivals mad with frustration; Si Griffis, the capain, a quiet but effective leader on defence; and, Hugh Lehman, a goaltender so adept at blocking the puck he was dubbed Old Eagle Eyes.

The best of them was Frederick Wellington Taylor, a tough, hard-nosed player whose balding pate made him recognizable from the farthest seat. Mr. Taylor was dubbed the Listowel Wonder for the Ontario town where he made his hockey debut as a boy. He skated fast, so was called Tornado and Whirlwind, but the nickname that stuck was Cyclone.

Elsewhere, the Great War raged in Europe. An Allied fleet bombed Ottoman forts on the Dardenelles. Editorialists complained of “German swine” even as a front-page article assured worried kinfolk at home: “Life in trenches at front is not at all distasteful, writes Vancouver solider.”

Eager hockey fans thronged to buy tickets to what was billed as the world’s series of hockey, the first time a Stanley Cup game had been played west of Winnipeg. Top price was $1.25, while unreserved rush spots in the gallery went for 50 cents.

Before the best-of-five series began, the Senators enjoyed a motor tour of the city, rambling along Marine Drive and Stanley Park, named for the same man whose name graces the silver mug. They posed for a photograph at the Hollow Tree.

The manager of their hotel, the first-class Elysium, on Pender Street, entertained the players with a tour of Indian Arm by power launch. Loew’s Theatre offered ducats to a vaudeville show featuring an eccentric violinist, while the electric street railway company issued passes for the duration of their stay.

Ottawa manager Frank Shaughnessy welcomed the hospitality, but drew the line on attending banquets, as he did not want his players to be wined and dined before the series.

The first, third and fifth games were to be played under Western rules — seven players, including a rover, who skated behind centre; penalties forcing a team to play shorthanded; blue lines painted on the ice allowing forward passing in the centre-ice area. The Ottawa coach insisted the innovation would never catch on. “It makes a farce of the game,” Alf Smith complained.

The Easterners played six-a-side with no forward passing allowed at any time. As well, a penalized player was replaced by a substitute.

On the day of the first game on March 22, 1915, a mud slide engulfed the midnight shift at the Britannia Mines north of Vancouver, killing 56. The news dominated local newspapers that day.

In the evening, more than 7,000 spectators flocked to the Denman Arena, a hulking brick sports palace on the waterfront at the entrance to Stanley Park. Many rode special streetcars to the game, some riding electric trains from as far afield as Chilliwack. They cheered the Millionaires as they faced the famed Senators, led by the scoring of Harry (Punch) Broadbent with the dependable Art Ross on defence and Clint Benedict in goal.

Mr. Griffis, the Vancouver captain, watched the game from the penalty box, as he had been diagnosed with a cracked ankle suffered in an exhibition match. His replacement, Mr. Stanley, opened the scoring midway through the first period.

The Millionaires’ superior speed combined with a relentless pursuit of opponents — “Check back boys!” coach Lester Patrick, Frank’s brother, yelled from the bench — led to a dominating 6-2 victory.

In the second game, Vancouver scored an 8-3 win despite Ottawa targeting the best player on the ice.

“Cyclone was a marked man from the outset,” reported the Daily Province, “but his uncanny skating ability saved him time and time again.” Near the end of the second game, a stiff bodycheck finally forced him off the ice.

The Millionaires claimed the championship with a 12-3 drubbing. Cyclone ended the series with seven goals. The visitors blamed the low altitude and heavy sea air for their sluggish performance.

“Ignominiously routed,” reported the Ottawa Evening Journal.

After the game, the defeated players filed into the dressing room of the victors, offering hearty congratulations. “You have a great team here,” the Ottawa manager said. With that, the Senators embarked for San Francisco to attend the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, being held just nine years after the city had been devastated by an earthquake and fire.

About 16,000 spectators had attended the three games. The players share of ticket revenue, less the travel costs for the Ottawa club, provided about $300 for each Millionaire and $200 for each Senator.

A Vancouver Sun editorial hailed the championship as “no small achievement in a city where nature has not provided enough ice to make a slide for school children.”

The Stanley Cup did not arrive in the city until May 12.

The silverware was sent to an engraver who added “Vancouver, B.C./ 1914-15/ Defeated Ottawa/ 3 straight games” on a base ring. Along the fluted sides in the interior of the bowl, the artisan engraved the names of Frank Patrick and eight players.

Perhaps later this month, other players in the livery of a Vancouver team will be able to pause after swigging champagne from the cup to read the names of players better known as Cyclone and Eagle Eyes and the Wee Scot.


When Cyclone struck the Komagata Maru

The Japanese-owned freighter Komagata Maru arrived in British Columbia waters in May, 1914. Aboard were 376 Punjabis, most of them Sikhs, who had chartered the ship from Hong Kong.

The passengers sought to circumvent racist rules designed to keep British subjects from East India out of Canada.

Fred W. (Cyclone) Taylor
The order to tell them they would not be able to disembark fell to the No. 3 man in the local immigration office, a tough-minded athlete by the name Fred W. Taylor. Hockey and lacrosse fans knew him better as Cyclone.

Over the coming weeks, as the circumstances on board became ever more dire, Mr. Taylor roamed the decks ensuring no one left, or came aboard the vessel, which was anchored in Coal Harbour. Not surprisingly, the thwarted passengers became belligerent over time.

“They’d curse us and press against us and sometimes fought us off as we came aboard, shouting threats and insults,” he told his biographer.

The passengers tried to repulse boardings by throwing coal, other times by emptying chamber pots.

The two-month-long standoff ended when an armed naval cruiser threatened to attack the ship. The freighter was forced from Canadian waters, a black mark in our history for which the prime minister apologized just three years ago.

Less than a year after the confrontation, Mr. Taylor’s on-ice prowess helped the Vancouver Millionaires hockey club win the city’s first — and, so far, only — Stanley Cup championship.

In 1976, Mr. Taylor, then 92, met with Giani Kartar Singh, a frail and partially deaf 97-year old. The two men were believed to be the only living participants in the shameful incident.

The former adversaries, speaking through an interpreter, had an entirely amicable conversation.

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