Thursday, June 2, 2011

How Long It's Been: Vancouver Won the Stanley Cup

The Stanley Cup Finals are underway. The finalists are the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks.

I did one of these for Boston. Now, it’s Vancouver's turn.

The Canucks are in their 3rd Finals, since beginning play in the 1970-71 season. In their 1st 2 trips, they lost to New York Tri-State Area teams: In 1982 to the Islander dynasty, and in 1994 to… um, let's not get into that.

The Pacific Coast Hockey League and the Western Hockey League had a team called the Vancouver Canucks, from 1945 (riding the post-World War II sports boom) until 1970 (when the NHL gave the city an expansion franchise, along with the Buffalo Sabres).

Prior to that, Vancouver's top pro hockey team was the Vancouver Millionaires, founded by the brothers Frank and Lester Patrick – the same Lester Patrick who would build the Rangers into one of the NHL's early successes, winning 3 Stanley Cups in 6 trips to the Finals between 1928 and 1940.

One hundred years ago, in 1911, the Patricks spent $300,000 to build the 10,500-seat Denman Arena at Denman Street and West Georgia Street in Vancouver's West End. At the time, it was one of the world's largest arenas. They also built the Patrick Arena in British Columbia's other large city and its Provincial capital, Victoria – home of the Victoria Cougars, who in 1925 would become the last team outside the NHL to win the Stanley Cup, and the last team from British Columbia to do so, and the last team from Western Canada (west of Toronto, anyway) until the 1984 Edmonton Oilers.

The Millionaires won the Cup in 1915, the 1st team west of Winnipeg ever to do it. But they, and the Cougars, folded with their league, the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, in 1926, making the Rangers, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Detroit Red Wings and the now-defunct Montreal Maroons possible. Their arena burned down in 1936.

The Millionaires, whose colors were maroon and white and played with a large block V on their sweaters (Canada still calls them that, even though they've long since become jerseys), won the PCHA title 6 times: 1915, '18, '21, '22, '23 and '24. But only the 1st time, against the National Hockey Association champion Ottawa Senators (not the current team with that name), did they win the Cup. They lost to the Toronto team now known as the Maple Leafs in '18 and '22, to the Senators in '21 and '23, and to the Montreal Canadiens in '24.

Hockey rosters were smaller in those days. Goaltender: Hugh "Bull" Lehman. Defensemen: Frank Patrick (also head coach and team president), Silas "Si" Griffis (team captain), Lloyd Cook, Ken Mallen and Jim Seaborn. Wingers: Frank Nighbor and Barney Stanley. Centers: Fred "Cyclone" Taylor, Duncan "Mickey" MacKay, and Johnny Matz. Lester Patrick was no longer involved: By 1915, he was playing for the Victoria Aristocrats.

Frank Patrick, Lehman, Griffis, Nighbor, Stanley, Taylor and MacKay are all in the Hockey Hall of Fame – 7 guys, pretty strong by the standards of any era.

A few months ago, on October 1, 2010, the Canucks' parent company acquired the Millionaires' trademark. Could this overdue embrace of the city's hockey history be what finally leads them to the Cup, after 41 years of trying?

After 96 years? The Millionaires won Vancouver's only Stanley Cup on March 26, 1915, at Denman Arena, by a whopping score of 12-3, completing a 3-game sweep of the Senators.

How long has it been since that happened? Just how long is 96 years? Here's an idea:

Had you been around back then, you would have had to be in the building to find out what happened as it was happening. There was no Internet; there were no computers. There was no television. There was radio transmission, but not radio broadcasting the way that there would be from 1920 onward. Indeed, just 2 months earlier, on January 25, 1915, coast-to-coast telephone service would be inaugurated, with telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell in New York, talking to Thomas A. Watson, his associate in that 1876 invention, in San Francisco.

Of course, had you been around back then, especially if you were in the home country of the victorious team (and also that of the losing team), you stood a pretty good chance of being drafted to fight in World War I – not for your own country, Canada, so much, as for the British Empire, to which Canada was still, essentially, a client nation. Today, Queen Elizabeth II is Canada's head of state – officially, she is, among many other titles, "Queen of Canada" – but this is largely a ceremonial post. Her grandfather, King George V, was commander-in-chief, and Prime Minister Robert Borden (now on Canada's $100 bill) answered to him.

The Pope was Benedict XV, who succeeded the late Piux X the preceding August. The Prime Minister of Britain was Herbert Henry Asquith. Due to the war, the Nobel Committee did not award a Peace Prize for 1914, therefore the holder of the Prize was still the 1913 winner, Henri La Fontaine, the Belgian head of the International Peace Bureau.

There was no National Hockey League. There was the NHA in the East and the PCHA in the West. The PCHA had teams in Seattle and Portland; other than that, professional hockey in the U.S. was minimal.

The Portland Rosebuds (seriously, because Portland is the Rose City, a team in this tough sport was called the Rosebuds – wonder if they found the game to be rough sledding?) would win the PCHA title in 1916, becoming the 1st non-Canadian team to play in the Stanley Cup Finals, and lose it to the Canadiens; but the next year, the Seattle Metropolitans would beat the Canadiens to become the 1st team to take the Cup outside of Canada.

The only team that existed then and still does now is the Canadiens. There is now a team called the Ottawa Senators, but the one that was around then, which became a charter member of the NHL (along with the Canadiens and the Leafs) went out of business in 1934.

There was basketball, but no professional basketball. There was professional football, but no National Football League, and the governing body of Canadian football was the Canada Rugby Union, not the Canadian Football League. The Akron Indians won the previous year's title in the Ohio League, thus making them de facto pro football champions of America, while the Toronto Argonauts were the holders of Canada's Grey Cup.

The defending World Champions of baseball were the Boston Braves. There were 3 major leagues at the time. The following October, the American League Champion Boston Red Sox beat the National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series, with Woodrow Wilson becoming the 1st President of the United States to attend a Series game while in office. The Federal League Pennant was won by the Chicago Whales. When the Feds folded, the Whales’'ballpark would be bought by the Chicago Cubs; by 1926, it would be known as Wrigley Field.

Aside from the Millionaires' players, hockey's greatest stars were Edouard "Newsy" Lalonde, Didier "Cannonball" Pitre, Jacques "Jack" Laviolette and Georges "the Chicoutimi Cucumber" Vezina (for whom the NHL's goaltending award would be named) of the Canadiens; Jack Darragh and Clint Benedict of the Senators; "Phantom Joe" Malone of the Quebec Bulldogs; and Harry "Hap" Holmes and Frank Foyston of the Toronto Blueshirts (not the forerunners of the Leafs) and soon of the Seattle Metros.

The last survivor of the 1915 Millionaires, Cyclone Taylor, died in 1979, and he outlived all of these other stars as well. Vezina, Darragh, Pitre and Holmes wouldn't live to see 1942; Vezina and Darragh wouldn't even live to see 1927, such was medicine at the time.

The top player in pro football, such as it then was, was Jim Thorpe of the Canton Bulldogs, the 1912 Olympic decathlon champion. And the top baseball players were Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Walter Johnson. Babe Ruth was a rookie pitcher for the Red Sox, and, despite some success that season, did not pitch in the World Series.

The heavyweight champion of the world was Jack Johnson, but that wouldn't last long, as, just 10 days later, finally allowed to defend his title in Havana, Cuba, the 1st black heavyweight champ and a fugitive from U.S. justice would be knocked out in the 26th round, under a brutally hot sun, by Jess Willard. Did Johnson take a dive? Maybe: Even at age 37 he was probably a better fighter than the enormous but pedestrian Willard.

James E. Norris, for whom a major hockey trophy and an NHL division would be named, was in the grain business, and hadn't yet gotten involved in sports. (He would also be involved in boxing.) Charles F. Adams (contrary to my previous belief, not part of Boston's political Adams family) wasn't involved in hockey yet, either, running New England's leading grocery store chain, although he already loved the sport.

Conn Smythe, Art Ross and Jack Adams (no relation to Charles) were still playing hockey. Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast L'Hommediu Huston had just bought the New York Yankees, then the 3rd-most popular baseball team in New York City. George Halas was attending classes and starring in football at the University of Illinois.

Howie Morenz, Eddie Shore and King Clancy were 12 years old, Red Grange was 11. Hank Greenberg and Don Hutson were toddlers. Syl Apps, Joe DiMaggio and Sammy Baugh were infants. Maurice Richard, Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial, Warren Spahn, Otto Graham and Sid Luckman would all be born in the next 7 years.

The English Football League Division One was won by Everton, the blue club in Liverpool. The FA Cup was won by Sheffield United, the red club in Sheffield. Due to wartime travel restrictions in London, the FA Cup Final was played at Manchester United's Old Trafford ground, even though the other team, Chelsea, was a London club.

This would be the last season of English soccer before the end of the war. Exactly 1 week after the Millionaires won the Cup, on Good Friday, April 2, 1915, Liverpool and Manchester United fixed a match, in order to prevent United's relegation to the Football League Division Two. They were punished, leading to the sports-administration equivalent of a plea-bargain: In exchange for the support of Arsenal against a rougher penalty, those clubs would support Arsenal's admission to Division One – at the expense of the team that finished last in the last League season of 1915, which just so happened to be Arsenal's North London arch-rivals, Tottenham Hotspur. (And now you know the story behind Spurs fans' claim of how Arsenal "cheated" to get into the first division: They didn't. And Spurs were not yet in North London: The city boundaries would be redrawn in 1965, and that's how "the Middlesex club" got into the city.)

The 1916 Olympics had been scheduled for Berlin, but were canceled due to Germany's aggresion in what was still being called "The Great War." The Olympics have since been held 7 times in America; 4 times in France; 3 times each in Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan; twice each in Switzerland, Norway, Australia and Austria; and once each in Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Mexico, Russia, Bosnia, Korea, Spain, Greece and China. The World Cup wouldn't be held for the 1st time until 1930, and in many countries, soccer still wouldn't be professional for a few years.

The Mayor of Vancouver was Louis D. Taylor, who served on and off 7 times from 1910 to 1934, despite having been convicted of fraud in Chicago; he died in 1946. The Premier of British Columbia (equivalent to the Governor of a State) was Richard Bridge, who would be dead little more than 2 years later. The current Mayor is Gregor Robertson, and the current Premier is Christy Clark.

The Mayor of New York was John Purroy Mitchel, the Governor of New York was Charles S. Whitman (no relation to the 1966 University of Texas sniper), and the Governor of New Jersey was James F. Fielder; none of these men would live to see 1955.

There were 48 States, with New Mexico and Arizona having been admitted only 3 years before. Former Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft were still alive. So were the widows of James Garfield and Grover Cleveland.

Warren Harding had just been sworn in as U.S. Senator from Ohio. Calvin Coolidge was a State Senator in Massachusetts, Herbert Hoover was running food-relief efforts to Europe as it was stricken by World War I. Franklin Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy (a position his cousin Theodore had once held). Harry Truman was farming in Missouri. Dwight D. Eisenhower was about to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Lyndon Johnson was in elementary school; Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan hadn't yet started school. John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, both George Bushes, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were not yet born.

The Motion Picture Directors Association, forerunner of the Screen Directors' Guild, was founded in 1915. The films they made were all silent. Audrey Munson, a sculptor's model, became the 1st woman to appear nude in a mainstream film, Inspiration. (No print of this film survives, but a few photos of her so unclothed do – and, how can I put this politely, she was a good choice.)

Broncho Billy Anderson, Harold Lloyd, Theda Bara (the 1st actress to be called a "vamp" and the performer with a higher percentage of lost films than any other actor with a Hollywood star on the Walk of Fame), the as-yet-unmarried Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Mary Pickford, and a young Charlie Chaplin were the biggest film stars of the time.

D.W. Griffith premiered his film The Birth of a Nation, with its pro-South and pro-Ku Klux Klan propaganda. Griffith gave President Wilson a private screening in the White House, and Wilson, a former Governor of New Jersey but born in Virginia before the American Civil War and raised around the South as the son of a traveling minister, said, "It is like writing history with lightning" (true, I suppose), and, "It is all so terribly true" (the hell it was).

Indeed, the Civil War had only been over for 50 years, and there were still living veterans of the Mexican-American War and the Texas War of Independence – which included the Battle of the Alamo, which Griffith made into the film Martyrs of the Alamo. I wonder if he knew that the Texans were slaveholders? Maybe he did, and still didn't think the victorious Mexicans were the good guys.

There were no antibiotics. The idea of flying an airplane anywhere was risky; of flying one across the Atlantic Ocean was lunacy. Charles Lindbergh was in junior high school. The automobile was becoming more popular, but most cars were still open rather than enclosed. The aforementioned Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison and Orville Wright were still alive, and would be for several years to come, but Wilbur Wright had died of typhoid fever in 1912.

There was a World's Fair in 1915, the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, and it marked that city's coming-out party as a completion of its comeback from its 1906 earthquake. This expo introduced the mainland U.S. to the ukulele.

Popular songs of 1915 included "I Love a Piano" by Irving Berlin, "M-O-T-H-E-R" by Howard Johnson (not the hotelier, or the 1980s Mets 3rd baseman), "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" by Alma Gluck, and the World War I-themed songs "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" by John McCormack, "Pack Up Your Troubles" by George Asaf, and "I Didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier" by Alfred Bryan. Frank Sinatra was born on December 12 of that year, Bing Crosby was about to turn 12, and Louis Armstrong was 13.

In early 1915, a U.S. postage stamp was 2 cents. New York's Subway, which had only opened 10 years and 5 months earlier, still had its original fare of 5 cents. The average price of a gallon of gas was 15 cents, a movie ticket 10 cents, a new car $2,005 (although Henry Ford's assembly line was making that price drop), and a new house $3,200. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 59.51 on March 26, 1915. And there was no "fast food" as we now understand the term: Even White Castle wouldn't be founded until 1921, McDonald's until 1955.

In early 1915, the Ottoman Empire began the Armenian Genocide, leading to the deaths of 1.5 million people. The Battle of Gallipoli was a triumph for the Ottomans and a disaster for Britain. Germany sank the British cruiseliner RMS Lusitania, with the excuse that it was carrying munitions meant for Britain; 1,198 people, including 128 Americans and almost 100 children, died. It almost got the U.S. into the war, but President Wilson was not yet ready to take that step. Canadian solider-poet John McCrae wrote "In Flanders Fields," not only presaging his own combat death but making the poppy synonymous with war memorials.

In events unrelated to sports or World War I, construction began in the Lincoln Memorial. An Irish-born New York cook named Mary Mallon was quarantined for having infected people with typhoid; she would remain quarantined, and known as "Typhoid Mary," for the rest of her life, until 1938. George Claude patented the neon discharge tube, making neon advertising possible. The steamer Eastland sank in the Chicago River, killing 844 people; one listed as killed was the aforementioned George Halas, incorrectly as it turned out, because he'd missed his connection to the boat, and he went on to found the National Football League and the Chicago Bears, and lived on until 1983.

Early in 1915, Frank James (Wild West bank robber and Jesse's brother), and Rupert Brooke (another soldier-poet, though he died from disease rather than a combat wound), and Ross Barnes (early pro baseball star) died.

Samuel Mostel (Zero Mostel) and Eleanora Fagan (Billie Holiday), and McKinley Morganfield (Muddy Waters) were born. So were Orson Welles, Anthony Quinn, and Harry Morgan (M*A*S*H's Colonel Sherman T. Potter is now 96 years old). And sports legends Sir Stanley Matthews and Elwin "Preacher" Roe.

March 26, 1915. A hockey team from Vancouver won the Stanley Cup. This has not happened since. Is it about to happen again? Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Through the end of the 2016-17 season, it still hasn't happened again.

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