Thursday, March 26, 2015

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


I first did this piece in June 2011, when the Canucks last reached the Finals. The relevant facts have been updated.

The Vancouver Canucks began play in the National Hockey League in the 1970-71 season. They have been a star-crossed team, known for their failures, and for their awful uniforms. They have been to the Stanley Cup Finals 3 times, and lost them all. They did not win a Cup while playing at the Pacific Coliseum from 1970 to 1995, and haven't won one playing home games at the Rogers Arena (formerly General Motors Place).

In 1982, they got blown away by the New York Islander dynasty. No shame in that. In 1994, they won Game 1 against the New York Rangers, at Madison Square Garden, then dropped 3 straight, before fighting back, winning Game 5 at The Garden and Game 6 at the Pacific Coliseum, but fell 1 goal short in Game 7 at The Garden. In 2011, the Boston Bruins cheated (Don't all New England teams?) by letting the ice melt just enough to slow them down in Game 6 at the TD Garden, before beating the Canucks at Rogers Arena in Game 7.

The Canucks won the President's Trophy for best regular-season record in 2011 and 2012, and have won 10 Division titles: 1975, 1992, 1993, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. But never the Cup.

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). They won 6 league titles: 1946 and 1948 in the PCHL, and 1958, 1960, 1969 and 1970 in the WHL. Gee, maybe they should have stayed in the high minors: They were doing so well.

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.

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 Victoria, British Columbia’s other large city and its Provincial capital. It was home to the Victoria Cougars, who in 1925 would become the last team outside the NHL to win the Stanley Cup, the last team from British Columbia to do so, and the last team from Western Canada (west of Toronto, anyway) to win it until the 1984 Edmonton Oilers.

Denman Street Arena (1911-1936)

The Millionaires won the Cup in 1915, the first 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 and Pittsburgh Pirates (named for the baseball team) 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, 1918, 1921, 1922, 1923 and 1924. 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 1918 and 1922, to the Senators in 1921 and 1923, and to the Montreal Canadiens in 1924.

Hockey rosters were smaller in those days. Goaltender: Hugh “Bull” Lehman. Defensemen: Frank Patrick (also head coach and team president, Lester no longer involved), 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. Both Patricks, Lehman, Griffis, Nighbor, Stanley, Taylor and MacKay are all in the Hockey Hall of Fame – 8 guys on 1 team, which is pretty strong by the standards of any era.

On October 1, 2010, the Canucks’ parent company acquired the Millionaires’ trademark. So far, this overdue embrace of the city’s hockey history hasn't led them to the Cup. Here's a recent photo of Canucks players wearing the Millionaires-style uniform, so you can get a better idea of what it looked like.



There's droughts, and then there's droughts. The Rangers had to wait 54 years to win a Cup (1940-1994). The Bruins, 39 years (1972-2011). The Washington Capitals, 41 years and counting (founded in 1974 and never won one). The Los Angeles Kings, 45 years (founded in 1967, won their 1st in 2012). The Buffalo Sabres, 45 years and counting (founded in 1970 and never won one.) The Chicago Blackhawks, 49 years (1961-2010). The Toronto Maple Leafs, 48 years and counting (1967-present). The St. Louis Blues, the same (founded in 1967 and never won one). Ottawa's drought goes back to the old Senators, 88 years and (1927-present). Winnipeg has the longest drought of all, going back to the Victorias, 113 years and counting (1902-present).

Vancouver’s only Stanley Cup on March 26, 1915, at Denman Arena, when the Millionaires beat the Ottawa Senators by a whopping score of 12-3, completing a 3-game sweep.

That was on March 26, 1915 -- 100 years ago today. How long has that been?

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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, because 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.

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 “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.

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 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), moved in 1934 to become the St. Louis Eagles, and went out of business in 1935.

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. There were 3 major leagues in baseball: The American League Champion Boston Red Sox beat the National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series, with Woodrow Wilson becoming the first President of the United States to attend a Series game in office; and 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.

The idea of flying an airplane anywhere was risky; that of flying one across the Atlantic Ocean was lunacy. Charles Lindbergh was in junior high school. The automobile was becoming more affordable, and thus more popular, but most cars were still open rather than enclosed. Only now were the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts (specifically, New York and San Francisco) linked by telephone wires. Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison were both still alive, and would be for several years to come.


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. As you can see, the biggest stars were mostly French-Canadians and Irish-Canadians. There were quite a few baseball players of French and Irish descent, too; indeed, most of the baseball players of French descent, such as 3,000 Hit Club member Napoleon Lajoie, were actually of French-Canadian descent.


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 in the regular season that was about to begin, did not pitch in the World Series.

The Heavyweight Champion of the World was Jack Johnson, but that wouldn’t last long, as, finally allowed to defend his title in Havana, Cuba, the 1st black heavyweight champ, then 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, who ended up defending his title just once, in 1916, before getting slaughtered by Jack Dempsey in 1919.

None of these sports stars would live to see 1977; Vezina, Darragh, Pitre and Holmes wouldn’t live to see 1942; Vezina and Darragh wouldn’t even live to see 1925, such was medicine at the time. There were no antibiotics. This, alone, helped to keep the average human life expectancy at around 50. 

The English Football League 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 game 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, and when the game resumed, Liverpool and Manchester United were punished for fixing a match at the end of the 1915 League season. This led to the sports-administration equivalent of a plea-bargain: In exchange for the support of London club Arsenal against a rougher penalty, those clubs would support Arsenal’s admission to the League’s 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 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, or in London at all: The city's boundaries would be redrawn in 1965, and that’s how “the Middlesex club” got into the city.)

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.

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 first 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 first 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 said, “It is like writing history with lightning” (true, I suppose) and “It is all so terribly true” (the hell it was).

Indeed, the American Civil War had only been over for 50 years, and there were still living veterans of the Mexican-American War (1846-48) and the Texas War of Independence (1836) – 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 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 and resultant devastating fire. 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 third 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.

In early 1915, the Ottoman Empire began the Armenian Genocide, leading to the deaths of 1.5 million people. The Battle of Gallipoli is 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 physician-solider-poet John McCrae wrote “In Flanders Fields,” not only presaging his own combat death but making the poppy synonymous with war veterans. 

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; “Typhoid Mary,” and quarantined, she would remain 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 a University of Illinois student and football player named 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. And soccer legend Sir Stanley Matthews.


March 26, 1915. A hockey team from Vancouver won the Stanley Cup. This has not happened since. Is it about to happen again? The Canucks are currently 2nd in the Pacific Division, and are almost certainly going to make the Playoffs, so anything can happen. Stay tuned.

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Black Lau said...
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Black Lau said...
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