April 26, 2007

Great Moments In Hockey History: Stanley Cup Challenge From The Yukon

In the early 1900s, the Ottawa Silver Seven ruled the Stanley Cup like the modern day dynasties of Montreal (1955-60 and 1976-79), New York Islanders (1980-1983) and Edmonton Oilers (1984-1990).

The only difference back then was the Stanley Cup was still a challenge cup. Ottawa had to fend off approved challenges from anywhere in Canada. Anywhere, including the snowy Klondike.

In one of the most amazing Stanley Cup showdowns ever, the Silver Seven faced off against a rag-tag group of treasure seekers from Dawson City, Yukon. No one had ever heard of any member of this group of vagabonds going by the name Nuggets. These players were mostly recreational players, looking for something to do during the long winters quite literally in the middle of nowhere. But in typical Klondike fashion, the hockey players dreamed big, and challenged for hockey's greatest prize. They were dreaming of gold, and of Stanley Cup silver.

Funded by the $3,000 from millionaire prospector and shameless promoter Colonel Joe Boyle, "The King Of The Klondike" as he owned the richest claim, and organized by Sheriff Jack Eilbeck, the Nuggets were a real motley crew, though most were not miners themselves. The team was made up of players who formed the 4 team senior league in Dawson City, then a city of 26,000 people including the surrounding area in the days after the gold rush was dying out.

Albert Forrest followed his gold seeking parents from Trois Rivieres, Quebec. A great cyclist and speed skater, Forrest played goal for the Nuggets even though he reportedly never played in net before. Just 17 years old, he is the youngest player in Stanley Cup history.

On defense was Jim Johnstone from Ottawa, who I believe was a police officer, and "crafty veteran" Dr. Randy McLennan, a graduate of Queen's University, originally from Cornwall, Ontario. McLennan was the only player on the final team with Stanley Cup experience. Queen's University lost to the Montreal AAA 5-1 back in 1895. En route the Klondikers recruited Lorne Hannay from Brandon, Manitoba, who once visited the Yukon, to skate on defense. Hannay had played against the Silver Seven in Brandon's unsuccessful Cup challenge the year prior, scoring two goals.

Up front was dirty Norm Watts from Aylmer, Quebec; civil servant George "Old Sureshot" Kennedy and Hector Smith, both from Selkirk, Manitoba; and A.N. "Archie" Martin, a substitute also from Ottawa. He was a star lacrosse player and a good friend of Col. Boyle, perhaps the reason why he made the trip.

Two of their best players were not able to play in the series. Their best player, who was also doubling as impromptu coach, former Ottawa star Weldy Young, was unable to go due to his duties as an election official at the time. Young formerly played with the Silver Seven, leaving Ottawa in infamy after attacking fans at a game back in 1898. Captain Lionel Bennett, a civil servant originally from Nova Scotia, also declined. He wanted to be at his injured wife's side. She was dragged by a runaway sleigh.

The 4,400 mile route from Dawson to Ottawa is a story in itself. The team arrived exhausted, just a day before the first game, after traveling by bicycle, dog sled, stage coach, boat and train.

The Nuggets left Dawson City on December 19, 1904. Some players left on dog sled, but since the snowfall was negligent to that point that year, Forrest, Smith and Watt left on bicycles. The bikes soon became useless. The team reportedly fought numerous snow storms and an avalanche. The bicyclists had to walk.

The Ottawa Journal covered their journey in retrospect.

"The first day the Klondikers covered 46 miles, the second 41. The third day saw them struggling to cover 36 miles, some suffering with blistered feet. To proceed, these had to remove their boots. It may give an idea of the hardship they faced when it is recorded that the temperature sank to 20 degree below zero during the mush from Dawson City west to Skagway, Alaska (via Whitehorse)."

Skagway was the only sea exit from the Yukon. Unfortunately the prospectors missed their boat connection by two hours. They were forced to wait 5 days until another vessel arrived to take them south to Seattle.

The Ottawa Journal quoted one unnamed player about their 5 day layover.

"We had one practice while we stuck around Skagway. It was a rink 40 feet by 50, half of it covered with sand, which dulled our skates."

The team finally left Skagway on New Year's Eve, 1904. Upon arrival boarded a train to take them 200 miles north to Vancouver, then another to lead them to Ottawa. The players reportedly tried to keep active by skipping rope in the smoking car. They arrived one day before the opening game of the Stanley Cup final. The weary group asked for the games to be put back a few days, but the request was denied.

Exhausted and horribly over matched, the Nuggets, wearing "gaudy uniforms of black and gold stripes with white knickers and striped stockings" were blown away by the likes Harry Westwick, Harvey Pulford, Alf Smith and "One Eyed" Frank McGee.

After being thumped 9-2 in game one, the Ottawa Journal reported "The visitors were clearly outclassed. It is true they hardly had time to get in shape, but the form they showed was most mediocre."

Scoring star Frank McGee scored only one in the opening game, but erupted for a Stanley Cup record 14 goals in game 2, a 23-2 walloping. The muscular McGee was an early era hockey star. He would score 63 goals in 22 Stanley Cup games in his career.

Ludicrously defeated, the Klondikers stayed back east on a 23 game barnstorming exhibition set in Ontario, Quebec and the maritimes and to enjoy life "on the outside" before the taxing trip back home.

Poor Albert Forrest. He was named as team MVP in the Stanley Cup challenge, and later would be the focus of hockey historian Brian McFarlane's kids fictional book The Youngest Goalie. The team didn't seem to care much after the barnstorming series was over. Described as "frugal as a church mouse," the teenager walked alone through the final 350 miles from Pelly Crossing to Dawson City.

Another book you should read is Dawson City Seven by Don Reddick. I haven't read it yet, so I can't offer a solid review. But Reddick has his own website as well, and you can sift through his site like a goldpanner and find some real nice nuggets of information.

In 1997, locals from a now-sleepy Dawson City re-enacted the 1905 championship. They traveled the same route as the original Nuggets, except for the Whitehorse to Skagway train route, which no longer exists. Upon arrival in Ottawa, the team competed against the Ottawa Senators Alumni team at the Corel Centre. The Sens won 18-0. The teams split the revenues. Ottawa donated their money to the Heart Institute while the Dawson team contributed to Yukon Special Olympic and Yukon Minor Hockey.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

"In 1997, locals from the all but extinct Dawson City" is not accurate. Dawson City is alive and weel, and will host the 2009 Western Premires Conference in June. Population 1844 with Internationally renown events and access to some of the most breathtaking natural phenomina on earth.

Anonymous said...

Joe thanks for the great history about our Nuggets; but I must agree with Anonymous! Dawson City is no sleppy ghost town.

Anonymous said...

My six year old son and I are reading "The youngest Goalie" as a bedtime story. We would like to know where to see more pictures of the Nuggets. "The story is good 'cause it's about hockey" says Sam. "I think Albert and Caroline will get married". We'll have to keep reading to find out.

rn2u73 said...

This is such a great sight!! Albert Forrest was my great-grandfather. Such a neat story!!

Joe Martell said...

I have one of those laminate posters from 1997, with a bunch of the players' signatures on it. Does it have any value?

Anonymous said...

Don Reddick's new book The Trail Less Traveled is a brilliant recounting of the '97 journey by the Dawson oldtimers. Found it in Mac's Fireweed bookstore in Whitehorse.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we're so extinct that the Ottawa Senators Alumni are coming to visit us on Feb. 10, 2011 as part of their Hockey Day in Canada junket. You really do need to edit that original post.

Dan Davidson
editor - Klondike Sun

Anonymous said...

And darnit, Joe Boyle, King of the Klondyke then became the Hero of Roumania and saved the Roumanian Crown Jewels! A fine, fine man!

GWPDA
www.gwpda.org

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