May 21, 2009

Stanley Cup Legends: Mike Grant

Mike Grant was just as important to ice hockey as an ambassador to the game as he was a player.

If you are not familiar with Mike Grant it is because his nine year hockey career ended in 1902, fifteen years before the inaugural NHL season!

Mike Grant was the premier defensive specialist of 1890s ice hockey, playing the ancient position of cover-point primarily for the Montreal Victorias of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada and the Canadian Amateur Hockey League.

A very strong case can be made that Mike Grant was hockey's first true star; he was the first player to actually draw crowds that would sell out ice rinks all over Eastern Canada. He was also the first hockey player that newspaper reporters consistently reported on which helped popularize the game via the press.

Grant, already an accomplished speed-skating champion, played his first hockey with the Young Crystals, the junior team to the Montreal Crystals, and was named Captain within a year. He led the Young Crystals to the championship and then its intermediate squad to two more titles. The Montreal Victorias took note of this rising young star and signed him to a contract in 1893. In his third season with the Victorias, Grant captained his team to the first of four consecutive Stanley Cup championships.

Although there is no videotape of 1890s hockey, or Grant specifically, we do know a bit about his game. He was a tremendous leader of men, played a fine brand of defensive hockey, was most likely the quickest skater in the game, and he was the finest puck-rusher of early hockey by practically all accounts. In fact, it may have been Grant who influenced later puck-rushers like Art Ross and Lester Patrick to master this art. It is safe to assume that if a Norris Trophy was awarded back in Grant's era he would have earned perhaps four or five as he was the premier dominant defensive player of his time. Similarly, it could be easily argued that Grant would have won at least one Hart Trophy and maybe even a Conn Smythe Trophy had there been such awards.

After Grant's playing career he became a referee, officiating many Stanley Cup championship games through 1905 before traveling south of the border to the United States. Once stateside, Grant traveled across America from rink to rink sharing his knowledge of hockey and skating with interested and often awe-struck Americans. Grant appeared in many exhibition games across America and can safely be called Canada's first ambassador for the game of hockey to the United States.

Mike Grant was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1950.

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