May 13, 2009

The Victoria Cougars

The 1925 Victoria Cougars were great beneficiaries of the demise of the PCHA Seattle Metropolitans team.

Because Seattle had too many cars and not enough parking spaces, the city announced plans to convert the hockey rink into a parking garage. The loss of the Mets left only Victoria and Vancouver in the PCHA. Frank and Lester Patrick had to make the hard decision to merge with Calgary, Edmonton, Regina and Saskatoon of the Western Canadian Hockey League.

Because Victoria had had some lean years, they were awarded four players of their choice from the defunct Seattle team. They took goalie Hap Holmes, defenseman Gordon Fraser and superstar forwards Frank Foyston and Jack Walker.

These stars were added to a team that already included 1920 Olympic hero Frank Frederickson out of Winnipeg along with with Gizzy Hart, Jocko Anderson, Harry Meeking and late addition Wally Elmer. The defense included Harold "Slim" Halderson and team captain Clem Loughlin.

The 1924-25 season did not appear promising for the Cougars. They finished third in the league. The prairie teams were powerful. Edmonton had the great Duke Keats, a Wayne Gretzky-like offensive dynamo. Calgary had a great defense headed by Red Dutton and Herb Gardiner. Saskatoon had George Hainsworth in goal with the Cook brothers, Bill and Bun, up front and the legendary Newsy Lalonde behind the bench.

It was in the 1925 playoffs that Victoria stunned the prairie teams. They won the 2 game series against Saskatoon by a combined score of 6-4, with Foyston being the scoring hero. In the championship round against Calgary it was the great goalie Holmes who stole the show, holding the first game at 1-1 before shutting out the team 2-0 in game two.

Meanwhile, the NHL somehow appointed the Montreal Canadienss as the eastern representative in the Stanley Cup showdown, even though Hamilton had won the NHL regular season title. The Hamilton players staged a revolt over salaries, and were suspended.

The Cougars did not really care. They were going to play for the Stanley Cup. However one of the games would be played in Vancouver, where the Denman Arena held an additional 7,000 fans. The additional revenues were best for everybody involved, including the players.

The Cougars were able to use their perfected forward pass to kill the Montreal team. The forward pass was still not in practice in the NHL. When Stanley Cup games called for Western rules, the Cougars exploited the easterners with flip passes over the defense to streaking wingers entering the attacking zone to great perfection. The Cougars were also said to have exploited changes on the fly in the series, a practice not really used anywhere in hockey at that time, as it was still common for top players to play most of the game even without breaks. By doing so the Cougars had fresher legs much of the games.

Victoria skated away with 5-2 and 3-1 victories before Howie Morenz powered Montreal too a game three victory, 4-2. Victoria wrapped up the Stanley Cup with a convincing 6-1 triumph in game four. By doing so they were the last non-NHL team to win the Stanley Cup!

The Cougars defended their Stanley Cup championship against another team from Montreal, the Maroons, in 1926, only to suffer a 3 games to 1 defeat, with all 3 losses by shutout.

The Patricks would sell the PCHA and its' players to the NHL after that season, with the Cougars moving to Detroit soon to be re-named the Red Wings.

Aside from publicity trips, the Stanley Cup has never come back to British Columbia.

1 comment:

Alex said...

Fascinating stuff. The invention of the forward pass, the first dabbling into jumping over the boards, and the, *gasp*, forward pass were all industry of the Victoria Cougars in the early 1920s... I'll be damned.