February 28, 2014

Vancouver Millionaires' 1915 Stanley Cup Victory Set Hockey's Future

The year is 1915. The Stanley Cup is played for in Vancouver, where the local Millionaires hockey team hosts the legendary Senators from Ottawa.

Yes, the Stanley Cup was the prize, but something much, much more important was at stake. The future of hockey - hockey as we know it today - was cemented by the city of Vancouver's only Stanley Cup championship.



In 1914-15, Vancouver playing manager/coach Frank Patrick had put together a powerhouse team that dominated the Pacific Coast Hockey Association.

The Vancouver Millionaires had Hughie Lehman in nets, acquired from the New West Royals. Si Griffis, the team captain, anchored the defense, while forward stars Frank Nighbor, Mickey McKay, Barney Stanley and hockey's very first superstar Cyclone Taylor took care of the offense. Vancouver very much was a juggernaut designed to change the course of hockey history.

The season was capped off successfully on February 28th, 1915 when the Millionaires defeated the Portland Rosebuds by a convincing score of 11-3 to capture the PCHA championship. They finished the season with a record of 12 wins and 4 losses, outscoring the opposition mightily 101-40.

The season was not done yet, though. This was the first season of a new NHA/PCHA agreement. The Stanley Cup championship would be played between the winner of each league. By winning the western Canadian championship meant that for the very first time Vancouver was going to play for the Stanley Cup!

The Millionaires would face Cyclone Taylor's old team, the Ottawa Senators. The Sens defeated the Montreal Wanderers 4-1 in a two game, total goals series to win the NHA championship. The NHA, based in Eastern Canada, was the forerunner to the NHL.

While the Senators were slowly making their way across Canada by rail, the Millionaires headed south to Portland to played two exhibition games to stay sharp. In theory it was a great idea, although it almost proved disastrous. Griffis, the team's undisputed leader, badly twisted his ankle and would not be able to play in the Stanley Cup finals. Frank Patrick proposed his legendary brother Lester Patrick substitute in for Griffis, but the Senators would not agree to that. Little known rookie Lloyd Cook would fill in admirably. Lester would man the bench, allowing Frank to concentrate on the game, too.

The series between the Sens and Millionaires was to be a best of five, with three games under western rules (seven player rules) and two games under Eastern rules (six player rules). And that is where the future of hockey was set.

The PCHA introduced many of the rules we take for granted today. Perhaps the most important rule they used that the NHA did not was the use of the forward pass. The NHA did not, and as a result their game was more of rugby-on-ice strategy as compared to the modern game. In fact the NHA absolutely detested the forward pass.

The series would be a short one. Even with the loss of captain Griffis, Vancouver walloped the Easterners. Fans who paid as much as $14 a ticket (have tickets always been ridiculously overpriced in Vancouver?) witnessed hockey history.

Vancouver skated to an easy 6-2 win in game one, with Cyclone Taylor scoring twice. Ottawa admitted after the game that the Western rules confused them, particularly the use of the forward pass at center ice. But Vancouver loved it. Cyclone Taylor said in an interview "...it makes the game twice as fast. A man doesn't have to slow up and wait for his teammates in starting a rush down the ice. The referees have less to worry about and it gives the forwards better chances. Frank Patrick did a great stroke of hockey business when he decided to accept the forward pass."

Using Eastern rules in game two did not seem to help Ottawa, however. Despite jumping out to a 2-0 first period lead, Ottawa would be humiliated by the Millionaires. Vancouver exploded for 6 goals in the second period alone en route to a 8-3 drubbing. Ottawa resorted to assaulting Taylor, who had three goals in the game.

The third and final game was even less of a contest, with Vancouver winning easily 12-3. Barney Stanley scored 4 times. The game was so far out of reach so early that Vancouver never made a single substitute during the entire game, using the same 7 skaters for all 60 minutes.

The Stanley Cup had come to Vancouver! The players collected $300 bonus cheques and were treated like royalty.


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