March 05, 2014

The History of the Chicago Shamrocks (with video!)

The NHL has taken a lot of flack in recent years for rapid expansion into so-called non-traditional hockey markets. Well no one criticized them back in 1926 when they moved into Chicago. As best as I can tell the only organized hockey in the Windy City prior to the arrival of the Blackhawks was an amateur team by the name of the Shamrocks just two years earlier.

Very little information seems to exist about these original Chicago Shamrocks. But a second team with the same named emerged in a professional league in 1930 with some very interesting consequences.

You see this professional Chicago Shamrocks team was owned by a young and eager James Norris. He would become one of the most powerful men in the history of the National Hockey League, but back in 1930 he was a real pain in their side.

Norris had wanted a NHL team in Chicago even though the Blackhawks already existed. The NHL agreed this would hurt their established franchise and refused Mr. Norris' request for a second team in Chicago.

No matter. Norris simply established the Chicago Shamrocks in the American Hockey Association, forerunner to the American Hockey League, and declared the league to be a major league. Bewildered, Frank Calder, president of the NHL, dismissed the league as an outlaw league.

Norris found quick success. By 1931-32, their second season in the league, the Shamrocks won the league championship. They argued they should be allowed to play for the Stanley Cup and even went so far as to partition the Cup trustees for that opportunity. The NHL had full control of the Stanley Cup by then, however, and refused any such request.

In May 1932, the Detroit Falcons of the NHL declared bankruptcy and the NHL desperately needed someone to take over the team. They found strange bedfellows in Norris, who would take over the team and change their name to the Red Wings. As a condition of the purchase, the NHL forced Norris to disband his Shamrocks franchise in Chicago.

Here is a photo of Clarence "Pudge" McKenzie in his Chicago Shamrocks sweater:

MacKenzie would play both seasons with the Shamrocks and would join the Blackhawks in 1932-33 for his only NHL season.

Other notables to play for the Chicago Shamrocks include Eddie Wiseman, Gord Brydson, Corb Denneny, Don McFayden, Jack Riley, Walter Buswell and goaltender Mike Karakas.

Believe it or not, some video footage of the Shamrocks exists on YouTube:

By the way, there was at least one other professional team competing with the Blackhawks for attention prior to the 1930 Shamrocks.

This Chicago team was known as both the Cardinals and the Americans as they seemed to have changed their name half way through their only AHA season, 1926-27. They were owned and coached by Eddie Livingstone, the same Eddie Livingstone who once owned the National Hockey Association's Toronto Arenas franchise. The NHA actually disbanded in order to get away from Livingstone. The remaining teams started a whole new league - the National Hockey League.

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