"There is only one way a boy can be sure to learn to play hockey - on the pond, on the creek, on a flooded lot. The foundation of hockey isn't really hockey at all. It's shinny, a wild melee of kids batting a puck around, with no rules, no organization, nothing but individual effort to grab and hold the puck."
It's so true. Today's game features many young superstars who are so well taught and trained that they are able to step right into the heavily systematic NHL. But all those players pine for days of their youth playing informal games on the frozen lake or in the driveway. Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby and Mitch Marner are just a few of the many who will share Patrick's thoughts. In that way, as much as the game has changed since Patrick's day (let alone Gretzky's), some things never change.
For those who don't know, Lester Patrick is one of the most important figures in hockey history. There was a time he was branded as an iconoclast. History looks back at him as a fundamental innovator. But he was as instrumental as anyone when it came to changing the game.
Lester and his brother Frank were both great players and Stanley Cup champions dating back to the days before there was a National Hockey League. And then they formed a western based professional option to challenge the mighty eastern based NHA which later essentially became the NHL. The Pacific Coast Hockey Association was born in 1911
Those rich Eastern owners must have been hopping mad at the Patricks. At one time they paid them to bring Stanley Cup victories, and now they headed up the only competition. We're not just talking about competition for the Stanley Cup, but for player services.
The Westerners were genius innovators. In fact, the PCHA game resembles the modern game of hockey more so than the Eastern game before its arrival. It was a far more exciting game. It was good for hockey, but it was also good for business. So good that the Easterners merged many of the tactics.
Among the PCHA innovations that quickly were adopted:
- Blue lines with three zones
- Forward pass
- Recording of assists
- Numbers on sweaters
- Artificial ice
- Delayed penalty calls
- Penalty shots
- Defensemen rushing the puck
(Note the last one. Every Bobby Orr fan will have you believe Orr was the first defender to ever rush the puck. There were many before him.)
I would argue that the Patricks are the most important influencers of hockey in the history of the game, with only the Soviet teachings of Anatoli Tarasov as a true challenger for this title.
I have to wonder if we will ever see someone influence so much change in the game again. The game has changed so incredibly much in the past 20 years, though that is more through evolution than any one person's impact. I suppose you could argue that this is all still part of Tarasov's reach.
Perhaps it will not be a person but a thing that changes everything. That thing would be technology. We've already seen the impact of analytics and instant feed back health data tracking.
Or maybe it will be the arrival of the next great player? And that great player will not be the best center or winger or defenseman. He will be the player who excels both as a forward and a defenseman, revolutionizing the game so that all players become truly interchangeable.
I am certain Lester Patrick would approve of that ,