Friday, 10 January 2014

The Olympic Team That Wasn't

With all of the debate over the recent picks made for the Canadian men's Olympic hockey team, perhaps the men chosen should feel a little lucky that they will represent their country on the world stage. The reason I say this is due to one men's team who didn't get the opportunity to represent Canada at the Winter Olympics due to reasons outside their control. They were the best senior men's team in Canada at the time and were scheduled to go, but other circumstances arose and these men were denied their opportunity. This is the story of the 1939 Port Arthur Bearcats.

I received an email from reader Will S. who pointed me in the direction of the Bearcats. Will provided some excellent photos and news clippings about some of the games, so I'll work through them and include some of that info in the article as well. Thanks for sharing all this stuff on the Bearcats, Will!

If we go back to 1920, the reigning senior men's team in Canada was given the opportunity to head to the Olympics to represent Canada. The Allan Cup was given annually to the best senior men's team across the land, and that's how we got teams like the Trail Smoke Eaters and the Winnipeg Falcons competing for Canada and winning gold medals. In 1939, the Port Arthur Bearcats, based out of what is now Thunder Bay, Ontario, won the Allan Cup, meaning that they would represent Canada at the Winter Olympic Games in February 1940.

As an aside, the Bearcats club had won the silver medal in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany after the Allan Cup champion Halifax Wolverines were unable to travel. The runner-up Beatcats were chosen to represent Canada and, despite some serious protests about the format of the tournament, Canada finished second to a Great British team "largely composed of Canadian Army officers and university graduates living in the UK".

Back to the 1939 team, the Bearcats would have been enjoying the off-season when Japan gave the Games back to the IOC in July 1938 after the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. The IOC then awarded the Games to St. Moritz, Switzerland, but the Games were given back to the IOC after problems arose between the Swiss organizing team and the IOC.

During this time, the Bearcats were posting a respectable 14-6-3 record in capturing first-place in the TBSHL (Thunder Bay Senior Hockey League). The Bearcats would keep their winning ways going as they ended up in the Allan Cup Final against the Montreal Royals. All games of the five-game series would be played in Montreal, so there was a considerable disadvantage for the Bearcats as the series began.

Game One needed extra time, but Port Arthur took the first game by a 6-5 win in overtime. Game Two was played a little more defensively, but Port Arthur downed Montreal by a 3-1 score to take a stranglehold on the series despite the odds against them. Game Three saw the Royals break out offensively as they won 6-4 on home ice, but the series would end in Game Four after the Beatcats downed the Royals 6-5 to win the Allan Cup!

In the spring of 1939, shortly after the Bearcats won the Allan Cup, the IOC awarded the Games back to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, but Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. The IOC wisely cancelled the Olympic Games as the world was preparing for war with Germany as the Second World War loomed.

It seems pretty unfair that a team like the Bearcats can work so hard only to lose a major opportunity like representing Canada at the Olympics. While I understand that missing the Olympics had little to do with the team itself, it just goes to show that one should relish every chance one gets to represent his or her country.

Here is the roster of the 1939 Port Arthur Bearcats that should have been the 1940 Canadian Olympic roster over in Europe:
  • LW Gus Saxberg
  • LW John "Bones" McCormack
  • LW Bob Manahan
  • C Joe MacArthur
  • C Edgar Laprade
  • RW Stan King
  • RW Norm Wright
  • RW Don Gordon
  • D Bert Laprade
  • D Hugh O'Leary (captain)
  • D Mike Moriarty
  • D Walter Harbluk
  • G John Crompton
  • G Jakie Nash
  • Head Coach Ed "Jazzy" Manahan
  • President William A. McKinnon
  • Honorary President John F. Hewitson
There were a few other people listed on the image above, but the main men should be remembered for their contributions. Here's to the 1940 Canadian Olympic team, the Port Arthur Bearcats!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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