Monday, 21 May 2012

Victoria(s) Day

It's officially a day off in Canada as Canadians celebrate Victoria Day, officially the day of birth for Queen Victoria. As you're probably aware, Canada is still a Commonwealth nation, so we take advantage by celebrating a number of holidays that focus on the British and its rulers. However, today is a different sort of Victoria day here at HBIC as I'd like to take a look at the Winnipeg Victorias, an amateur team from the late 19th century that became Winnipeg's first Stanley Cup-winning team. Winnipeg's current and former versions of the Jets haven't come close to winning a Stanley Cup while playing in the Manitoba capital, so the Victorias are held in high esteem in the province. Let's take a look at Winnipeg's first championship hockey team.

Tying the article into today's holiday, the Winnipeg Victorias actually based their name on the reigning monarch, Queen Victoria. While they were one of several "Victoria" teams, the Winnipeg franchise quickly established themselves as the premiere hockey outfit in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario, and soon found themselves reaching out to other teams from across Canada to provide an adequate challenge.

On December 20, 1890, the Victorias met with the Winnipeg Hockey Club in Winnipeg in the first match in Western Canada between organized hockey clubs. While this in itself wasn't all that remarkable, the upward progress of the Victorias was certainly something that had to catch the eye of Winnipeggers. After playing against Manitoba-based teams for six years and winning many of those games, the Victorias challenged the Montreal Victorias to a one-game showdown for the Stanley Cup on February 14, 1896!

The game was set in Montreal, and the Winnipeg Victorias came to play! Nearly 2000 fans turned out to watch this hockey spectacle, and they got quite a show. Winnipeg captain Jack Armytage put the visitors up 1-0 early in the first half, and that lead was doubled when CJ Campbell scored a goal before the first half ended! George "Whitey" Merritt, the goaltender for Winnipeg, stopped all the shot she faced while wearing cricket pads on his legs to stop the puck! In a stunning 2-0 defeat, the Winnipeg-based squad had captured the Stanley Cup and brought it west for the very first time!

Because there was no radio or television to recount the victory to fans back in Winnipeg, an unusual method to bring the action to fans in Winnipeg was employed. Winnipeggers received the first ever play-by-play account of the action via CPR Telegraph, and they were elated to find out their team had won hockey's greatest prize! The train that returned the team home was adorned with hockey sticks and brooms as the train pulled into Winnipeg - a sign that the Victorias had cleaned up on the ice in Montreal. Once the team had arrived and settled back in Winnipeg, the very first Stanley Cup parade unofficially took place down Main Street as Winnipeg honoured their hockey heroes!

The celebrated heroes who were honoured by Winnipeg included forwards Jack Armytage, Donald Bain, CJ "Tote" Campbell, and TA "Attie" Howard, defencemen Fred Higginbotham and Rod Flett, and George Merritt tended to the nets. Robert Benson didn't see the ice in Montreal during the game, but he was Winnipeg's designated substitute for the big game. These eight men were the first team to bring the Stanley Cup west, and they brought it to Winnipeg! Unfortunately, Fred Higginbotham's career would come to a tragic end later in 1896, forcing the Victorias to find a suitable replacement in order to defend their title.

Winnipeg would reign as the Stanley Cup Champions until December 30, 1896 when Montreal reclaimed the Stanley Cup after a 6-5 victory in Winnipeg. It would be a while before the Victorias would ascend to the top of the mountain again, however.

In 1899, the Victorias lost a two-game total-goals series to Montreal once more. Another loss in 1900 followed shortly, and the Victorias returned to Winnipeg to regroup for their next challenge. The Montreal Shamrocks took over as Stanley Cup Champions shortly thereafter, and the Victorias challenged them in a two-game total-goals series on January 29 and 31, 1901. Winnipeg was victorious in Game One by a 4-3 score, and took the second game by a 3-1 score for a 6-4 total-goals victory! The Stanley Cup would be returning to Winnipeg! Of note, Donald Bain wore a mask through these two games - something not seen in a Stanley Cup competition since the challenges began.

This Victorias championship would be protected for more than a year as they defeated the Toronto Wellingtons in a two-game series played in January of 1902. However, the Victorias' run as top team in the land ended in March 1902 in Winnipeg as the Montreal Hockey Club - aka the Montreal AAA - defeated Winnipeg for the Stanley Cup. Winnipeg took Game One by a 1-0 score on March 13, but Montreal rallied on March 15 with a 5-1 win before closing out the series on March 17 with a 2-1 victory.

While this loss wouldn't deter Victorias in pursuing the top prize on hockey, the city of Winnipeg wouldn't see another Stanley Cup opportunity until far later in its history. It was determined in 1908 that the Stanley Cup would only be awarded to professional teams, thus ending any chance the amateur Victorias would have their team name etched onto the Stanley Cup in the future.

While the amateur Victorias pushed on without the Stanley Cup, they did capture Canada's amateur championship in back-to-back years in 1911 and 1912. While there was some controversy over their 1911 win as Ontario didn't permit their amateur teams from competing, the Victorias eventually defeated the Kenora Thistles by a combind score of 16-10 in two games to officially capture the Allan Cup. The 1912 Allan Cup Championship saw the Victorias defeat Calgary twice by a combined score of 19-6, Toronto by a combined score of 24-5, and Regina bu a 9-3 margin.

The Victorias were eventually overtaken in Manitoba by the Winnipeg Hockey Club as the top amateur team. The WHC won the 1913 Allan Cup to keep the amateur championship in the Manitoba capital. The third Winnipeg-based team, the Winnipeg Monarchs, captured the Allan Cup in 1914 bfore losing it midway through the year to the Regina Victorias - another Victoria team! This would be the last time a "Victoria" team won the Allan Cup as well.

While it may be true that the modern versions of Winnipeg's professional hockey teams never captured the Stanley Cup, the Silver Chalice called the city home a couple of time. While hockey history may have forgotten the heroics of the Winnipeg Victorias, HBIC is proud of his hometown hockey heroes!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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