Monday, 28 May 2018

The Year Of No Decision

In what is nearly a lock to happen this summer when the Board of Governors meet and vote on it, NHL expansion to Seattle won't be the first time the NHL has ventured into the Emerald City. While both the Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals prepare for Game One tonight as both teams look to etch their names into the Stanley Cup for the first time, Seattle has already done that in its past. As seen in the photo above, the Seattle Metropolitans were the 1917 Stanley Cup champions before returning to the Stanley Cup Final in 1919. It is this year - 1919 - that we'll look at in terms of what happened when the Stanley Cup officially was not awarded despite there being no work stoppages and having two teams that qualified to play for the Silver Chalice!

From 1917 until 1924, the champion of NHL's playoff system would meet with the winner of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association's champion in a series to determine the Stanley Cup champion. Among the various teams that would be part of the PCHA were the Seattle Metropolitans, Vancouver Millionaires, Victoria Aristocrats, New Westminster Royals, Victoria Senators, Victoria Cougars, Vancouver Maroons, Spokane Canaries, and the Portland Rosebuds. The PCHA, started by Frank and Lester Patrick, were highly successful despite the small number of teams, and they would develop some of the best players seen during that era such as Cyclone Taylor, Hap Holmes, Tommy Dunderdale, and Bernie Morris. Needless to say, this west coast professional men's league was seen as equals to the NHA and NHL at the time.

In 1919, the Montreal Canadiens earned the right from the NHL's membership to play for the Stanley Cup after defeating the Ottawa Senators in five games in their best-of-seven series. Ottawa's star player in Frank Nighbor missed the first three games - all of which Montreal won - before returning in Game Four to help Ottawa to a 6-3 win on home ice. However, the return to Montreal for Game Five saw Les Canadiens win 4-2 to earn the right to meet the PCHA champion.

Seattle, in a bit of a twist, met the Vancouver Millionaires in a total-goals two-game series for the right to play for the Stanley Cup. Seattle blitzed Vancouver in Seattle 6-1 in the first game where Vancouver was down dynamic scorer Mickey MacKay due to injury. The Millionaires needed a major push with the second slated to be played in Vancouver, and the Millionaires responded with a victory. The only problem? They won 4-1, so Seattle would advance to play for the Stanley Cup due to their 7-5 advantage in total goals over the two-game series.

The Metropolitans and Canadiens would meet for the Stanley Cup for the second time in their histories. The Metropolitans had won the Stanley Cup over the Canadiens 3-1 in a best-of-five series in 1917 to claim the title of "World's Hockey Champions" as seen in the lede photo, so there was already some history between these two clubs. The best-of-five series began on Wednesday, March 19, 1919 in Seattle, Washington where all five games were scheduled to be played due to travel distances between the two cities. With Montreal at a bit of a disadvantage without their home crowd to cheer them on, this series already looked troublesome for les bleus-blancs-et-rouges.

That March 19 game was decidedly one-sided as Seattle thumped Montreal 7-0 in the opening game. Hap Holmes was brilliant in the Seattle net in stonewalling the Canadiens, and the legendary Frank Foyston scored in each period on Georges Vezina to pace the Metropolitans to the win. The game, incidentally, was played under the PCHA rules which featured seven skaters aside. The NHL, in 1919, had already reduced the number of skaters on the ice to six - no rovers in the NHL - so this game not only featured teams from two leagues, but rules from two leagues! And those rules would come back into play in a future game as well!

March 22 saw the Canadiens suit up as the home team, and they played their six-man game much better than the seven-man system days earlier. Newsy Lalonde put the Canadiens up 1-0 midway through the first period before adding two more goals in the second period and a fourth goal at the midpoint in the third period to stake the Canadiens to a 4-0 lead through 50 minutes of play. Bobby Rowe would score at 11:03 and Frank Foyston added another Seattle goal just eight seconds after Rowe's marker, but Georges Vezina would allow no other pucks behind him as Montreal evened the series at 1-1 with a 4-2 victory!

Game Three was set for Monday, March 24 with Seattle reverting back to the home team and the game being played under PCHA rules. With the changes, Seattle once again was the better team by a large margin over the Canadiens. First-period goals by Frank Foyston, Foyston again, Cully Wilson assisted by Foyston, and Foyston a third time had Seattle up 4-0 by the time the first intermission rolled around, and the Metropolitans were on cruise control for the remainder of the game. There was no scoring in the second period, but Montreal's Odie Cleghorn and Louis Berlanquette cut the deficit in half with seven minutes to play in the game. Five seconds after Berlanquette's goal, however, saw Foyston score his fourth of the game, and that was followed up by two more Seattle goals off the sticks of Muzz Murray and Roy Rickey as Seattle skated to the 7-2 win and, more importantly, the 2-1 series lead that left them one win away from their second Stanley Cup!

The fourth game, played on Wednesday, March 26, was unlike the rest. Montreal was the designated home team so we were back to six skaters on each side, but this game saw none of the skaters outside the goaltenders have an impact. Through sixty minutes, the two teams remained knotted up at 0-0, so we'd need our first taste of overtime in this series to see if Seattle was going to celebrate or if Montreal lived to play another day. The NHL rules stated that there were two ten-minute overtime periods to be played with a winner being crowned on a sudden-death goal, but both Georges Vezina and Hap Holmes would not allow a goal in the additional twenty minutes of play. The game was ruled a tie at that point, pushing the series to 2-1-1 in favour of Seattle.

Both teams took issue with the tie as both squads wanted a win. Montreal insisted that the NHL rules be used where a tied playoff game was replayed in its entirety. Seattle insisted that the PCHA rules be used where total goals to that point would be used to determine a winner. It was finally determined, however, that there would be no winner with two drastically different sets of rules in play, so it remained as a tie officially. However, it was also determined that overtime would continue for as long as needed until one of the two teams scored in future games. Officially, this would be the last tie game in the playoffs for the NHL.

Game Five would be played on Saturday, March 29 with Seattle as the home team and the game being played under PCHA rules. Things looked similar to Games One and Three with Seattle jumping out to a solid first-period lead with Frank Foyston and Jack walker putting the Metropolitans up 2-0 through twenty minutes of play. Walker would add his second of the game early in the second period to make it a 3-0 Seattle lead, and there had to be some worry on the Canadiens' side at that point. However, the ice began to tilt back in Montreal's favour as they figured out this seven-man game midway through the second period. Montreal started carrying the play as it appeared some of the Metropolitans were tiring, and this proved to be a confidence-builder for the Canadiens despite them trailing 3-0 through two periods.

Four minutes into the third period, Odie Cleghorn found room past Hap Holmes to make it 3-1. 1:01 later, Newsy Lalonde found the back of the Seattle net to make it 3-2! As the game moved along, it appeared that Montreal defender Joe Hall was laboring, and he eventually left the game citing "illness" as his reason. After getting a replacement player for Hall, the Canadiens found the tying goal with less than three minutes to play when Newsy Lalonde sniped a goal past Holmes to make it 3-3! That score would carry through to the end of the sixty minutes of regulation, so we'd need overtime to settle this game!

Just as they did in Game Four, the two teams went back and forth with little to show for it until late in the first overtime period. At the 15:51 mark, Montreal's Jack McDonald fired a puck that eluded the pads of Holmes, and Montreal would celebrate in forcing a deciding game with the 4-3 overtime win to even the series at 2-2-1! While it would officially be the sixth game of the five-game series for the Stanley Cup, these two teams would clash again on Tuesday, April 1!

Except they didn't.

Following the game, Joe Hall's illness got progressively worse as the night wore on. He developed a fever and was in some discomfort, so the Canadiens had him moved to a Seattle hospital. Other members of the Montreal Canadiens began to show similar symptoms to that of Hall on Saturday night as well. Of note, Newsy Lalonde, Bill Coutu, Jack McDonald, and manager George Kennedy all showed worsening conditions as the night wore on. McDonald was sent to the same hospital by Sunday morning as Hall, and it was apparent that fielding a team for Tuesday's game was in doubt. By Monday, Louis Berlinguette were added to the list of players showing fevers between 101°F and 105°F, and he, along with Lalonde, Coutu, and George Kennedy, had been isolated in their hotel rooms by doctors with what they were categorizing as influenza.

Kennedy had reached out to Seattle and expressed that the Canadiens could field a team with players from nearby Victoria, but PCHA President Frank Calder balked at this idea. The Metropolitans also weren't satisfied with the idea of Montreal forfeiting the game due illness as that was out of their control, so the Metropolitans declined that option as well. In short, Seattle wanted to play the Montreal Canadiens, but it looked more and more like the deciding game of this Stanley Cup series was in serious jeopardy.

On Tuesday morning, arena workers at the Seattle Ice Arena were told to "strip away the temporary ice sheet from the arena in downtown Seattle, and instead begin laying the foundation for a roller rink", according to Sports Illustrated's Alex Prewitt. That would be an odd request with the Stanley Cup's deciding game set to be played there, but the announcement was made at 2:30pm Pacific time that the deciding game in the series was being canceled due to the influenza outbreak.

The Spanish Flu, as it was colloquially known, infected some 500 million people around the world between January 1918 and December 1920, resulting in the deaths of 50 to 100 million of those infected. One of those people who passed away from the Spanish Flu was Montreal Canadien Joe Hall who died on Sunday, April 5, 1919 at the 3pm at the Columbus Sanitarium.

Hall was born in England, but immigrated to Canada as a youngster with his family where they settled in Brandon, Manitoba. He played for the Stanley Cup in 1904 as a member of the amateur senior men's Winnipeg Rowing Club team against the Ottawa Hockey Club who won the best-of-three series 2-1. It wouldn't be the last time Hall would play for the Stanley Cup, though. Hall won the Stanley Cup with the Kenora Thistles in 1907 before moving to Houghton, Michigan. He'd find himself in Montreal where he played with the NHA's Quebec Bulldogs, winning two more Stanley Cups in 1912 and 1913. From there, he lived in Edmonton before landing back in Montreal, finding some stability when he joined the Canadiens as a fiery defender who often came to the aid of teammates who were under siege from opponents. Hall's temper would lead to him leading the NHL in penalty minutes in 1917-18 with 100 PIMs followed by a staggering 135 PIMs in just 16 games in 1918-19!

In the end, the Stanley Cup went back east to the NHL with no official winner in 1919. Both the Seattle Metropolitans and the Montreal Canadiens are listed on the 1919 section of the Stanley Cup. but both teams finished with a 2-2-1 record in that series. Kennedy had tried to give the Stanley Cup to the Metropolitans following the series, but the Metropolitans refused to accept it and they didn't contest the decision to have it remain in the east after Toronto had won it in 1918. For an entire year, there was no Stanley Cup champion - something that wouldn't happen again until 2004-05.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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