When A Pandemic Scuttled The Stanley Cup
The Seattle Metropolitans played in the 1919 Stanley Cup final. Photo by: sos.wa.gov (Public Domain).
Attempting to determine a Stanley Cup in the midst of a pandemic. That’s what the National Hockey League intends to do this summer.
It’s also what pro hockey sought to do in the spring of 1919. And the sport failed miserably and tragically in the attempt.
When the NHL champion Montreal Canadiens arrived in Seattle to begin the 1919 Stanley Cup final series, Metropolitans manager Pete Mulddoon cautioned the locals against overconfidence. Just because Seattle had defeated the Habs in the 1917 final, it shouldn’t be automatically assumed that this Seattle squad would also be victorious.
Two years earlier, the Pacific Coast Hockey Association champion Mets easily handled the defending champion Canadiens of the National Hockey Association 3-1 in a best-of-five set to become the first American-based Stanley Cup champions.
These two teams would again make hockey history in 1919. However, this time it would be for all the wrong reasons.
Suppose they held a Stanley Cup final and nobody won?
That’s exactly what happened 101 years ago.
Habs Were NHL Champions
Montreal arrived via train from Eastern Canada after beating Ottawa for the NHL title. To stay sharp en route, they whipped a Calgary amateur club 12-1. Upon arriving on the West Coast, in order to shake out their train legs, they got the better of Vancouver’s PCHA finalist club 4-3.
“The Canadiens are a much improved team over the squad that played here two years ago,” Muldoon told the Seattle Star. “But the boys are going after them from the first whistle and I think we can repeat.”
The Mets were the smaller, speedier team, outweighed by Montreal on average by 10-15 pounds per man. Most imposing was the Canadiens burly defensive pairing of Bert Corbeau and (Bad) Joe Hall. Hall led the NHL with 130 penalty minutes in 16 games.
Some of the players were well known to hockey fans of the Great Lakes area. Canadiens defenseman Hall and forwards Didier Pitre Newsy Lalonde had both been lured to the Great Lake State in 1905 to play in the Michigan-based International League. In existence from 1904-07, it was the first fully-fledged official professional league where players were openly paid salaries specifically for playing hockey.
Pitre played the Michigan Soo. Lalonde suited up for the Canadian Soo Algonquins and Hall was a member of the Portage Lake/Houghton Miners.
Morris Under Arrest
Seattle would be without center Bernie Morris for the 1919 final. He’d scored 14 goals in the 1917 Cup final series, but was currently idling in the brig at Fort Lewis in nearby Tacoma, under arrest for draft evasion.
No matter. Playing seven-man hockey with a rover – PCHA rules – on March 19 the Metropolitans were led to a 7-0 Game 1 rout by a Frank Foyston hat-trick and a Hap Holmes shutout.
Three nights later, playing the six-aside, NHL-style game, Montreal were 4-2 winners. Captain Newsy Lalonde netted all four Habs goals. Game 3 on March 24 was another lopsided win for the Mets, this time by a 7-2 final. Foyston potted four tallies.
Game 4 series was contested March 26 and went into the wee hours of the morning. No shooter could solve Holmes or Canadiens netminder Georges Vezina. After 20 minutes of overtime, the match was declared a scoreless tie.
Analysts viewed it as a win for the Mets. They’d held serve under NHL rules and could now win the series in Game 5 on March 30 once more playing via the PCHA rulebook. The Cup looked to be won when Seattle jumped to a 3-0 lead. In the third period, Odie Cleghorn scored for Montreal. Then Lalonde registered a pair to force OT.
At 15:53 of the first extra frame, Jack McDonald scored and the Canadiens were 4-3 winners.
What went almost unnoticed in the news of the game was a status report on some of the weary players. “Hall and Corbeau, Canadiens defensemen, were pretty well used up,” noted the Seattle Star.
Illness Sweeps Through Series
Montreal Canadiens Joe Hall died during the 1919 Stanley Cup final. Photo by: Edward F. Dolan (Public Domain).
The talk on the eve of Game 5 was decidedly different and it was no April Fool’s joke. Several Montreal players were gripped by illness. Hall was seriously ill. The Spanish influenza epidemic that swept across the globe, afflicting 500 million and killing 50 million, would soon claim the Stanley Cup as a victim.
Game 5, slated for April 2, was canceled. By now, two Canadiens – Hall and McDonald – were hospitalized. Four others – Lalonde, forward Louis Berlinquette and defenseman Billy Couture and manager George Kennedy – were bedridden with flu.
Absent enough players to ice a team, Canadiens offered to play Game 5 using borrowed skaters from Victoria’s PCHA squad. But the next day, there was a stunning proclamation – the Stanley Cup final would be halted.
“It will be two or three weeks before the visiting boys will be back on their feet and able to play,” the management of the Seattle arena announced. “Consequently, the world’s series has been called off with two games to the credit of each team.”
Stanley Cup trustees offered Seattle the Cup via forfeit. PCHA President Frank Patrick flatly refused to accept a win in this manner.
A last-ditch effort was made to play the fifth game in Vancouver after the ice had been removed from Seattle’s rink. That plan was scuttled when Muldoon and Seattle players Roy Rickey and Muzz Murray were also struck down by flu.
Concluding the Stanley Cup without a winner wasn’t the worst outcome from this series, though. On April 5, Hall weakened by the flu, was stricken with pneumonia and died in a Seattle hospital. He was 37 years old.
Doris’s passion for writing started to take shape in college where she was editor-in-chief of the college newspaper. Even though she ended up working in IT for more than 7 years, she’s now back to what he always enjoyed doing. With a true passion for technology, Doris mostly covers tech-related topics.