Tag Archives: Vancouver Millionaires

KAMLOOPS: HOCKEYTOWN

by Ron Spence

A number of B.C. teams have excelled in hockey.

The Vancouver Millionaires won the Stanley Cup in 1915, and the Victoria Cougars repeated ten years later. The Kimberly Dynamiters won the World Championships in 1937, and the Penticton Vees in 1955. The Trail Smoke Eaters won the Worlds both in 1939 and 1961. And the Vernon Lakers/Vipers topped Canadian Junior A hockey, when they won the Centennial/Royal Cups in 1990, 1991, 1996 and 1999.

B.C.’s consistent success story has been the Kamloops Blasers. They have achieved eight 50 win seasons, and eleven WHL championships, during their twenty-six year history. The Blasers have made six Memorial Cup appearances, and have the most tournament wins – nineteen.

Kamloops also won the Memorial Cup three times in four years, from 1991-92 to 1994-95, which is a record. During these years, three Blasers were named Cup MVPs: Darcy Tucker, Shane Doan and Scott Niedermayer. Sixty-eight Blaser grads have moved on to play in the NHL.

Also, five Kamloops coaches have graduated to the NHL. Ken Hitchcock (Columbus), Tom Renney (New York) and Don Hay have been head coaches, and Dean Evason (Washington) and Marc Habscheid have been NHL Assistants.

Why has this small B.C. city repeatedly beaten higher budgeted teams, in larger centres across Canada, and the U.S.?

First of all, the Blasers have the community support of eighty-four thousand fans.

Tom Renney states: “There is a tremendous sense of pride in the community that collectively supports the tradition of the team.”

The Kamloops tradition started nearly seventy-five years ago, when they first registered a team with the B.C.A.H.A. during the 1927-28 season. Their teams played on natural ice until Kamloops built a 2200 seat Memorial Arena during the 1948-49 season. The first championship Kamloops team, the Elks played the following year in the new Mainland Okanagan Amateur Hockey League. The champs had three of the league’s top five scorers (in a five team league), and went on to win the Savage Cup. A few years later the Kamloops Loggers, a Senior AA team, won the Coy Cup.

Another Kamloops team, the Chiefs played in the Okanagan Senior Hockey League during the late 1950s. The Chiefs won the Coy Cup in 1963 and 1964, while the Kamloops Rockets, a Junior A team, won the Mowat Cup in 1962, 1964 and 1971.

In 1973, the Canadian Major Junior Hockey League’s Vancouver Nats relocated to Kamloops. They adopted the Chiefs’ name, and featured future NHLers Ryan Walter and Reg Kerr. Unfortunately, the twenty-five year old Memorial Arena was too small, and the Chiefs moved to Seattle in 1977.

Kamloops’ next team was the B.C. Junior Hockey League’s Braves, who were a development team for Major Junior. Future NHLers Andy Moog and Tim Watters started their careers with the Braves, who also folded. Following the Braves came the Tier 11 Rockets, who also left Kamloops, but to Revelstoke this time.

Then Kamloops’ big break came in 1981, when the New Westminster Bruins moved north. The Kamloops Junior Oilers – as they were next called – were owned by the Edmonton Oilers, who soon considered relocating to the prairies. That was when the Kamloops community pride stepped in and raised, and borrowed, enough money to buy their own team.

Another reason for the Blasers’ success has been their management. Don Hay stated: “The strength of the Organization starts at the top with guys like Colin Day, Bob Brown, Stu McGregor and the scouts. As a result, we all believed in the same philosophy and what it took to be successful.”

Blasers’ new management was smart enough to hire the best minor league coach in Canada. Ken Hitchcock, from Edmonton, led the Blasers from their inception in 1984, until 1990. He established the Blasers’ philosophy, before moving on to the International League, and a Stanley Cup in Dallas in 1999.

Hitchcock’s first W.H.L. season, the Blasers placed third, and the second year they won the championship, and finished third at the Memorial Cup. Kamloops roared to first place in 1987 and 1988, and went to the Division Finals in 1989. The 1989-90 season, the Blazers again won the WHL Championship, and played for the Memorial Cup for the third time in their seven year history.

Hitchcock left Kamloops with a .693 winning percentage (291-125-15), and had been named the league’s Coach – of – the – Year in 1986-87 and again in 1989-90. Hitch was also voted Canadian Major Junior Hockey’s top coach that same season.

Tom Renney, from Cranbrook, followed in Hitchcock’s footsteps. His first season, the Blasers finished in first place, with a 50-20-2 record, but injuries kept them from the Memorial Cup. In 1991-92 they compiled a 51-17-4 season (Their third consecutive 50 win season, a C.H.L. record.), won the WHL Championship, and went to their fourth Memorial Cup in nine seasons. The Blazers won their first Cup, defeating the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds.

Renney was named the Coach-of-the-Year his rookie season, and earned a .731 win percentage over two seasons, the highest in W.H.L. history.

It was also in 1992, that the new Riverside Coliseum – renamed the Interior Savings Centre – was built.

Kamloops homeboy Don Hay succeeded Renney, and won two Memorial Cups over the next four years, and achieved a .699 winning percentage.

Since Kamloops’ golden years, the Blasers have had their ups and downs. However, one thing has remained the same.

“…hard work has been the common denominator,” Don Hay summarized, “with each successful Blazer team over the years.”

It’s this common denominator, that many believe will lead the Blasers to a Memorial Cup championship once again.

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The preceding blog was written for the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame:

HOCKEY COMES TO THE LEFT COAST

by Ron Spence

“All roads [led] to the Victoria arena….,”  wrote the Daily Colonist.

It was the place to be. Derby-hatted and spats-strutting spectators arrived by the tramload. Victoria’s finest orchestra set the ambiance and the Lieutenant Governor dropped the first puck.

It was January 3, 1912 and there was finally a top-notch hockey league west of the Great Lakes. And Canada was on its way to establishing a national past time.

The conservative Colonist headlined this first contest: HOCKEY MAKES ITS DEBUT HERE.

Of course, the Victoria team had just lost 8 to 3 to the upstart New Westminster side. The grapes were sour in the capital city.

A few nights later there was a second game in Vancouver. And the Province was gushing after Vancouver defeated Westminster by the same score.

SENSATIONAL ICE HOCKEY SEEN AT VANCOUVER ARENA, the Province headlined.

This exciting new league was a long way from the spring of 1910 when the the Patrick boys returned home from Renfrew. Back in Nelson, Lester and Frank could only dream of playing competitive hockey in B.C. Their reality was working for Patrick Lumber Company in the Kootenays. 

But then, in January, 1911 Papa Joe Patrick sold his company to an English syndicate. This left the family with the tidy sum of $440,000, which of course today is below the salary for a waiver-wire NHL castoff.

The first thing father Joe did was parcel off 50 large to both Lester and Frank. Next, he called a family meeting to discuss investing his residue. Blue chip suggestions were bandied about until Frank blurted out that they should start their own hockey league.

Ironically, Lester, who gets most of the credit for the western league opposed this idea. Fortunately, he was outvoted by Frank and their father.

Years later, Lester rationalized his point of view to Eric Whitehead: “We had much to learn as executives. We were just young hockey players with a lot of dreams.”

The new league sequed from dreams to plans when the family moved to the coast. Most of the Patricks relocated to sleepy Victoria, which was then 40,000 people. Frank, however, enjoyed the bustling metropolis of Vancouver which was two and a half times the capital’s size.

The Patricks met with the press and announced the formation of the PACIFIC COAST HOCKEY ASSOCIATION. There would be three teams: the Victoria Senators, the New Westminster (a city of 35,000) Royals, and the Vancouver Millionaires. It was also stated that teams in Edmonton and Calgary would be invited into the league.

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Initially there were three British Columbian teams before the league expanded into Seattle, and briefly into Portland and Spokane. Then the association joined with the prairie circuit in 1924 to form the West Coast Hockey League. This league folded two years later and the players were dispersed to the National Hockey League, which was expanding at the time. 

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The Patricks’ roles would be simple. They would play, coach, manage,  officiate and of course own their teams. 

The PACIFIC COAST league was to differ from the National Hockey Association in one major way. Teams would play 7 a side (It was a game featuring a rover who alternated between the D and the forward positions.). Seven man was more of a team contest, and the Patricks claimed the NHA was cheap by reducing their rosters to 6 players.

But the Patricks’ talk was cheap. They saved cash by requiring their players to officiate.

The year 1911 was the proverbial blur for the Patricks. They had to buy land and build two arenas (The Westminster rink had to wait a year and the Royals and their fans had to trek to Vancouver for games.). They also had to procure some top-notch players from the prairies and eastern leagues.

The Patricks selected Victoria’s ritzy Willows area for their island site. In Vancouver they purchased property on the corner of Denman and Georgia.

Their Victoria arena would seat 4,000 – at a cost of $110,000. The mainland rink would house 10,500 – and cost $210,000 (It was second only to Madison Square Gardens in size.). 

Box seats were priced at $2.00 (The Vancouver arena had 97 boxes of 6 seats for private subscription.). The Promenade was $1.50, while Reserved was $1 and Unreserved $.50 (This was at a time when Three Star Dublin Stout pints were wetting throats for only $.85 a dozen.).

The Patricks paid a good buck to build their two arenas. They also paid through their collective noses to acquire players. Knowing first hand that the luggage of hockey players was a carpet bag, they offered twice the NHA salaries. Sixteen players left that league for the west. It was the copper and silver leagues all over again.

Twenty-three players were sufficient because there were only the three B.C. teams. The Alberta cities declined to play west of the Rockies. They had listened to the eastern clubs who had denounced the PACIFIC COAST as a bogus circuit. Easterners often referred to the Patrick’s new association as the Sunset League. 

The Pacific Coast Hockey Association would sink into the ocean like the setting sun, the easterners quipped.

vancouver-millionairescourtesy of legendsofhockey.net

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The coast league wasn’t quite the equal of the NHL.

During the twelve seasons that they competed for the Stanley Cup, Vancouver won in 1915 and Victoria in 1925. The PCHA’s Seattle team took the Cup in 1917, which made the Metropolitans, America’s first Stanley Cup champions. Of those series that PCHA teams lost, most of them were by only one game in a series.

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While they were building arenas and acquiring players, the Patricks were also learning how to make ice. Four cities in the east (Pittsburgh, Detroit, Cleveland and Boston) had built covered arenas to attract crowds during the cold weather. On the coast the Patricks needed artificial ice for the opposite reason. The winters were too warm. 

Lester travelled to Boston to study Iceology. 

Victoria’s ice plant was producing by Xmas, 1911.

The Colonist noted: “At a late hour last night there was a fine clear sheet of ice over the entire area of about two and a half inches in thickness, and flooding was in progress and will continue during the greater part of today. The big engines are now working at their best, and the freezing process is in operation continually.”

(Even then, things were so slow in Victoria that people used to watch the ice thicken.) 

The Patricks didn’t have to visit Beantown to learn dressing room designs, however. They simply housed their stars first class. The Colonist wrote: “The dressing room for the players has been fitted up in excellent style, and nothing has been spared to assure their comfort. Large bunks have been made and one will be assigned for each player with his name inscribed over it on a nicely painted card.”

The players’ names were spelled correctly. But, the Patricks didn’t always dot all their ‘i’s and cross all their ‘t’s. Opening night their nets had more holes than a False Creek condo. A number of disputes arose over whether goals were scored or not.

victoria-cougarscourtesy of legendsofhockey.net

Holes or not, the Patricks still did an excellent job.

“In introducing hockey to the public of British Columbia,” the Province wrote, “the Patrick brothers have left no stone unturned to insure the success of the innovation. They have built here and in Victoria the two best artificial rinks in America. They have scoured Canada for players and have secured practically the cream of the talent of the Dominion.”

The Patricks had the fancy arenas and the hot shot talent. But, would the fans in this virgin territory like hockey? The Patricks would discover what the owners in L.A., San Jose, Dallas, etc. learned three quarters of a century later. You don’t have to know the game to love it.

“Most of [the opening night fans] had never seen a hockey game before,” wrote the Province, “but they became ardent enthusiasts long before the finish. At times the game was very fast and the spectators were up on their toes, all cheering wildly at the spectacular work shown. After last night’s exhibition there is no doubt about the popularity of hockey here.”

The Colonist across the pond echoed this: “The enthusiam shown by the large crowd present was surprising when it is considered that the game is in its infancy in this city, but as it progressed, especially towards the end when the home club made a consistent spirited attack for fully-15 minutes, the cheers rang in every quarter of the structure.”

The Province’s only reservation concerned league parity: “[The Patricks] have started right and now it remains to be seen whether their judgement in the arrangements of the three teams in the league was correct. If it was, good hard close games should be seen all season and big fat gate receipts should follow. If they were wrong in the estimation of the players then the weak teams will have to be strengthened by still further importations from the east.”

Parity wasn’t the problem, however. Neither was the lack of excitement. Hockey was a popular game, but there were few excited, paying fans. Only 2,500 attended in Victoria and only 5,000 in Vancouver on opening night.

The PACIFIC COAST HOCKEY ASSOCIATION would never enjoy “big fat gate receipts.” And a decade and a half later the sun would set on the Sunset League.

The 1925-26 season was the last spring a non-NHL team competed for the Stanley Cup.

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The P.C.H.A. was important for a number of reasons.

It gave hockey players the opportunity to move from the confining eastern leagues for the higher salaries out west. Of the P.C.H.A.’s first twenty-three players, sixteen were enticed from the National Hockey Association (the forefather of the NHL).

The league also brought many innovations to the game of hockey. The P.C.H.A. placed numbers on players’ sweaters and allowed their goalies to dive for pucks and skaters to kick the vulcanite. The PCHA credited players with assists, and introduced the blue line to reduce offsides and speed up the game.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF VANCOUVER HOCKEY

by Ron Spence

Vancouver wasn’t always a hockey hotbed.

A quarter of a century after hockey was highly popular in eastern Canada, many Vancouver fans still hadn’t see a game.

“Most of [opening night fans] had never seen a hockey game before, but they became ardent enthusiasts long before the finish,”The Province wrote in 1912.

Vancouver supporters remained enthusiastic as the Millionaires (later called the Maroons) became a winning team. They took the PCHA titles in 1915, 1919, 1921 and 1923, and played for the Stanley Cup in 1915, 1918, 1921, 1922, 1923 and 1924.

They won Lord Stanley their first try, in 1915, but never again.

THE VANCOUVER MILLIONAIRES - STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS - 1915

THE VANCOUVER MILLIONAIRES - STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS - 1915

Vancouver fans were deprived of great hockey when the coast league folded in 1926, but the semi-pro PCHL circuit (which was renamed the North West Hockey League in 1933, and re-renamed the Pacific Coast Hockey League in 1936) premiered two years later. The new Vancouver Lions won five titles in thirteen years, before folding in 1941 (The Vancouver Forum was built prior to the 1934-35 season, but had only 3500 seats. When the Denman Arena burnt down in 1936, it became Vancouver’s premier rink.).

A new team, the Canucks started playing after the War. Continuing the tradition of the Millionaires and Lions, the Canucks won the PCHL Championship their second season in the league. In 1953, the PCHL and the Western Canada Senior Hockey Leagues merged and formed the Western Hockey League. The Canucks won the championship Lester Patrick Cup in 1958, 1960, 1969 and 1970.

Vancouver fans supported their minor league Canucks, but still wanted a Big Tent team of their own. They were disappointed when the NHL doubled in 1967, without including a Vancouver franchise.

But, they optimistically built the 16,000-seat Pacific Coliseum, which housed the WHL’s Canucks for two and one-half years.

THE PACIFIC COLISEUM

THE PACIFIC COLISEUM - courtesy of http://www.vancouver2010.com

Finally, Vancouver along with Buffalo, were admitted to the NHL in 1970 for a $6 million fee. Norman “Bud” Poile was named the Canucks’ first GM, and Hal Laycoe their inaugural coach.

Vancouver’s first NHL game was held on October 9, 1970 against the L.A. Kings. The game was broadcast on the CBC and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Premier W.A.C. Bennett, and NHL President Clarence Campbell attended. The NHL Canucks lost their first contest 3-1, but beat Toronto 5-3 two nights later.

Vancouver finished their first season with 24 wins and 56 points, placing them ahead of California and Detroit in the standings. As would be the case for most of the franchise’s history, Vancouver finished near the bottom of the league, but never low enough to take that year’s best draft picks. Montreal had traded for California’s pick, and took Guy Lafleur, while Detroit selected Marcel Dionne. Vancouver would take Jocelyn Guevremont.

Their second season, the Canucks finished with only 20 wins and 48 points, a franchise low. The team continued to falter, and by 1981 the Canucks had yet to win more than one playoff game in a series, let alone a series.

RON SEDLBAUER

RON SEDLBAUER

But then things changed in 1982. With players like goalie Richard Brodeur, Tiger Williams, Thomas Gradin, Stan Smyl and Ivan Boldirev the Canucks went to the Stanley Cup finals, before being swept by the New York Islanders.

Vancouver had beaten Calgary, Los Angeles and Chicago to get a sniff of the Cup.

During the Blackhawks’ series, Vancouver coach Roger Neilson waved a white towel at referee Bob Myers, after a bad call. Tiger Williams and other Canucks then hoisted towels on their sticks, and further taunted the ref. Thus, towel power was created, and Vancouver fans have since waved white flags in support of their team.

Following the series, 100,000 fans lined Vancouver’s streets to salute their parading Canucks. It was twelve years before another parade, however.

Then, led by the offense of Russian-born Pavel Bure, Trevor Linden, Geoff Courtnall, Cliff Ronning and Gus Adams, and the goaltending of Kirk McLean, the Canucks came back from a three to one deficit, to win three overtime games against the Calgary Flames. Next they beat Minnesota and Toronto, to represent the west in the finals.

The Canucks pushed the highly favoured Rangers to seven games, before New York ended their fifty-four year drought to win the Cup. The final 1994 game came down to a faceoff to the right of Mike Richter, with 1.6 seconds left to play.

The Canucks returned to Vancouver at 5:40 the following morning, to tens of thousands of fans.

They were every bit as ardent as the Millionaires’ supporters had been eight decades before.

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The above was written for the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame