Tag Archives: Victoria Cougars

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.

*****

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

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“BIG BILL” DWYER’S NEW YORK AMERICANS

by Ron Spence

Sports were all the rage by the ‘90s – the 1890s.

Americans were spending some $150 million per year – the players’ salaries for three NHL teams today – on recreation, and by 1909, $1 billion on recreation and travel combined.

People had discovered this new-fangled thing called leisure, as their work weeks were shrinking – from 60 to 44 1/2 hours a week, during the first two decades of the Twentieth Century.

In 1910, Americans were dropping $73 million, just on sports, and businessmen were investing $105 million in sporting enterprises.

“…sports had been enjoyed mainly by the rich,” Walter Lord wrote in The Good Years, “Suddenly [the general public] were becoming part of the American scene … The World Series gate at one game was only six thousand … By 1910 (the next five-game series) attendance was double the 1908 figures, and the pattern of the future was set … the general public was eagerly moving into an area that had previously been monopolized by the rich. Big stadiums began blossoming over the land [Two large steel and concrete baseball stadiums were built in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in 1909, and by 1916 there were seven more.] … poor boys started taking up tennis … the seeds were planted for [The Golden Age of Sports].”

“North Americans were on the move,” Ron Smith added, in The Sporting News: Chronicle of 20th Century Sport, “as the decade opened and the agrarianism of the early 1900s was giving way to a new urban industrial society – wealthier, more mobile and interested in expanding its sports and entertainment horizons.”

It’s estimated that during the late ’20s, Americans spent somewhere between $6 and $21 billion per year on their leisure activities.

THE INDY'S FIRST WINNER - THE MODEL 32 MARMON "WASP"

THE INDY 500's FIRST WINNER - The MODEL 32 MARMON "WASP"

The NHL saw a good thing, and expanded into the U.S. during the mid-1920s.

The league first established itself in Boston (Bruins) in 1924 (while creating a second Montreal team, the Maroons), and Pittsburgh (Pirates) and New York (Americans) the following season. The third year of NHL expansion was in 1926, when Detroit (Cougars, later the Falcons, and finally the Red Wings) and Chicago (Blackhawks) started teams, and a second club was permitted in New York (Rangers).

The 1920s were aptly called the “Roaring Twenties,” as society completely opened up, and people were rejecting traditional values. Many defied Prohibition, and indulged in dancing, dressing up and “making whoopee.”

“…the 1920s were a ‘party’ that resulted in a serious hangover,” Frederick J. Hoffman wrote in his book THE 20’S.

So, hockey was perfect for this generation.

Paul Gallico covered hockey’s arrival in the Big Apple for the  Daily News, and wrote in his memoirs, Farewell to Sport:

“…I have always suspected that the real appeal of hockey … [is] that it is a fast, body-contact game played by men with clubs in their hands and knives lashed to their feet, since the skates are razor sharp, and before the evening is over it is almost a certainty that someone will be hurt and will fleck the ice with a generous contribution of gore before he is led away to be hemstitched together again.”

BUILT IN 249 DAYS FOR $4.75 MILLION

BUILT IN 249 DAYS FOR $4.75 MILLION

The Americans took their first faceoff in 1925, the year before the Western Hockey League closed their arena doors, and many players migrated east to the new American franchises.

The Portland Rosebuds moved to Chicago, the Victoria Cougars to Detroit.

Amerks’ owner, “Big Bill” Dwyer, was initially lucky, as the Hamilton Tigers had been suspended – for going on strike – and he was able to purchase the players for $75,000 – on September 26, 1925. He had previously acquired Joe Simpson, John Morrison and Roy Rickey, from the cash-strapped Edmonton Eskimos, for $10,000 – on September 18th.

Both Detroit and Chicago would pay WHL teams $100,000 for their players.

The core of the Americans, had been the NHL’s regular season champs the 1924-25 season.

They went 12-22-4 the following season, however. And then they improved slightly to 17-25-2, and fell even further to 11-27-6 their third year (The year that the Rangers would win the Stanley Cup).

There were numerous reasons for the Americans’ failures.

Much has been written about the Culture of Winning – the Montreal Canadiens, the Los Angeles Lakers, the New York Yankees, etc.

Well, the Quebec City Bulldogs, who became the Hamilton Tigers, who became the New York Americans typify a Culture of Losing (As today are the Pittsburgh Pirates [baseball], the Arizona Cardinals [football], and the Memphis Grizzlies [basketball].).

The Tigers were terrible in Quebec and Hamilton (see spreadsheets), and only played well during the one 1924-25 season (They had more wins – 9 – by the mid-season mark, than they had ever had in a previous year.). And, they had started to slump during theit  second half in Hamilton, before being suspended from the playoffs.

If this culture of losing wasn’t bad enough, the former Tigers were transplanted into a terrible environment. Dwyer was pure and simply a gangster, and players would go into Dwyer’s office to get paid, and have to pass through a number of gunsels and hit men to get to his desk.

Also, they weren’t treated well in their own rink, Madison Square Gardens, which didn’t help their self esteem. Everything was, “The Rangers this … the Rangers that….”

And then, there were their bad habits.

To begin with, Dwyer spoiled his players by giving them too much money.

Dwyer at least doubled the salaries. At a time when NHLers were making $1,500 to $2,000 per season, he paid Shorty Green $5,000 – up from $3,000 – and Billy Burch $25,000 over three years. And he would continue to pay Lionel Conacher $7,500 per season, as per his Pittsburgh contract.

With the big bucks, the bad hockey environment, plus living in the Big Apple,  his players started gambling.

“…you could get betting actions in that club dressing-room,” Andy Lytle of the Toronto Star wrote, “from one and all on almost any subject under the sun involving debate and hence betting, from what the weather would be, to which way their press agent would be leaning when he stumbled in for a spot of scuttle-butting, and he a most noted lush.”

And if this wasn’t bad enough, some became heavy drinkers. Lionel Conacher’s brother, Charlie, once quipped that Dwyer’s star defenseman, seemed “bent on a literal interpretation of the soft drink slogan, ‘Drink Canada Dry’.

The drinking was so bad, that Dwyer threw up his hands and dispatched Lionel to the Maroons, who also set him adrift (And yes, there is a certain irony here. Dwyer was – in a way – paying his alcoholic star from money acquired from bootlegging.).

The greatest reason for the Americans’ failure, however, was Dwyer himself. He couldn’t stick with one coach, and the team lacked continuity.

Dwyer went through coaches – one per season – faster than Harold Ballard would five decades later.

Dwyer’s first coach was Tommy Gorman, followed by Edward “Newsy” Lalonde, and then Wilfred “Shorty” Green. The Americans’ fourth season, Dwyer went back to Gorman for the 1928-29 campaign, and Lionel Conacher the next year.

I think that Dwyer’s total confusion may be seen in the fact that he would expand the duties – from player to player/coach – of a faltering alcoholic.

Dwyer’s team might be losers, but his bottom line was great.  On opening night alone, December  24, 1925, 17,422 arrived at the new arena, located on 50th Street at Eight Avenue.

This wasn’t a record for an opening night, however.

At the Indy 500’s inaugural race in 1911, 80,000 spectators had filled the stands. And, an amateur baseball championship in Cleveland, in 1914, had drawn more than 100,000 fans.

Ray Harroun had won the big Indy race, with a time of 74.6 mph. It was a controversial affair, as he had used some newfangled invention called a rearview mirror.

This 1926 pic doesn’t include Amerks’ owner, “Big Bill” Dwyer.

Shown in his place, were: Tom Gorman, Manager (on crutches), Honorary President Tex Rickard (with a cane), President Col. John Hammond, Chairman/Director Tom Duggan (in black suit, bow tie and hat).

THE NEW YORK AMERICANS - THEIR INAUGURAL SEASON - 1925-26 - THERE RECORD WAS 12-22-4 - YOU CAN SEE IT IN THEIR FACES

THE NEW YORK AMERICANS - THEIR INAUGURAL SEASON - 1925-26 - THEIR RECORD WAS 12-22-4 - YOU CAN SEE IT IN THEIR FACES

Ray Harroun, and his yellow Model 32 Marmon “Wasp” retired from racing, but people were speeding all over the place during the 1920s. Canadians and Americans had become “nations of spectators,” with lots of money and a bad attitude. They wanted to go places and do things.

And they disliked rules, particularly Prohibition.

“It infringed too directly upon the personal liberty,” wrote Foster Rhea Dulles in America Learns to Play: A History of Popular Recreation, “and the right to enjoy oneself, upon which the post-war generation was so stridently insisting.”

Bill Dwyer had never been too concerned about personal liberty, and he believed that people should enjoy themselves.

Time: The Weekly News Magazine described Dwyer’s career in his December 23, 1946 obit:

“William V. (”Big Bill”) Dwyer … onetime ‘king of the bootleggers,’ who in Prohibition days commanded a fleet of 20 rum-runners, controlled the entry of liquor into New York Harbor … After spending “a little vacation” in Atlanta’s Federal Penitentiary (he was convicted of bootlegging in 1926), he tried to rebuild his crumbled fortune through sports promoting, bought the N.Y. Americans hockey team, introduced professional hockey to Manhattan, headed Miami’s famed Gables Racing Association.”

Yes, there’s a further parallel with Harold Ballard here. Both spent time in stir, while owning NHL hockey teams.

“Big Bill” Dwyer wasn’t in his team’s photo because he was in prison. He had been arrested eleven days before the Americans’ inaugural game, and missed more than the photo – his team’s pathetic first season.

The NHL’s Club Directory for 1930-31 listed Dwyer as the Americans’ Treasurer.

The Directory didn’t include Dwyer’s name, however,  with the Philadelphia Quaker Hockey Club.

The franchise had been the Pittsburgh Pirates the year before, and had been owned by Dwyer for nearly three seasons.

__________________________________________________________________

Arthur Reeve, “What America Spends for Sport,” Outing 57, December 1910, p.303.

Walter Hiatt, “Billions Just for Fun,” Collier’s, 74, October 25 1924, p 50.

Jesse Steiner, Americans at Play. NY, McGraw-Hill, 1933, p 183.

Stuart Chase, “Play,” in Charles Beard, ed., Whither Mankind. NY, Longman, Greene & Co., 1928, pp.336-7.

TRIVIA – COUGARS

by Ron Spence

The Victoria Cougars won the Stanley Cup in 1925, but lost to the Montreal Maroons in 1926.

The West Coast Hockey League then folded, and the valued players were purchased by both old and new NHL teams.

A group of 26 investors, led by a Mr. Charles Hughes purchased the Cougars, and moved them to a new franchise in the mid-West.

To which city did they relocate?

Ontario Athletic Association

Montreal Athletic Association

Detroit

But, their arena wasn’t ready, and they had to play across the bridge, in the Windsor’s Border Cities Arena. The Cougars lost to Boston, and went on to a pathetic 12-28-4 season’s record.

Things would improve, however, when league icon Jack Adams took over the following season, and they moved into their new Detroit Olympia.

The Cougars became the Detroit Falcons a few years later, and when James Norris purchased the team in the early ’30s, he renamed them a second time.

The Red Wings were named after the winged wheel insignia of Norris’s old Montreal Athletic Association hockey team.