mr. geniality: a serious canadien, louis berlinguette survived the spanish flu that shut down the 1919 stanley cup

Coach and captain Newsy Lalonde got most of the goals the Montreal Canadiens scored in their pursuit of the 1919 Stanley Cup, five of the ten they recorded in the five games they played against the Seattle Metropolitans in another plaguestruck spring, before the series was abandoned. But give Louis Berlinguette his due: on March 24, in the third period of the third game of the never-ended finals, the 31-year-old left winger took a pass from teammate Didier Pitre and fired the puck past Seattle goaltender Hap Holmes.

Born in Sainte-Angélique, Quebec, on a Thursday of this date in 1887, Berlinguette and his teammates played two more torrid games that week. It was on the following Monday that the series was suspended before a sixth game made it to the ice: like his captain, Lalonde, teammates Joe Hall, Jack McDonald, and Billy Coutu, as well as team manager George Kennedy, Berlinguette was confined to his bed at the Georgian Hotel, suffering from symptoms of Spanish flu.

On the Wednesday, the Canadiens were reported to be “resting easily,” with Lalonde, Coutu, Kennedy, and Berlinguette said to be only “slightly ill.”

“Their temperatures were reported normal last night,” one wire report noted, “and the doctor expects them to be up in a few days.”

Another dispatch that appeared across the continent went like this:

Two great overtime games have taxed the vitality of the players to such an extent that they are in poor shape, indeed, to fight off the effects of such a disease as influenza.

However, the Canadiens are being given the very best of care, nurses and physicians being in attendance at all times on them and every other attention is being shown the stricken players.

By Thursday, another Canadien, forward Odie Cleghorn, had taken sick, and manager Kennedy’s condition was worsening. McDonald and Hall were in Providence Hospital, the latter with a temperature of 103.

Friday, Kennedy was feeling better, while Coutu and Berlinguette were reported to be out of bed. But Hall had developed pneumonia; his condition was “causing doctors much concern.” He didn’t improve. He died that Sunday, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, at the age of 38. Two days later, at his funeral in Vancouver, alongside Newsy Lalonde and Billy Coutu, Louis Berlinguette served as one of his pallbearers.

The news from Seattle on April 2, 1919, the day after the final game of the Stanley Cup finals was curtailed.

Didier Pitre and goaltender Georges Vézina had already, by then, taken a train back to Montreal. Jack McDonald’s brother had died in March, possibly of influenza, while serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Siberia; Jack’s recovery kept him in hospital in Seattle until mid-April. After the funeral, Lalonde and Cleghorn and Coutu Berlinguette caught the Montreal train in Vancouver and travelled together, though Coutu got off in Sault Ste. Marie and Berlinguette in Mattawa, his off-season home.

While the NHL was only in its second season in 1919, Louis Berlinguette was a veteran of the Canadiens’ line-up. He was in his seventh season with the team, after starting his pro career in 1909 with the Haileybury Comets. There he played, if only briefly, with Art Ross and Paddy Moran, before moving on to play for Galt and the Moncton Victorias. With both those teams he played for (but didn’t win) the Stanley Cup. He joined Canadiens in 1912. In the ensuing years, before the league expired in 1917, no skater played more games in the National Hockey Association than Berlinguette.

He did win the Stanley Cup on his third shot at it: along with his 1919 teammates Vézina, Bert Corbeau, Pitre, and Lalonde, Berlinguette was in the Canadiens’ line-up that defeated the Portland Rosebuds for the 1916 championship.

Berlinguette was speedy on his skates, and know for his checking, which on at least one occasion earned him the epithet blanket: that’s what you’ll find if you fish into the archives. He wasn’t a prolific goalscorer: his best showing came in 1920-21, when he notched 12 goals and 21 points in 24 regular-season games, tying him for second in team scoring with Didier Pitre behind Newsy Lalonde.

A dowdy distinction that will always be his: in 1922, Berlinguette was responsible for the NHL’s very first automatic goal.

Canadiens were hosting the Hamilton Tigers at Mount Royal Arena on the night. In the first period, Hamilton defenceman Leo Reise swooped in and beat the Montreal defence in front of Vézina, “apparently destined for a certain goal,” as the Gazette saw it. Except, nu-uh:

Louis Berlinguette hurled his stick from the side, knocked the puck off Reise’s stick, and, in conformity with a rule passed four years ago, Tigers were awarded a goal by Referee [Cooper] Smeaton. This is the first time in the history of the NHL that such a ruling has been made.

Hamilton soon added another goal, but Berlinguette’s teammates eventually righted the ship: Newsy Lalonde and Odie Cleghorn, with a pair, saw to it that Montreal won the game, 3-2.

“He has been popular wherever he has played,” Montreal’s Gazette summed up in 1926, as Berlinguette’s playing days wound down. “Not a brilliant star, he was a hard-working, serious player who attended strictly to hockey, but with it always commanded the respect of players and crowd alike.”

Towards the end of his career, 1924-25, he spent a season with the fledgling Montreal Maroons, and the following year, his last in the NHL, he jumped to another expansion team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, where his old teammate Odie Cleghorn was the playing coach. While the Maroons’ Nels Stewart won the Hart Trophy that year as the league’s MVP, the Gazette acknowledged a nod to Berlinguette in the voting:

A striking tribute to his popularity was the action of one of the judges … who when filing his votes for the league’s most useful player, gave one for Berlinguette purely on his personality and the service he had rendered the Pittsburgh club on and off the ice through his geniality.

He signed on in the fall of 1926 as the playing coach of Les Castors de Quebec in the Can-Am League. He subsequently worked a whistle as an NHL referee, and later coached the Fredericton Millionaires in the New Brunswick Hockey League, though not for long. In 1930, he turned his efforts from hockey to work full-time for Ontario’s forestry service. Louis Berlinguette died in Noranda in 1959 at the age of 72.

Montreal’s 1918-19 Canadiens. Back row, left to right: Manager George Kennedy, Didier Pitre, Louis Berlinguette, Billy Coutu, Jack McDonald, trainer A. Ouimet. Front row, from left: Coach and captain Newsy Lalonde, Odie Cleghorn, Bert Corbeau, Joe Hall, Georges Vézina.

series not completed

“The odds will be in our favour,” Pete Muldoon declared this week, a long 101 years ago, “and we’ll use them to good advantage. We are due to win and I am as confident as I am of standing here that the Mets will give the Frenchmen a licking.”

As coach of the Seattle Metropolitans in the spring of 1919, Muldoon had watched his charges, the powerful PCHA champions, battle the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens for the Stanley Cup through five gruelling games. Each team had won a pair of games, while another had ended, goalless, with no decision. Though the Canadiens had prevailed in the fifth game, taking a Saturday-night game on March 29 by a score of 4-3, the hometown Mets were presumed to have the upper hand going into the deciding game on Tuesday, April 1, given that it would be played under west-coast rules.

The game, of course, was never played. With members of both teams suffering from symptoms of Spanish flu, Muldoon announced that the game was off: the series would remain undecided. From Seattle’s Ice Arena, the focus now shifted to the city’s Providence Hospital, to which several of the local Mets were transferred. As for the Canadiens, five players were ill, along with manager George Kennedy. While Habs’ coach and captain Newsy Lalonde, Bert Corbeau, and Louis Berlinguette were under medical care in their rooms at the Georgian Hotel, the team’s two worst cases, Joe Hall and Jack McDonald, were admitted to the Columbus Sanitarium. As has been much discussed in this strange, unsettling we’re living through a century later, all the hockey patients but one survived the 1919 virus. On Saturday, April 5, a week after he’d skated in his last hockey game, Joe Hall died of pneumonia. He was 37. He was buried three days later in Vancouver.

Commemorating the grim anniversary of those incomplete Stanley Cup finals, illustrator Robert Ullman has a graphic feature, Skating On Thin Ice, up this week at The Nib, the online journal of political and non-fictional comics out of Portland, Oregon: you can find it here. A hockey fan ever since the day, as an 8-year-old, he watched the U.S. Olympic team overthrow the mighty Soviets in 1980, Ullman lives and draws in Richmond, Virginia. His ongoing series of puckish history books, Old-Timey Hockey Tales, is worth tracking down.

(Images courtesy of Robert Ullman)

called off, 1919

With the NHL looking like it will today follow the NBA’s decision last night to suspend its season indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic, a grim glance back to 1919 when the Stanley Cup Finals were abandoned in Seattle before a winner could be decided. As reported here in a Vancouver newspaper, on Tuesday, April 1 of that year, with the Montreal Canadiens and Seattle Metropolitans set to play a sixth and deciding game for hockey’s championship, the series was called off as an outbreak of the virulent Spanish flu sickened players from both teams. It was the first time since the Stanley Cup was inaugurated in 1893 that it went unwon. (The only other Cupless year — to date — was 2005, when a labor dispute wiped out the NHL season.) For Montreal defenceman Joe Hall, the outcome was as dire as it could have been — on April 5, 1919, at three o’clock in the afternoon, he died at Seattle’s Columbus Sanitarium.