V Formation: The 1911-12 PCHA Vancouver Millionaires line up in a … sauna? From left, they are Si Griffis, Newsy Lalonde, Allan Parr, Fred Harris, Sibby Nichols, Frank Patrick, Jack Ulrich, and Tommy Phillips. Griffis, Lalonde, Patrick, and Phillips would all get the call, in time, to hockey’s Hall of Fame. (Image: Stuart Thomson, Vancouver Public Library)
Si Griffis got his start in hockey in Ontario’s northwest, up near the Manitoba border, when Rat Portage was still Rat Portage, and the hockey team was a mighty one called the Thistles.
Born on a Saturday of this date in 1883, Silas Seth Griffis started out in in Onaga, in Kansas, though his family moved north to Canada before he was two. They settling first in St. Catharines before moving on to Rat Portage, a name I’m pleased to be able to repeat, again, while continuing to feel almost personally aggrieved that the town chose to change its name in 1905 to Kenora.
Hockey there was a seven-man game back then, and Griffis took up as a rover with the local Thistles. In 1903, the team put in a challenge to play for the Stanley Cup, and travelled to the national capital to take on the Ottawa Hockey Club. The famous Silver Seven prevailed that year and again in 1905, when the Thistles made a second attempt, their last (alas) as Rat Portage.
Third time luckier, or more skillful, maybe — anyway, the Kenora Thistles won the Cup in 1907, overcoming the Montreal Wanderers in a two-game series that March. Griffis had dropped back to play cover-point by then — defence — where he partnered with Art Ross. Both were as likely to rush the puck from the defence as headman it to a forward, which made them mavericks for their day — that’s not how it was done, in those years. The two of them made a “splendid combination,” an admiring correspondent from Montreal’s Gazettewrote during that ’07 series. “Each check closely and always for the puck, and each has such ability to get into speed at short range and bear away that this pair is really as useful as a brace of extra forwards.”
Plucky Si he was dubbed in those years, according to a 1912 description of his, well, pluck, I guess, and perseverance in the face of injury. By another later account, he played the second game of the Thistles’ championship run with a broken nose and “was so badly cut up and used up that he doesn’t even to this day remember anything about the game.”
Griffis, who married in 1906, moved to Vancouver, though the good folk of Kenora were so eager for him to stay on with the Thistles that (according to an obituary from 1950) they presented him with “a purse of gold” while offering him a “handsome home.”
Griffis hung up his skates after that, but he made return to the ice in 1911 with the Vancouver Millionaires, when the Patrick brothers launched their Pacific Coast Hockey Association. In his first game back after that four-and-a-half pause, he played all 60 minutes on the Vancouver defence, scoring three goals and notching a pair of assists.
He won his second Stanley Cup as captain of 1915 Millionaires when they beat the Ottawa Senators in a three-game sweep. While the 1911-12 team pictured above was 50 per cent Hall-of-Famers, the 1915 edition upped the quotient: seven of ten on the roster would get the call to hockey’s pantheon, including Griffis, Cyclone Taylor, Frank Nighbor, Barney Stanley, and Hughie Lehman.
Griffis was elected to the Hall in June of 1950. He died of coronary thrombosis a month later in Vancouver at the age of 66.
Two last stray notes worth noting: I’ve seen it said that back in his Kenora days, Griffis was one of the first players to adopt — and thereby popularize — the tube skate that would soon replace the solid-bladed skate most commonly used to that point in hockey history.
Also: Griffis played in a tuque. You can see how stylish it was in this magnificent portrait of the 1913-14 Millionaires.
Recalling Griffis in 1950, Cyclone Taylor referred to the hat as a toorie, which is say a tasseled Scottish bonnet. Tuque or toorie, Taylor recalled that he was very particular about it.
“We hid Si’s one night,” Taylor said, “but we never did it again. He was so distracted he wouldn’t go on the ice until it was recovered. We were five minutes late going out that night.”
Another time, as Taylor told it, Griffis stickhandled his way almost to the enemy’s goal line, needing only to tap the puck into the open net for a goal when a desperate defender ran into him, knocking his hat askew. While Griffis paused to fix his hat, the defender skated off with the puck.