seattle’s first pick (1915 edition)

First To The Stripes: Seattle’s original Met, Bobby Rowe. ((David Eskenazi Collection)

“We wanted players with character,” Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis told the TV audience. “We certainly wanted players that compete hard.” It was just past 5 p.m. in the west-coast afternoon yesterday as Francis prepared to disclose the (already leaked) rosterful of players with which the NHL’s newest team makes its way toward a fall debut as the league’s 32nd team. The first name to be announced in this latest NHL Expansion Draft was that of Jeremy Lauzon, the 24-year-old defenceman from Val-d’Or, Quebec, who was last seen plying pucks and d-zone coverage for the Boston Bruins. 

It’s been a two-and-a-half-year road that Seattle’s new team has followed to this point: since, that is, the NHL granted the city its franchise in December of 2018. It’s not Seattle’s first foray into big-league hockey, of course: the Metropolitans were a thriving concern in the pre-NHL years of the old Pacific Coast Hockey Association during and beyond the tumultuous years of the First World War. They even contrived to win the Stanley Cup in 1917, just two years after they’d launched, becoming the first U.S. team to claim hockey’s most coveted trophy.

The panjandrums behind the PCHA were the industrious Patrick brothers, Lester and Frank, and they were thinking of a Seattle team right from the start. The hitch, in 1912: Seattle didn’t yet have a rink to skate in. It was 1915 before that was rectified, and that March, Frank Patrick, the PCHA president, announced that the city would be joining Vancouver (Millionaires), Victoria (Aristocrats), and Portland, Oregon, (Rosebuds) in hosting teams for the upcoming season. 

That was scheduled to start in early December. By November, the new team, which was owned by the Patricks, had a coach in Pete Muldoon; a name, Metropolitans, borrowed from the company that built the Seattle Ice Arena; and uniforms. “If he has nothing else,” the Victoria Daily Times reported, quoting Muldoon, “he has the loudest uniforms in the circuit. They are light green, crimson, and white, with sox to match. It is a striped affair.”

The first player to sign on? Therein lies a tale we might tell here. 1915 was the year that competition between the PCHA and the eastern NHA burst into all-out chequebook war. As Craig Bowlsby smartly details in his definitive history Empire of Ice: The Rise and Fall of the PCHA, 1911-26 (2012), the hostilities would end up defining the identity and fortunes of Seattle’s team on its road to the Stanley Cup championship of 1917. In 1915, it translated into the Mets raiding the roster of the 1914 Cup champions, Toronto’s NHA Blueshirts, to poach the talented likes of Frank Foyston and Jack Walker along with goaltender Hap Holmes and the ruthless defenceman Cully Wilson.

But before any of them inked a Seattle contract, Frank Patrick did some wheeling and dealing with … himself. Just 29, he was still playing in 1914-15, working the defence for another team he owned, the Vancouver Millionaires, and helping them claim the 1915 Stanley Cup. To help Seattle find its feet, he decided to cede Vancouver’s rookie sensation to the expansion team, right winger Barney Stanley. Just 22, Stanley, a son of Paisley, in Ontario’s southwestern Bruce County, had made a distinct impression in Vancouver’s championship run, scoring six goals in the team’s three-game sweep of the NHA Ottawa Senators, including four in the deciding game. Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1963, he would subsequently star with the WCHL’s Calgary Tigers and Edmonton Eskimos. He played a single game in the NHL, for the Chicago Black Hawks, a team he also coached, briefly and unsuccessfully, in 1927-28.  

So Barney Stanley was the first Seattle Met. Except that, well, he never played a game for the team. Back in the Pacific-coast pre-season of 1915, the war of the contracts saw Frank Patrick’s Millionaires lose one of their biggest stars, centreman Frank Nighbor, whom the Ottawa Senators were able to lure back east. When that happened, Patrick revoked his generosity and cancelled the Stanley-to-Seattle deal, clawing him back for service in Vancouver. 

Next up, for Seattle, was another right winger, Bobby Rowe. A son of the hamlet of Heathcote, Ontario, south of Collingwood, he was 30 in 1915, a veteran (former teammate) of the Patrick brothers on the NHA’s Renfrew Creamery Kings. He was described in his day as “exceedingly fast” (1911) and a “wonderful hockeyist” who practiced “a clever, hard-working game at all times” (also ’13). Rowe had skated in four seasons, subsequently, for Lester Patrick’s PCHA team in Victoria, the Aristocrats, when the Patricks decided that he’d best be bound for Seattle.

Rowe spent the summer of 1915 working on a Prairie farm, arriving in Victoria ready to skate at the start of November. “Rowe had a good year harvesting,” the local Daily Times duly reported, “working 50 odd days, and could have stayed until close to Christmas had he cared to. Upon his arrival … he was informed of his transfer to the Seattle Ice Hockey team, and immediately signed a contract.”

Muldoon added Foyston, Walker, Wilson and Holmes later that same week, along defencemen Roy Rickey and Eddie Carpenter; later in the month, he’d snag another Victoria Aristocrat, scoring sensation, Bernie Morris. As mentioned, all of these players (and Muldoon, too) would figure in Seattle’s 1917 historic Stanley Cup championship.

Though maybe let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, in the past. 

Before all that, on the Tuesday night of December 7, 1915, Seattle played its very first major-league, beating the Victoria Aristocrats at the Seattle Ice Arena by a score of 3-2. That old rink is no more, but it was situated near the present-day Seattle Public Library, about 2.4 kilometres southeast of the Climate Pledge Arena where the Kraken will be playing their games. 

“A strenuous game throughout,” is what the correspondent from Victoria’s Daily Times saw that night in 1915. “It was the introduction of the premier Canadian winter sport to the Seattle public, and it took well. Some 2,500 persons were seated in the new structure, and nine-tenth [sic] of this number had never seen the game before. But the game had only been in progress a few minutes when they were up in their seats yelling advice to the home players.”

Bernie Morris scored the deciding goal for Seattle in the third; Victoria’s Albert Kerr and Seattle’s Cully Wilson were ejected from the game by referee Mickey Ion that same frame for what the Times classified as “rough work.” 

That leaves just one more detail from night to be added. In the interest of restoring a lost fragment of hockey history to the game’s annals (a specialty of the house, here, along with all manner of icy obscurities), could we note the presence on the ice of a player who seems to have been all but effaced from the records, threadbare as they may be when it comes to the PCHA? 

I’m thinking here of Leo Haas, a centreman, who was 24 in 1915. He was from Houghton, Michigan, which is where he learned his hockey, playing for his high-school team and, later, turning heads for the Portage Lake team that won a state championship. “He can handle the stick with the best men yet seen here,” the Calumet News reported in 1913, “while his skating and combination play are excellent.”

It’s not clear how Pete Muldoon got wind of him, but early that November in 1915 west-coast newspapers were reporting that Haas had been summoned for service with the fledgling Mets. With no pro experience, he seems to have been on trial, which apparently didn’t work out so well: by mid-December, Muldoon had released him. Beyond that, the trail of his hockey career goes cold.

Still, Haas’ short stay with Seattle isn’t without distinction. He did play in that inaugural Seattle game on December 7, 1915, taking the ice as the Mets’ lone substitute in the second period after Jack Walker hurt his ankle while scoring Seattle’s second goal. And he was back in the line-up for Seattle’s next game, too, in Victoria, on December 10.

That would make Haas the very first American born and trained player in Seattle’s major-league hockey history. His Mets teammate Ed Carpenter, it’s true, was another Michigander, from Hartford, but his family had moved to Lachute when he was just young, so he learned his hockey in Quebec. 

Not Quite A Met: Barney Stanley in Vancouver Millionaires garb, in a print from c. 1919 doctored by an editor for newspaper publication. (Image: Stuart Thomson, Vancouver Public Library)

outdistanced, outpaced, outclassed: on this day in 1917, montreal’s shortwinded canadiens yielded the stanley cup to seattle’s mets

Scoring Star: Seatte’s Bernie Morris scored six goals in his team’s 9-1 win over Montreal in the game that clinched the 1917 Stanley Cup, collecting 14 in all in the four games of the finals.

“About all that needs to be said is that Seattle took the puck at the face-off in the first period, and kept it practically all the rest of the game with the exception of a few intervals when they loaned it to the Montreals.”

On this night, 104 years ago, a Monday on the west coast, the Seattle Metropolitans dismissed the Montreal Canadiens to become the first American team to claim the Stanley Cup. It was the fourth game of the best-of-five series and, as abridged by the Seattle Star, the Metropolitans did it in dominant style, running the score to 9-1 on their way to wresting the Cup from the defending champions.

Seattle’s Bernie Morris was the star of the game, slotting six goals past Montreal’s Georges Vézina. A centreman and son of Brandon, Manitoba, Morris had led the PCHL in scoring through the 1916-17 season, and didn’t let up in the championship series, in which he scored a total of 14 goals in four games. A fascinating figure, Morris: when Seattle and Montreal reconvened for the ill-fated (never-completed) 1919 Cup finals, Morris was in U.S. military custody, charged with dodging his draft registration, and soon to be sentenced to two years in prison. He served his sentence on San Francisco’s notorious Alcatraz Island, from which he seems to have been discharged early. He was free and clear, in any case, this month in 1920, and returned to the ice when the Mets went to Ottawa at the end of March to take on the Senators for that year’s edition of the Stanley Cup.

Seattle had a strong team in 1917, featuring Hap Holmes in goal, with Frank Foyston, Bobby Rowe, and the inimitable Jack Walker working on the frontlines with Morris. They did line up one American: defenceman Ed Carpenter was from Hartford, Michigan. Otherwise, the Mets were mostly from middle-Canada, with five of the nine players on the roster Ontario-born, and coach Pete Muldoon, too. At 29, Muldoon was then ¾ and remains ¾ the youngest coach to win the Cup.

What was Montreal’s problem? The Canadiens themselves might have (and did) complain about the refereeing, and they were stymied again and again by Jack Walker’s relentless hook-checking. The Montreal line-up was impressive in its own right, with Newsy Lalonde, Didier Pitre, and Jack Laviolette arrayed in front of Vézina. To be fair, George Kennedy’s Canadiens did have to cross continent to play, and while they did take the first game of the series by a score of 8-4, they flagged in the final three. As the Calgary Herald’s correspondent wrote after the final drubbing, Seattle “outdistanced and outpaced the shortwinded Canadiens.”

The only exception? “Jack Laviolette, the veteran star of the eastern club, who played like a whole team himself, saving the Canadiens’ goal from distress time and time again, and making all the big rushes for the Red Shirts. Pitre never got into his stride … till late in the game, and he was puffed out then. Lalonde was not there at all. [Harry] Mummery could not stand on his feet, and [Bert] Corbeau couldn’t hang onto the puck.”

The Seattle Star was pleased to report George Kennedy’s declaration that the final game “was the most wonderful exhibition of the ice game he had ever witnessed” while confirming that “he has seen many.”

“We were outclassed,” Kennedy admitted in the pages of the Vancouver Sun, “and you can say for me that Seattle deserved to win the Cup.”

Pete Muldoon agreed, no doubt, but he was gracious. “The Canadiens were worthy opponents,” he said. While we did defeat them, I believe that the fact that they were playing under strange conditions and in a different climate had a lot to do with their being so decisively beaten. We are glad to have won the coveted honour for the Pacific coast.”

a bang-up checking brand of hockey

A birthday today for the king of the hook check, Jack Walker, who was born on a Thursday this date in 1888 in Silver Mountain, Ontario, which is west of modern-day Thunder Bay. Actually, Frank Nighbor may have been the monarch of all the hook checkers: it’s said that he once hook-checked Howie Morenz so effectively that the Montreal star never made it past centre-ice all night, and finally burst into tears in frustration. (If you’re in need of a hook-check primer, that’s here.) Walker was annoyingly efficient, too, and, what’s more, he may (possibly) have been the one to have devised the hook check in the first place, back before the First World War when he was getting started in hockey in Port Arthur. (That’s not settled fact, it has to be said: a couple of other players who skated up at the Lakehead, Bud Sorel and Joel Rochon, are sometimes said to have shown Walker the way.)  

Walker won three Stanley Cups in his day, with Toronto of the NHA in 1914, with the PCHA Seattle Metropolitans three years later, and then finally as a member of the WHL Victoria Cougars in 1925. He was voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1960, a decade after his death at the age of 61 in 1950. Walker might have won a fourth in 1919, but for the deadly pandemic that shut down the Stanley Cup final that year between Walker’s Seattle and the Montreal Canadiens before a champion could be decided. 

Earlier that winter, in January, the Mets paid tribute to their doughty 30-year-old checker ahead of a game at the Seattle Arena against the Victoria Aristocrats. Victoria prevailed on the night by a score of 1-0, with Eddie Oatman making the difference. “Jack Walker played a bang-up checking brand of hockey,” the Seattle Star noted, “that stopped many Victoria rushes. His hook check was well-oiled and in fine working order last night.” 

Victoria’s Daily Times was a little more grudging in its praise. “Jack Walker arose to the occasion,” their correspondent reported. “The crack forward was everywhere with his bothersome stick.”

abandon cup: bad joe hall and the fatal stanley cup final of 1919

Seattle Strong: The Seattle Metropolitans and Montreal Canadiens line up in April of 1917 for a post-Stanley Cup exhibition at San Francisco’s Winter Garden rink. Seattle prevailed that year to become the first U.S. team to win the coveted trophy. In 1919, when the rivals met again, Seattle came close to winning a second championship before the series was abandoned.

The last hockey game Joe Hall ever played, he bloodied no-one with his stick, which he also failed to smash across anyone’s passing head. He kicked no referees; no fines or suspensions did he incur. The police, too, saw no reason to arrest him in the dressing room.

Instead, with the Stanley Cup on the line on that late-March night in 1919, the 37-year-old Montreal Canadiens defenceman made what was, for him, a meek showing. Bad Joe Hall’s reputation had added an outlaw’s epithet to his name, but on this night he was ailing, unable to play beyond the first period of Montreal’s thrilling come-from-behind overtime win over the hometown Seattle Metropolitans.

The victory was in vain. Within days, the championship series was abandoned, marking the first time since the Stanley Cup was inaugurated in 1893 that it had gone unwon. (The only other Cupless year was 2005, when a labor dispute wiped out the NHL season.)

A hundred years ago, an outbreak of the virulent Spanish flu sickened players from both teams. For Joe Hall, the outcome was as dire as it could have been — on April 5, at three o’clock in the afternoon, he died in his bed at Seattle’s Columbus Sanitarium.

English-born, in Milwich, Staffordshire, Hall was the oldest player in professional hockey in 1919, and still one of the game’s most effective — and feared — figures.

His family had emigrated to Canada when he was a boy, and in the early years of the 20th century he started making a hockey-playing name for himself in the prairie city of Brandon, Manitoba. His skills soon took him farther afield: to Winnipeg first, then south and across the border to Houghton, Michigan, where he joined the world’s first professional hockey league.

He was a fleet forward, then, touted as the fastest in the dominion. He remained a regular goal-scorer even after he shifted back to defence, moving to eastern Canada to star in the pre-NHL National Hockey Association. When the Quebec Bulldogs won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1912 and ’13, Hall was a dominant force.

Dangerous, too.

Throughout his career there would be those who vowed that Hall was never so dastardly as all that, only ever retaliated when wronged; referees persecuted him. Some argued that his skullduggery was at least honest: he never tried to hide his merciless swiping, spearing, and slashing.

But even by the unruly standards of early hockey, Hall does seem to have played the game with a singular ferocity. His name was often at the centre of discussions on how to rid hockey of what was called, in the parlance of the times, rowdyism.

A columnist aiming to classify his unsubtle style wrote that “he was a wielder of the broad-axe, not the rapier.” He battled all comers, often with his trusty rock-elm stick. Another witness to Hall’s early career predicted he’d keep going until he killed someone.

His non-lethal charge-sheet included a 1910 fracas during which he kicked a referee named Rod Kennedy. There was talk then that Hall would be banned from hockey for life, but in the end he was fined $100 and suspended for a pair of games. Learning that Kennedy’s trousers had been torn in the fracas, Hall offered to pay a further $27.50 to buy Kennedy a new suit, but the referee told him not to worry about it.

Bad Rap: Joe Hall poses outside Montreal’s Forum circa 1917.

In 1913, Hall kicked another referee, Tom Melville, and swung his stick at his head. (Melville ducked.) Sentenced to another two-game suspension, Hall paid a fine of $150 this time — two thirds of which was imposed by his own team. A Montreal newspaper approved: “This will be a lesson to other players in future that rowdyism will not be tolerated.”

Hall’s most famous feud was with a fellow future Hall-of-Famer, Newsy Lalonde. In 1914, when he hit the captain of the Montreal Canadiens in the mouth with his stick, Lalonde lodged his protest by walloping Hall over the head. Eight stitches closed the cut.

There was more talk of expelling Hall for good, but nothing came of it. When the NHL debuted in 1917, he signed with Lalonde’s Canadiens. The two old adversaries became roommates, and good friends.

Not that Hall had trouble finding new antagonists. In a game in Toronto the following March, a local reporter noted that every opposing player who approached Montreal’s net “received a jab in the face or head from Hall.”

“It was a disgraceful exhibition and a discredit to any league or city,” a local critic complained. If the NHL continued to tolerate “players of the Hall type,” he foresaw, “the league is certain to die a natural death.”

The league was a lean and somewhat shaky operation as it launched into its second season in the fall of 1918. For Hall, it was business as usual on the ice: he would end up leading the league in penalty minutes, accumulating more than twice as many by the end of the season as anyone else in the league.

Not figured into that ledger was the time that Hall spent in police court in January of 1919. Toronto’s Alf Skinner seems to have started it, driving his stick into Hall’s mouth, whereupon Hall clubbed Skinner to the ice, continuing to chop at him while he lay unconscious.

Toronto police arrested both players, on charges of disorderly conduct. Both would plead guilty in court, though the magistrate presiding decided that the $15 fines already imposed on them by the referee was punishment enough for their crimes.

In those early NHL years, the Stanley Cup final brought together the best professional teams from east and west. As eastern champions, the Canadiens boarded the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Imperial Limited in mid-March for the journey to the Pacific coast.

There was discussion, briefly, of convening a four-team tournament, with Ottawa and Vancouver Millionaires joining in to vie for the Cup, but by the time Montreal reached Vancouver, it was confirmed that they would meet the Pacific Coast Hockey League-champion Seattle Metropolitans in a best-of-five series for the title.

Montreal’s line-up was a seasoned one, anchored in goal by Georges Vézina. Joining Hall on defence were Bert Corbeau and Billy Coutu. Up front Montreal counted on Lalonde and Didier Pitre, Odie Cleghorn, Jack McDonald, and (playing in his fifth final) Louis Berlinguette. Seattle counted on veteran goaltender Hap Holmes and forwards Jack Walker, Cully Wilson, Bernie Morris, and Frank Foyston.

The teams were familiar rivals. Two years earlier, Seattle had beaten Montreal to become the first American team to claim hockey’s premier prize. Most of the players involved in the 1919 series were the same. Personal connections interwove the rosters, too: Seattle’s leading scorer, for instance, was Morris — like Hall, a Brandon man.

For all the bonds between players, the two teams played very different brands of hockey. The western game had been shaped and streamlined by the Patrick brothers, Lester and Frank, sons of a British Columbia lumber baron. Retired now from distinguished playing careers, they ran the PCHL.

As hockey innovators, the Patricks introduced many of the rules and procedures hockey fans take for granted today, from blue-lines and penalty-shots to forward-passing and the awarding of assists. East and west were working towards harmonizing their rules — in 1918-19, the NHL had gone so far as to adopt the west’s forward-passing rule — but because they still hadn’t fully agreed on how best the game should be played, the Stanley Cup final saw the teams alternate rulebooks.

One night, the teams would ice seven men aside, as per PCHL practice. Next game: fans would see six-man NHL hockey, which also allowed teams to substitute a player who’d been penalized without worrying about going shorthanded.

Opening the championship series under western rules, Seattle duly won in a 7-0 romp. They managed this despite the unexpected absence of Bernie Morris, accused on the very eve of the final of deserting the U.S. Army, and confined to Seattle’s Camp Lewis to await a court martial that would eventually imprison him on Alcatraz for a year.

Playing to the eastern code, Montreal won the second game 4-2. Seattle took the third, 7-2, which meant that they had a chance to wrap up the championship on March 26.

Hints of what was ahead crept into the reports of that fourth game, played March 26. Scoreless through 60 minutes, the teams battled for a further 20 minutes of overtime without a goal to decide the outcome. Players from both teams collapsed as the game ended unresolved; some had to be carried off the ice.

“The hardest-played game in hockey history,” Frank Patrick called it. NHL President Frank Calder said that there was none more remarkable in all the hockey annals, even though it never should have been halted — in his book, the teams ought have continued until somebody scored a goal. Seattle coach and manager Pete Muldoon didn’t see why the game shouldn’t count as a tie, which would mean that the next game would be played under western rules. A brief stand-off ensued before Muldoon allowed that the fourth game would, in effect, be replayed under eastern rules. Epic as it was, the contest would be ignored, with the series continuing as though it had never been played at all.

It seems clear now that many of the players were already, by this point, fevering under the effects of the H1N1 virus. The Spanish flu pandemic that had swept the globe in the wake of the First World War would kill between 20 and 100 million people worldwide. Preying largely on young, vigorous adults, the highly infectious respiratory virus had reached its deadly peak in October of 1918. Both Stanley Cup cities had been hit hard then: by the end of the year some 1,400 had succumbed in Seattle, while the toll in Montreal was close to 3,000.

In nearby Ottawa that fall, the hockey fraternity had mourned the death of Hamby Shore, 32, a three-time Stanley-Cup champion who’d just retired as an NHLer. And two weeks before the games in Seattle, Montreal centre Jack McDonald learned that flu had killed a brother of his who was serving with the Canadian Army in Siberia.

McDonald, as it happened, scored the decisive goal when the two teams met for the last time that week when the final resumed. Poised once again to clinch the Cup, Seattle got goals from  Foyston and Walker, who notched a pair, to surge to a 3-0 lead after two periods. It didn’t hold.

Joe Hall wasn’t a factor — after having played only sparingly, he seems to have left the game at the end of the first period, retiring (as the Vancouver Daily World described it) “owing to sickness.” An early shoulder injury knocked Hall’s partner Bert Corbeau out the game, which meant that Lalonde and Pitre had to drop back to play defence for the balance of the game. Still, Montreal got a goal to start the third period from Odie Cleghorn before Lalonde tied it up with a pair of his own.

In overtime, McDonald skated half the rink to score on Mets’ goaltender Hap Holmes.

But there would be no more hockey. In the days leading up to what would have been the decisive game, the focus moved east from Seattle’s Ice Arena to the city’s Providence Hospital, to which several suffering Mets were transferred, and the Columbus Sanitarium, where five Canadiens, including Hall and McDonald, along with Canadiens manager George Kennedy were soon under care.

It was pneumonia that killed Joe Hall at the age of 37 on April 5, a week after he’d played in his final hockey game. His mother and his brother were with him at the end; his wife learned of his death as she hurried west on the train from Brandon. Joe Hall was buried April 8 in Vancouver.

Vancouver historian Craig Bowlsby has argued persuasively that if the rules revolution underway in hockey a century ago didn’t actually kill Joe Hall, it did set the stage for his demise.

The advent of forward-passing had made the game faster than ever before. As exciting as this new and still-evolving brand of hockey was for fans, it was taxing the players to their physical limits — and in Joe Hall’s case, beyond.

Under the old ice order, players often played an entire game, 60 minutes, without leaving the ice. But while hockey in its new, speedy, evolved form made that physically difficult even for players who weren’t battling a deadly virus, hockey had failed to adapt to allow for regular substitutions. Montreal iced nine players for the 1919 series, Seattle just eight. In any other year, the game that had failed to adapt quickly enough might just have left them exhausted. With H1N1 still in the air in Seattle, they faced a much more dangerous prospect. Even after Hall’s death, it would be years, Bowlsby points out, before teams adjusted their rosters.

“The games were the most strenuous I have ever been in,” Newsy Lalonde said when he and his teammates got back to Montreal after burying Joe Hall. “I would not like to go through another such experience for any amount of money.”

jack walker, hook-check artist (can get a little tiresome)

Sultan of Swish: Jack Walker, at the ready, in Seattle Metropolitans’ stripes, circa 1917.

If you want to talk hook-checks, as you well might, the man you need to know about is Jack Walker, born on this date in 1888, when it was a Tuesday, in Silver Mountain, Ontario, up on the Lakehead, not far from what was then Port Arthur — modern-day Thunder Bay. He died in 1950, aged 61.

If he’s not now a household name, he was in his day, a century or so ago. Three times teams he skated for won the Stanley Cup: the Toronto Blueshirts in 1914, the Seattle Metropolitans in 1917, and the Victoria Cougars in 1925. Mostly Walker played on the west coast, in the PCHA; his NHL career was a slender one, lasting 80 regular-season games over two seasons in the mid-1920s when he joined the Detroit Cougars.

Walker did ascend to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1960, which is to say he was voted in. Hard to know from here how much of the case for his place in the pantheon has to do with the hook-check, but as a hook-check enthusiast I’m going to err on the side of a lot.

I wrote about the hook-check in my 2014 book Puckstruck— also over here, where I did some explaining about definitions and techniques. While Frank Nighbor is sometimes credited with having been the first to ply it on a regular and efficient basis, it seems clear that Walker was in fact the progenitor, and that when Nighbor joined Port Arthur in 1911, the Pembroke Peach learned if from him. Nighbor said as much himself, later on, sort of, talking about Walker’s poke-check, which is related but different, though they’re often conflated, even by the Hall-of-Famers who used them to best effect.

You don’t see much mention of hook-checking in accounts of that earliest Cup, but by 1917, Walker’s name was synonymous with it. Hook check star is an epithet you’ll see in the weeks leading up to the championship series. That came in March, when the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens travelled west to play for all the hockey marbles with a roster that featured Georges Vézina, Harry Mummery, Newsy Lalonde, and Didier Pitre.

Lining up Hap Holmes, Cully Wilson, and Frank Foyston, Seattle prevailed in four games, with Montreal’s only victory coming in the opening game. The score therein, 8-4, doesn’t exactly have the ring of a defensive struggle, but Walker was said to have stood out. This from the wire report in The Ottawa Citizen:

In purely defensive play, Jack Walker, with his clever hook-check, was [sic] the Seattle’s star. Walker took the puck away from the best stick handlers the Flying Frenchmen could produce as easily [as] taking off his hat and it was his work that spilled most of the offensive hopes of the Canadiens.

It was apparently contagious: all the Mets were hooking the second game. After Seattle won that one 6-1, The Vancouver Sun’s Royal Brougham opened his dispatch this way:

“Beaten by the Hookcheck,” might be an appropriate title of tonight’s struggle because it was the clever of this bit of hockey strategy combined with sheer speed and aggressiveness that put the Mets on an even basis with the invaders for the Stanley Cup.

“Every time,” he continued, “a visiting forward got the puck and ankled up the ice, swish, some local skater would slide along and hook the elusive pill from the Canadiens stick leaving the duped player bewildered.”

Seattle won the third game by a score of 4-1. It was the same story. “Jack worked his old hook-check so well and so frequently,” was the word in Vancouver’s Daily World, “that he checked the very life out of the Frenchmen’s offence.”

Going into what was the final game, Royal Brougham was already handing out laurels. “If Seattle wins the Stanley Cup, the glory should go to Jack Walker, the hook-check artist of the Metropolitans who, during the last two games has practically stopped every Frenchmen’s rush.”

Seattle went out in style, taking the decisive game and the Cup with a 9-1 win. Let’s leave the Daily World to give the man his due, if that’s what this does:

Jack Walker’s work has been an outstanding feature of the entire series, and Jack was up to all his tricks last night. He kept the hook-checking working with such monotonous regularity that it almost got tiresome, and he finally succeeded in making one of his shots good and broke through for a goal.

 

hello, mr. nighbor

I and I: Frank Nighbor looks himself in the eye on a 1960s visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame display chronicling his distinguished career. (Photo: Hockey Hall of Fame/ Library and Archives Canada/PA-048874)

I and I: Frank Nighbor looks himself in the eye on a 1960s visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame display chronicling his distinguished career.
(Photo: Hockey Hall of Fame/ Library and Archives Canada/PA-048874)

Nobody remembers Jack Walker now, though he’s in hockey’s Hall of Fame. He’s the man who originated and perfected the hook-check, though that’s not something hockey people talk about now, either, much less try on the ice. It’s lost like Atlantis. I wrote about Walker and the hook-check between hardcovers in Puckstruck and since then I’ve tried to explain it in more detail, too.

Mike Rodden said that hook-checkers invariably made better centreman. They tended to be more popular with their teammates, too, he said, naming names like Frank Nighbor, Joe Malone, Billy Burch, and Hooley Smith. He doesn’t explain it further, the connection between hook-checking and popularity. I guess it makes sense: if you’re a forward who makes the effort to skate back and help with the defending, yes, that’s going to endear you to your mates.

Nighbor is a favourite of mine. He’s better remembered than Walker, partly because he played so long and so well in the NHL while Walker stuck mostly to the Pacific Coast Hockey League. Nighbor won five Stanley Cups before he retired in 1930, not to mention — although I think I will —the first ever Hart Trophy and the first two Lady Byngs.

You Don't Know Jack: Third from the left, hook-checking Jack Walker poses with Seattle Metropolitan teammates in 1915.

You Don’t Know Jack: Third from the left, hook-checking Jack Walker poses with Seattle Metropolitan teammates in 1915. With him is (1) Bernie Morris, (2) Eddie Carpenter, and (4) Cully Wilson.

Nighbor partisan though I am, I do take issue with Mike Jay of the Vancouver Daily World and will seek here to correct his error of January, 1914, when he profiled Nighbor as though Jack Walker never existed and he was the man who developed the hook-check. In Jay’s defence, Nighbor was on the west coast at the time, playing for the Vancouver Millionaires, while Walker was still in Toronto, playing for the Blueshirts, and wouldn’t join the Seattle Metropolitans. Nighbor, we know, had learned the hook-check from Walker when they were teammates, first in Port Arthur and later as Blueshirts — but I guess nobody told Mike Jay so. Nighbor tried to, sort of, as you’ll see, but it didn’t really take.

To his credit, Jay did get Nighbor talking about his methodology, to an extent that I haven’t seen anywhere else, which makes this excerpt from Jay’s effusive ambulatory Daily World interview with a 20-year-old Frank Nighbor an important addition to the hook-check archive.

“Hello, Mr. Nighbor!” greeted the interviewer.

“Oh, hello! How are you?” returned the gentleman addressed, and he fell into step with the interviewer and continued up the street.

“Fine, never felt better in my life. How’s your arm?” And the scribbler of notes indicated the injured member.

“Getting better now. Doctor says I can play on Friday, but it’s taking chances.” The tape was off the hand, and Nighbor demonstrated the fact that he could move his hand well enough.

“So you don’t know whether or not you will play?” The pencil pusher got ready to take notes.

“I don’t know just when I’ll play again. I am not certain,” replied Nighbor, working his fingers to get the joints in action.

“Oh, by the way,” said the interviewer, as if he had suddenly remembered the reason of his walk in the rain, and as if he had had no previous intention of getting any notes, “can you give me an outline of your hockey career?”

“Sure! I come from the Ottawa Valley. I first played hockey with Pembroke, in Ontario. We won the championship that year. Then the next year I played in Port Arthur. We won the championship that year. In nineteen hundred and twelve I played with the Torontos.”

“Did you win the championship that year? asked the interviewer.

“No, we took a change and lost it. In the spring of last year I was out here and — well, this year I am here,” concluded Frank Nighbor.

“Good! Now, can you give me some sidelights of your career — that is, little incidents that — ? asked the interviewer.

“Sorry, old man, but I am not guilty,” interrupted the hockey player.

“Well, then, tell me about your shot — no, never mind that — tell me about your method of checking. I believe that you are the originator of the ‘hook’ check, are you not?”

“I have always used it, if that’s what you mean,” answered Nighbor.

“No; what I mean is, give me an account of how you work it.”

“Well, I always skate low and lay my stick close to the ice. I have a long reach and I put my stick out and take the puck,” explained Nighbor.

“That easy?” queried the interviewer, incredulously.

“That easy,” smiled Nighbor.

“Gee! Simple when you know how, isn’t it?” the interviewer remarked. Nighbor still smiled. The ‘hook’ check is so hard that only the originator is able to use it. Nighbor is the only man in either the Coast or the National hockey leagues that uses it.

The method is to follow the opponent who has the puck and as that opponent starts to go to the side of a man coming towards him from the goal, the man coming from behind lays his stick almost flat on the ice and hooks the puck away suddenly and turns up the ice towards the other goal. Frank Nighbor is the only player who can successfully use it. Others have tried and failed. It requires a long reach, a quick eye and the ability to stop suddenly while skating fast in one direction and take a directly opposite direction.

Then another style of back checking which Nighbor uses, but which is used by several other players like Ernie Johnson and [Didier] Pitre, is the ‘poke.’ This consists of skating backwards before a rushing forward and then suddenly jabbing the stick on the farther side of the opponent’s stick and taking the puck away.

The ‘poke’ style has been used for many years but the ‘hook’ check is a new innovation. Newsy Lalonde said that after the Torontos beat the Canadiens in 1912 that it was due to Nighbor’s style of back checking that won the game for Toronto. The way Newsy worded it was: “Frank Nighbor beat the Canadien hockey team.”

Then Frank Nighbor has a shot that tells, but he does not figure in the scoring so much as he does in the assist column. He is the cleanest player in the Pacific Coast Hockey League and his title to clean playing is acknowledged by every player in the league. Besides that he is the youngest hockey player in professional hockey in Canada and he takes care of himself. Just on account of that reason Pete Muldoon, the Vancouver hockey team trainer, says that “Nighbor will be playing hockey long after other players start drawing their pensions.”

america’s cup

The manner of their victory was decisive, and they dazzled the Canadiens under their own rules. I’m quoting here, from The Ottawa Citizen’s report on the Seattle Metropolitans 9-1 “regular rout” of Montreal’s Canadiens, which on this day in 1917 won the former a Stanley Cup, the first ever for an American team. The Montreal Daily Mail said that without Georges Vézina in the Montreal net, the score would have been much more. The Montreal defence put up a creditable performance in the first and second, but in the third they collapsed. “Their forwards also went to pieces, the Seattle team running in goal after goal and making a farcical runaway of it,” said The Citizen. The only thing to save Montreal from “the humiliating coat of a whitewash” was Didier Pitre’s goal.

So: not such a great day in Canadiens history, this one. They had won the opening game of the series, all four of which were played at the Seattle Ice Arena. The games alternated between west-coast and eastern rules, which is to say that in games one and three, seven players skated for each team and forward passing was permitted while in games two and four six players relied on back and lateral passes. This was a Montreal team that counted Pitre, Con Corbeau, Newsy Lalonde, and Jack Laviolette in the line-up, but they faltered after that first 8-4 win, losing 6-1 and 4-1 before the final debacle.

If you’ve read Stephen J. Harper’s A Great Game (2013), you’ll recognize the names on the Seattle scorecard, many of which had featured when the Toronto Blueshirts won the Cup in 1914 before migrating to the Pacific coast. Hap Holmes was the goaltender, with Jack Walker on defence in front of him, Frank Foyston up at the front. I don’t mean to be rude on so auspicious a day for Seattle hockey, but the Metropolitans who (The Citizen) “skated off the ice, surrounded and cheered by the echo, champions of the world,” were sons of Minesing, Ontario, (Foyston) and Aurora (Holmes), Winnipeg (Cully Wilson) and Brandon (Bernie Morris), Bayfield, New Brunswick (Jim Riley), Ottawa (Roy Rickey) and Port Arthur (Walker).

Eddie Carpenter, at cover, was from Hartford, Michigan, though. That’s true.