Date: March 26, 2017

Hockey Canada contemplates ‘B team’ to replace NHL stars at 2018 Olympics

Tom Renney was the last man to coach a Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team before NHL players took the reins. It was 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway, an event that produced a memorable gold-medal final. Paul Kariya and Peter Forsberg competed in a heart-stopping shootout duel. Corey Hirsch was heroic in goal for Canada. When Sweden ultimately won the gold medal, the championship was so well-received it was commemorated on a Swedish postage stamp.

Now, a generation later, Renney is the president of Hockey Canada and may be facing a familiar yesteryear scenario.

Increasingly, it is looking as though the stalemate among the International Olympic Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the National Hockey League over the latter’s Olympic participation will drag on – and eventually oblige all national federations to fill out their men’s Olympic hockey rosters with non-NHL players.

If that happens, Hockey Canada is getting ready – just in case.

Back in the fall, Hockey Canada hatched a tentative Plan B, hiring former NHL goalie and two-time Olympian Sean Burke to oversee its participation in two European hockey tournaments – the Deutschland Cup and the Spengler Cup – with a view to evaluating Canadian hockey talent playing abroad.

Renney says he remains in favour of best-on-best competition at the Olympics, but isn’t shrinking from the challenge if it goes the other way.

“We were good in 1980 [without NHL players] and, ultimately, we got ourselves to the point where we were winning silver and within millimetres and milliseconds of gold medals in 1992 and 1994,” Renney said. “Those were special teams and special times. So there’s a bit of me saying: ‘whatever happens, we’ll be ready to go – and we will be.’”

Complicating matters for Canada is the number of different recruiting scenarios that could present themselves if the NHL stays home.

Right now, Burke’s scouting mission focused mostly on Canadians playing professionally in Europe, most of them in either Russia or Switzerland.

But both he and Renney wonder, might the Olympic team have access to AHL players, those NHL prospects on the cusp of playing in the league? Would any Canadians playing college hockey be available? How about top juniors? If Nolan Patrick didn’t make it directly to the NHL as the projected No. 1 pick of the 2017 NHL entry draft, would he be interested in following in the footsteps of his uncle James Patrick, a member of Canada’s 1984 Olympic team?

All good questions, said Renney, for which there are no ready answers.

Unlike 1994 and the four men’s Olympic teams before Lillehammer, Canada will not centralize a men’s team in Calgary, with a six-month lead time to get ready, said Renney, because the costs would be too prohibitive.

Instead, Canada is tentatively planning to hold a summer evaluation camp, and then bring those players together for multiple international competitions before the 2018 Olympics in the hope of developing the necessary chemistry. The team could be a work in progress until the 11th hour.

An Olympics without NHL players will shift the favourite’s role to Russia, as was the case when Renney and Dave King were icing teams of “amateurs” against the powerful Soviet Union teams of a previous generation.

The NHL’s Russian content has dropped precipitously since the high point – 2000-01 – when 89 played here. This year, it’s down to 39.

According to figures supplied by the Elias Sports Bureau, among the 934 players to have played at least one NHL game through Wednesday, Russia ranks fourth by nationality behind Canada (435), the United States (246) and Sweden (82) and just ahead of Finland (35) and the Czech Republic (34).

In effect, the Russians will lose access to far fewer players at the top end of its player pool – and would have available the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk, Slava Voynov and others playing in the KHL.

Canada, by contrast, would lose a far greater number of its most accomplished players and thus would have to plumb deeper into the mid-echelon of its talent pool.

Ultimately, it could evolve into the sort of David vs. Goliath battle that characterized King’s three terms as Olympic coach – and Burke’s time as a player in the national program, where he is the career leader in games played (35) and wins (21) at the IIHF world championships.

Burke was also part of the managerial teams that won back-to-back men’s hockey world championship gold medals in 2015 and 2016 and would be the logical candidate to act as Canada’s 2018 Olympic general manager if the NHL bowed out.

In his current role with Hockey Canada, Burke said he was reminded once again of how important it is to players to play for their country.

“We take it for granted sometimes,” Burke said. “We’ve seen [Wayne] Gretzky, [Mario] Lemieux and [Sidney] Crosby in that Canadian jersey and remember the events they’ve played in. But at the Deutschland Cup, which we don’t even go to every year, I saw how important it was, not just for the players, but also for their families and their parents – to see their kids wear that Canada jersey. So that really resonated for me.

“It’s been an interesting assignment – to get to know the Canadian players from around the world who aren’t in the NHL but are still pretty good hockey players.”

One thing Burke is sure of: No matter who might be playing on the men’s Olympic hockey team in 2018, the country will rally around them.

“A year out, sure, people may say they want the NHL players there,” Burke said. “But when that event starts, it is still the Olympics. It is still the greatest sporting event in the world. You’re representing not only your own sport but you’re representing your country alongside other athletes in other sports, too. It takes on a totally different meaning.

“How many people would say, ‘I’m not watching the Olympic hockey tournament because it’s not the NHL guys.’ My guess is, hardly anybody. They’d say, ‘if Canada’s in the gold-medal game in the Olympics, I want to watch it.’ It won’t matter who is playing.”

PLAN B

2018 team (without NHL players)

Goaltenders:

Zach Fucale, Brampton (ECHL); Drew MacIntyre, Medvescak Zagreb (KHL); Ben Scrivens, HC Dinamo Minsk (KHL); Danny Taylor, HC Sibir Novosibirsk (KHL)

Defencemen:

Chay Genoway, Jokerit Helsinki (KHL); Geoff Kinrade, Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (KHL); Chris Lee, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL); Patrick McNeill, Ingolstadt ERC (Germany); Shaone Morrisonn, Medvescak Zagreb (KHL); Maxim Noreau, SC Bern (Switzerland); Blake Parlett, Medvescak Zagreb (KHL); Mat Robinson; HC Dynamo Moscow (KHL); Jonathan Sigalet, Frolunda HC (Sweden); Daniel Vukovic, Genève-Servette (Switzerland)

Forwards:

Chris Didomenico, SCL Tigers (Switzerland); Andrew Ebbett, SC Bern (Switzerland); Matt Ellison, HC Dinamo Minsk (KHL); Cory Emmerton, HC Ambri-Piotta (Switzerland); Andrew Gordon, Linkoping HC (Sweden); Dustin Jeffrey, Lausanne HC (Switzerland); Brandon Kozun, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL); Jonathan Matsumoto, Red Bull Munchen (Germany); Jacob Micflikier, EHC Biel-Bienne (Switzerland); David McIntyre, EV Zug (Switzerland); Marc-Antoine Pouliot, EHL Biel-Bienne (Switzerland); Mason Raymond, Geneve-Servette (Switzerland); Derek Roy, Omsk Avangard (KHL); Greg Scott, CSKA Moscow (KHL); James Sheppard, EHC Kloten (Switzerland); Nick Spaling, Genève-Servette (Switzerland); Paul Szczechura, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL); Maxime Talbot, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL)

100 years ago, Seattle won the Stanley Cup and expanded the reach of pro hockey

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Hap Holmes of the Seattle Metropolitans was an outstanding playoff
goalie in 1917.

By Larry Stone – The Seattle Times

The names, even those of Hall of Famers such as Frank Foyston, Harry “Hap” Holmes and Jack Walker, are known mainly just to hardcore hockey aficionados. The arena was razed after a mere nine years of existence. The feat is savored as a trivia question but remains a revelation to many — even longtime residents of the Puget Sound area and devoted sports fans.

Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of one of the singular events in hockey history, but still an obscurity in its own backyard.

On March 26, 1917, as the capacity crowd of about 3,500 stood and celebrated in the Seattle Arena located at Fifth Avenue and University Street, the Seattle Metropolitans defeated the Montreal Canadiens, 9-1, to clinch the Stanley Cup

Seattle thus became the first American city to claim what was then a 25-year-old trophy symbolic of hockey supremacy, now celebrating its 125th year as one of the iconic totems in all of sports. It’s a little scratchy, but the engraving of “Seattle Metropolitans” remains to this day.

At a time when Seattle is attempting to build a new arena that could lure the NHL to town, it’s appropriate to examine this town’s memorable hockey roots. The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, in fact, is sending its curator, Philip Pritchard, to Seattle this weekend with most of its Metropolitans memorabilia to help mark the anniversary. It will be on display Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Washington Athletic Club, part of a series of Metropolitans-related activities planned this week.

“We’re hoping the people of Seattle, even though it was 100 years ago, realize they have a little niche in hockey history no one can take away from them,” Pritchard said.

The NHL also is celebrating its centennial this year, but it was the precursor of that league, the National Hockey Association (NHA), that marked its final campaign by losing the best-of-five Stanley Cup series to Seattle, representatives of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA), in four games.

Professional hockey, which heretofore had been almost exclusively a Northeastern, and mostly Canadian, venture, slowly had begun to make inroads in the West. The galvanizing event was the formation of the PCHA in 1911 by the Patrick brothers, Frank and Lester, who were part of a still-legendary hockey family. In 1912, the trustees of the Stanley Cup deemed the new league formidable enough for its champion to meet the NHA champ for possession of the Cup.

The Vancouver Millionaires of the PCHA had become the Western-most team to win the Stanley Cup when they stunned the Ottawa Senators with a three-game sweep in 1915, but normalcy was restored the next year when the mighty Canadiens prevailed in five games over the Portland Rosebuds. Pritchard points out gently that Portland actually beat Seattle onto the vaunted Stanley Cup by a year, inscribed on the trophy as the 1916 loser.

In 1916, the Patricks installed a team in Seattle, populated largely with players he had raided from the Toronto Blueshirts as part of a salary war, which were common in those days. Given that Toronto had won the Stanley Cup in 1914, it didn’t take long for the Metropolitans — named after the Metropolitan Building Company, which constructed the new arena for the princely sum of about $120,000 — to become competitive.

Among the players poached from Toronto were the three aforementioned Hall of Famers, as well as Cully Wilson, described by hockey historian and author Craig Bowlsby as “a small, vicious badger who wore a sadistic smile when he smashed into larger players.” From the Victoria Aristocrats came Bernie Morris, who would emerge as the Mets’ — and league’s — leading scorer, and top defenseman Bobby Rowe. Another member of the ’17 Metropolitans, Jim Riley, holds the distinction of being the only person to play NHL hockey and major-league baseball.

 

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(Seattle Times archives)

In 1917, when World War I, aka the “Great War,” was in its fourth year, and an eight-room home in the Mount Baker area sold for $4,500, the Metropolitans won the PCHA title with a 16-8 record and awaited the Canadiens, the fabled “Flying Frenchmen,” for the Stanley Cup. Because of the distance involved, all by rail, the entire series was played in one site, alternating annually between the NHA and the PCHA.

By good fortune for Seattle, this was the PCHA’s year to host, so the Canadiens embarked on the 3,000-mile train journey to Vancouver, stopping to play practice games in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Brandon, Manitoba; and Edmonton, Alberta. They made the final leg of the trip by boat, arriving in Seattle at 8 a.m. March 17, some 12 hours before the first game.

Author and historian Mark Hansen, who wrote about the series in The Seattle Times for the 75th anniversary in 1992 and contributed to this story, noted that according to the Seattle Daily Times, the Canadiens upon arrival posed for a team photo, ate breakfast and then retired to the Savoy Hotel for rest. Their coach, George Kennedy, expressed supreme confidence, expressing the prevailing opinion of Easterners that the NHA was the superior league.

“I do not expect my men to have their feet tonight,” he told reporters. “Seattle may win tonight, but after that, I shall be greatly surprised if my men do not make a clean sweep of it.”

In fact, Kennedy had it precisely backward. Montreal, featuring the great goalie George Vezina, for whom the NHL trophy for best goalkeeper is named, and Hall of Famer and team captain Edouard “Newsy” Lalonde, a noted brawler, won the first game, 8-4. But Seattle won Game 2 on March 20, 6-1; they took Game 3 on March 23, 4-1; and then romped in Game 4 on March 26, 9-1, to win the Stanley Cup.

The clear-cut star for the Mets was Morris, the PCHA scoring champion who had an astonishing six goals in the clincher and 14 in the series to go with two assists. Morris would go on to some notoriety in 1919, when the Metropolitans made it back to the Stanley Cup. Just before the first game, Morris was taken away by the U.S. military and put on trial for desertion, ultimately serving 11 months at Alcatraz.

As was the tradition, the 1917 series was played with alternating rules, which meant, among other things, six men a side and no forward pass when under the guidelines of the NHA, and seven men a side and use of the forward pass — which turned into a huge advantage for Seattle — when playing under PCHA standards. The tenor of the series was captured in the Daily Times, which wrote of Game 3:

“Customers who left The Arena last night unsatisfied were either deaf and blind or unfortunate enough to have wagered their kopecs on the Flying Frenchmen. Spectators who were not on their feet during most of the contest must have been brought to the battle in wheel chairs or hobbled to the rink on crutches.”

So what did it all mean? Certainly, said Pritchard, Seattle’s victory helped expand the reach of pro hockey, with the Boston Bruins becoming the first American NHL team in 1924. The New York Rangers in 1928 became the next American team after Seattle to win the Stanley Cup. (Interestingly, no Canadian team has won the Cup since the Canadiens in 1993.)

Added Bowlsby, author of “Empire of Ice: The Rise and Fall of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, 1911-1926”: “It helped prove that the PCHA was as good as the NHA or NHL, and it proved that the forward pass could work as a technique that was better than what was happening in the East.”

Did it turn America into a hockey hotbed? Not exactly, says Eric Zweig, author and hockey historian. He likened it to the Toronto Blue Jays becoming the first Canadian team to win the World Series in 1992.

“Certainly, there were a few more Canadian players, but it’s not like baseball became a Canadian game,’’ Zweig said. Same in Seattle. “People loved them at the time. … But if they had made enough of a dent, there’s no way the rink decides they could make more money as a parking garage.”

But that’s precisely what happened in 1924, when the Metropolitans folded after their arena was turned into a parking structure (which remained in place at Fifth and University until it was replaced by the IBM Building in 1963).

The Metropolitans made it to two more Stanley Cups before going under. In 1919, they played Montreal again, but the series was abruptly called off in the middle of it because of a flu epidemic that killed one Canadiens player, Joe Hall. In 1920 — with Morris out of prison and back on the team — the Mets lost to Ottawa, three games to two.

Pro hockey hardly was done in Seattle, however. A new team, called the Seattle Eskimos, was born in 1928 and played at the Mercer Street Arena, which is in the process of being torn down. Other incarnations of Seattle pro hockey included the Seattle Seahawks, later renamed the Olympics; the Stars, Ironmen, Bombers, Americans and finally, in 1958, the Totems, who lasted until folding in 1975 and earned a devoted following. What has followed is junior hockey in the form of the Breakers and Thunderbirds, who have played in Kent since 2009.

The Metropolitans might be a footnote to history, but it’s a rich and compelling one that is more relevant today than ever.

“I think it’s an important and yet unknown part of Seattle history,’’ said Jeff Obermeyer, author of Hockey in Seattle. “Three Hall of Famers on the team, and the first American team to win the Stanley Cup. That’s kind of a big deal.

“With the potential of the NHL coming here, there’s a lot of talk about Seattle as a hockey town. Hockey has a history here. It’s been played almost constantly since 1915. It’s been part of the culture of the city for a long time. It’s a little underground and not as visible now, but it’s definitely there and part of our heritage.”

The 1917 Stanley Cup Final
In a best-of-five series, Seattle beat Montreal 3-1. Bernie Morris scored 14 of the Mets’ 23 total goals, including six in their big 9-1 victory in Game 4.
Gm 1 Gm 2 Gm 3 Gm 4 Total
Seattle 4 4 4 9 3 wins
Montreal 8 1 1 1 1 win
Notable: Games 1 and 3 were played under seven-man rules while Games 2 and 4 were under six-man rules.