Exactly seventeen years ago today, the scene in Vancouver was very similar. The city buzzed with hope after the previous night’s Stanley Cup Final game on home ice moved the Canucks within one win of capturing the franchise’s first-ever championship. On June 11, 1994, the Canucks defeated the New York Rangers at Pacific Coliseum 4-1 in Game 6, erasing a 3-1 series deficit to send the Final back to Madison Square Garden for one last game. Three nights later, a Vancouver squad that was 8-3 away from home during the playoffs entering the game, found that their road prowess deserted them as they fell 3-2 in Game 7.
Right now, the 2011 Canucks find themselves in a spot that the 1994 and 1982 Canucks never were: leading the Stanley Cup Final series entering a potential clinching game. If Vancouver wins either tomorrow night in Boston or back at Rogers Arena on Wednesday, the Canucks’ forty-one year old dream will become reality and they will be able to parade the Cup in public places such as the appropriately named Stanley Park.
While a victory would be a first for the Canucks, it would not be the first time the city of Vancouver has won the Stanley Cup. In fact, Vancouver has been waiting 96 years for its second Stanley Cup victory. Of the 30 NHL teams in existence today, 19 play in cities that have been home to at least one Stanley Cup championship club and of those 19, Vancouver has waited the longest for a title victory.* The Vancouver Millionaires of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) swept the original Ottawa Senators, champions of the National Hockey Association (NHA) in the best-of-five 1915 Final which featured the top Eastern club going head-to-head with the top Western club, a format that would be in place from 1914 to 1926.
Like this year’s Presidents’ Trophy winning Canucks, the Millionaires were a juggernaut, topping the PCHA with a 13-4 record and easily claimed the Cup in three games by scores of 6-2, 8-3 and 12-3. It was truly a different era of hockey. Frank Patrick, Vancouver’s player-manager, not only founded the PCHA with his brother Lester, but unveiled Canada’s first-ever artificial ice surfaces in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia at a time when many teams’ arenas were naturally frozen outdoor rinks. Goalies were penalized for dropping to the ice to make a save. The neutral zone and legal forward passes did not yet exist. Also, Western rules (seven players per team) would alternate game by game with Eastern rules (six players per team) during the Final series.
Hockey’s first superstar, Fred “Cyclone” Taylor, was a member of the 1915 Millionaires and he rose to the occasion, scoring six goals in the series. In nine seasons with Vancouver, Taylor would average well over one goal per game scoring 159 times in just 129 games and he was one of the first Hockey Hall of Fame inductees in 1945.
Vancouver would vie for another Stanley Cup title in 1918 against the Toronto Arenas, 1921 against the Sens, and 1922 against the Toronto St. Patricks (the former Arenas and the present-day Maple Leafs), but lost each series in the fifth and final game. The ending of the 1922 Stanley Cup Final was particularly hard to take for Vancouver since they were in the same position as the 2011 Canucks: leading the series, one win away from claiming the trophy.
Fittingly, the Final, entirely played in Toronto’s Arena Gardens, started on St. Patrick’s Day but the visitors won Game 1 4-3 despite two goals from the stick of St. Patricks’ sniper Cecil “Babe” Dye, a three-sport star who also played baseball and football. Dye helped Toronto even the series three nights later when he scored in overtime to give the St. Pats a 2-1 victory. In Game 3, Vancouver posted a 3-0 shutout victory to take the series lead again and moved one win away from winning their second Stanley Cup. The next day’s Vancouver Sun noted “the opinion of the majority of spectators at tonight’s game was that the Westerners are the better team and will win the world’s championship.”
Of Hugh Lehman, Vancouver’s goaltender, the Sun wrote, “While the locals floundered helplessly and made a few brave efforts to stem the tide of defeat, their attempts to beat the reliable old “Eagle Eye” from the Pacific Coast were all fruitless. Lehman was there with the goods, as usual, and they all looked alike to him, so simply did he turn the Irishmen’s shots aside.”
Alarmingly for Vancouver in Game 4, the host St. Patricks turned the tables on the Millionaires, winning 6-0 to knot the series at 2-2 with Dye notching another pair of goals while Toronto netminder John Ross Roach became the first rookie to record a Stanley Cup shutout. Three nights later, on March 28, 1922, Toronto romped once again, 5-1, to capture the Stanley Cup. Dye punctuated his spectacular series by scoring four goals in the clinching game to give him nine in total, a record that still stands for a Cup Final series of any length.
By mid-decade, the PCHA folded and the Vancouver Millionaires faded into scrapbook memories. Their star player of the 1922 Stanley Cup Final, Hall of Famer Jack Adams, who scored six goals in the series, joined the St. Patricks the following season before finishing his playing days with the 1927 Senators, the last Ottawa club to win the Cup. Adams, of course, would go on to forge a famous career as the highly successful coach and manager of the Detroit Red Wings and the NHL’s coach of the year award bears his name.
Will Michael Ryder be Babe Dye or will Tim Thomas be John Ross Roach, stopping Vancouver on Monday and Wednesday, or will present-day Vancouver millionaires like Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Roberto Luongo prevail and have their names etched on the Cup as victors? Could this be the week when their names are burnished for all-time in the city’s hockey history books 96 years after the Vancouver Millionaires hoisted the Stanley Cup?
* It is duly noted that with the return of major league professional hockey to Winnipeg, a case could be made that Winnipeg has waited the longest time – 109 years - since the city’s last Stanley Cup championship. The Winnipeg Victorias were winners in 1896, 1901 and 1902 but until the relocated Atlanta Thrashers receive full NHL Board of Governors approval on June 21, 2011 for an official move to Winnipeg, Vancouver will hold the distinction of “longest wait”.
Sources: NHL Official Guide & Record Book 2011, hockeydb.com, Vancouver Sun, Hockey Hall of Fame
About the Author: Adrian Fung (@PenguinsMarch) contributes game reports, opinions, analysis and features, mostly about the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has covered the World Hockey Summit, Kraft Hockeyville, World Junior Championship exhibition games, CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, MasterCard Memorial Cup and NHL Rookie Tournament for Hockey Independent. twitter.com/PenguinsMarch