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A Pox on Their Houses




We hockey fans remember all too well the last time the Stanley Cup was not awarded. A decade later, the feelings of anger and betrayal are still very real to many. It is much less likely that the average fan could name the only other year since the inception of the trophy that no Stanley Cup champion was crowned. If you find yourself unable to do so, do not feel bad, because it was nearly a century ago, and the reason it happened makes the importance of the 2004-05 lockout pale by comparison.





The inscription on the Cup does not seem so eerie when one does not know the story behind it, but the seemingly innocuous etching tells the story of a tragic scenario. Before we go into the details, let us set the scene at the time of the cancellation. Prior to 1927, the Cup was awarded to the winner of a series between the NHL champion and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association champion. The series was a best-of-five match held in Seattle, and was contested between the Montreal Canadiens and the Seattle Metropolitans. Since the two leagues had differing rules, the series alternated between NHL and PCHA rules.


Seattle won games one and three under PCHA rules, and Montreal won game two under NHL rules. Game four, held under NHL rules ended in a scoreless tie after a twenty minute overtime period. After a debate about which league’s rules to use, it was finally decided that game five would be played with NHL rules and that any future game which saw regulation end in a tie would feature continuous overtime until a winner was determined. That tie would later loom large, and the overtime decision was too little, too late.


The Canadiens tied the series in another overtime contest in game five. The Metropolitans carried only one extra player and their players were exhausted because of the consecutive games with extra time. On the last play of the game, an exhausted Cully Wilson went to the bench, with the intention being for Frank Foyston to replace him. Foyston, however, was too exhausted to move, and the shorthanded Seattle squad surrended the game-winning goal. Following the game, some Seattle players had to be taken to the hospital, and others had to be carried home. Things probably looked very grim for the PCHA champs at that point, but a much more serious issue would soon rear its ugly head for Montreal.


Game six was to be held on April 1, two days after game five, but the game was cancelled just hours before the scheduled start time. The influenza pandemic struck and devastated the Habs’ roster. Louis Berlinguette, Billy Coutu, Joe Hall, Newsy Lalonde, and Jack McDonald were all hospitalized or bed-ridden. Montreal owner and manager George Kennedy, who also became ill, decided he had no option but to concede the series to the Metropolitans. Considering that the two Seattle wins under PCHA rules were by a combined 14-2 score, and Montreal’s wins under NHL rules were by a combined 8-5 score, the concession could have been considered fair, but Pete Muldoon, the Seattle player-manager, refused to accept the forfeit, since the reason that the Canadiens were short-handed was an unavoidable illness. Kennedy then requested permission to use players from the PCHA’s Victoria Aristocrats, but was denied permission by league president Frank Calder.


With Montreal unable to continue, and Seattle unwilling to accept a win they had not earned on the ice, the only option remaining was the cancellation of the series. The failure of the series to crown a series was, sadly, not the worst part of the outcome. On April 5, Joe Hall succumbed to the illness and became one of the many victims of the outbreak. George Kennedy appeared to recover, but his health remained poor, and he died from flu-related complications on October 19, 1921. Worldwide, the tragedy was magnified exponentially. Total infections numbered 500 million – over one-fourth of the world’s population – and reached the most remote points of the earth. The death toll was massive, falling in the 50 million to 100 million range, making it one of the most devastating natural disasters in world history.


There are times that the study of sports can teach us about life. It is difficult to relate to numbers as large as those we see associated with the overall pandemic, but when we are given names, it becomes personal. It is even more personal when the names are those of people with whom we have come to know through our love of the sport. This tragedy also reminds us that there are things that are more important than sports. They can give us a relief from the daily grind, and they are certainly fun to watch and discuss, but let us never forget the personal side of it. The pox be on us if we do.


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