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Of all the cities that are called home by an NHL franchise, Winnipeg, Manitoba, with its metro population of about 730,000 people is the smallest. If it were not for the fact that the city is so hockey-crazed, it seems highly unlikely that a team could survive there. While it is true that the much smaller Green Bay is able to support the Packers, Green Bay has a luxury that Winnipeg does not have: a nearby city the size of Milwaukee.


Compared to some of the cities that hosted professional hockey teams in the early days, however, Winnipeg is huge. Among the cities represented in the NHL's forerunner, the NHA, were the tiny Ontario localities of Cobalt, Haileybury, and Renfrew. Unsurprisingly, none of those teams lasted long, but one of them made a surprisingly strong effort to be competitve. That team was officially known as the Renfrew Creamery Kings, but was often known by the unofficial nickname, Millionaires.


The story of the "Millionaires" began when owner Ambrose O'Brien applied for entry into the Canadian Hockey Association. Upon being rebuffed, O'Brien and Montreal Wanderers manager Jimmy Gardner met to discuss the creation of a new league, the NHA. The NHA had the last laugh, as the CHA folded in short order with some of its teams being absorbed by the new league.


With Montreal teams and one team in Ottawa now in the NHA, it no doubt seemed impossible for a team like the Creamery Kings to compete, but Renfrew had an advantage of a different kind: a rich owner. O'Brien was determined to win the Stanley Cup, and would spare no expense in his effort. The Creamery Kings opened their checkbook more so than any team had ever done. They set their sights on some of the biggest stars in the game, and were willing to do whatever it took to lure them in.


The Creamery Kings signed three of those stars prior to the beginning of the 12 game season, and one during the course of the campaign. The mid-season pickup was Newsy Lalonde (whose 38 goals led the league). Lalonde began the season with Les Canadiens -- also owned by O'Brien -- but was released to allow the transfer. Brothers Lester and Frank Patrick (who made massive contributions to the development of the game) were signed, Lester for $3,000, and Frank for $2,000. Even those salaries looked paltry compared to that of Cyclone Taylor, however. After some drama as to whether he would end up playing for Ottawa or Renfrew, Taylor managed to command an unheard of $5,260.


The Hall-of-Fame roster of the Creamery Kings certainly displays a tremendous effort on the part of O'Brien to build a winner, but as we all know, money cannot buy everything. The "Millionaire" roster was only able to secure third place with their 8-3-1 record, behind the Ottawa Silver Seven (9-3-0) and the Montreal Wanderers (11-1-0).


The Millionaire's efforts could not be sustained. The problem of a small population base could not be erased, and in 1911, the league instituted a salary cap of $5,000 -- less than Cyclone Taylor's 1910 salary alone! The year 1911 was the first year for the salary cap, but it was the last year of the Creamery Kings, as the team folded that year.


It is commonplace in today's world of sports -- particularly in baseball -- to see teams try to buy championships by spending large amounts of cash to attract stars. The story of the Renfrew hockey club shows that it is not a new concept and is not always successful, but if nothing else, Ambrose O'Brien made an admirable attempt. For that, he was presented with a replica of the Stanley Cup by the Montreal Canadiens -- the perenniel winner he helped to found -- in 1967. It was a fitting tribute to an incredible builder of the game.


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Read a great interview between the esteemed Todd McFarlane and Cyclone Taylor who was in his eighties and still skating at the time. Great interview about the early days of the game.

Taylor had a rep for skating faster backwards than nearly anyone of his time could skate forward, he swore it was more PR than truth but he was reputed by his contemporaries as the greatest skater of his time. That rep carried with him through his whole life.

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I think it's funny that it seems that just about anytime you read anything about Taylor online, the legend that he once scored a goal backwards is mentioned. Supposedly, he once said while with Renfrew that he would score a goal backwards against his former team, Ottawa. They responded by vowing to keep him off the score sheet. The Silver Seven won that "challenge," but the legend refuses to die.

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