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1896 Stanley Cup Champion Winnipeg Victorias

The first East-West match-up in Stanley Cup history took place between the defending Stanley Cup champion Montreal Victorias and the Manitoba Hockey League champion Winnipeg Victorias. On Valentine's Day 1896, Winnipeg defeated Montreal 2-0 behind the goals of Dan Bain and C.J. Campbell and the netminding of G.H. Merritt. Winnipeg became the first team outside of Quebec to win the Stanley Cup.

Upon returning to Winnipeg a few days after their challenge victory on Valentine's Day, the Vics were given a parade, complete with Stanley Cup travelling in one of the cabs. After many speeches, there was a private party for the team and the Cup was "filled to the brim with champagne." Reports from the Winnipeg Daily Tribune were, naturally, slanted for Western readers:

"This was the first time the eastern men had to submit to a defeat at the hands of comparative babes in the sport of hockey, and yet it was not only a defeat but a complete whitewash."

The Winnipeg fans sung their team song over and over: "Hobble Gobble, Razzle Dazzle Sis Boom Bah / Victoria Victoria Rah Rah Rah."

From the Manitoba Free Press, Febuary 15, 1896:

Montreal, Feb. 14. -- There is joy in the ranks of the Winnipeg touring hockey contingent to-night.

The magnificent Stanley Cup, emblematic of the championship of the Dominion, is theirs. They presented it to the Queen City of the west, as a valentine won as it was on February 14th.

Well and worthy was the victory; long and determined the battle, and for the first time in the history of the hockey champions of the effete east they had to submit to a complete whitewash.
The blizzards from the land of the setting sun, which trouped into Montreal on Wednesday evening, created no little stir in the breasts of Montrealers. In sporting circles their advent has been the topic of discussion for the past few days.

While recognizing that their pet hockey team was to be confronted by a very worthy foe, they were all along quite confident that the Winnipeggers would return to the land from which they came without the trophy they were after. Alas for the frailty of human hopes, Montreal tonight is clothed in sack-cloth and ashes, and the sports have gone to sleepless beds with empty pocketbooks. The "Peg" contingent on the other hand have enough money to start a private bank. No less than two thousand cold plunkers were passed over the Windsor hotel counter after the match to-night, and went down into the jeans of the Winnipeg supporters.

The game was played in the large Victoria rink before an audience of a couple of thousand people. Apart from the team about twenty-five Winnipeggers were present, and they lost their voices in the overflow of enthusiasm. Mr. Martin, of Toronto, was referee; Hugo Ross and P. De Sterneck, umpires.

The Montreal men appeared on the ice at 8.45 and were given a cordial reception. A few minutes later Armytage appeared on the scene with his trustworthy warriors in the rear. The Winnipeg contingent managed to make a wonderful amount of noise for their numbers. For about the only time in the game, McDougall got the best of the face, and the disc travelled towards the Winnipeg goal. Higgy, lifted it gently in the other direction, Bain collared it and the "Pegs" swooped down on their opponent's goal. For five minutes it never got past the centre line; then the Montreal men quickened and there was some lively scurrying around the Winnipeg goal posts. Flett, by his wonderful lifts made the spectators open their mouths in amazement; a particularly fine one was taken advantage of by the forwards, who followed up closely, Howard got the puck in the corner, passed in front of the posts, and Armytage placed fairly between the posts. Time 10 minutes. The Winnipeg yell went up from a dozen different portions of the rink, where little knots of westerners had secured places of vantage.

Early in the second game , Bain was sent to the wall for playing off-side. The "Pegs" were thrown on the defensive for a while, and Shirley Davidson's rushes looked dangerous at time. Every man on the "Peg" forward line was working like a Trojan. Armytage made one of his old time rushes up the side, evading the Montreal defence men, and a decidedly lively scrimmage took place around the Montreal goal. Campbell managed to entice the disc past the Montreal goal keeper, and there was jubiliation again in the ranks of the Winnipeg contingent. They surmised rightly that the victory was already theirs.

No more goals were taken by either side. Bain was ruled off again for off-side work, and McLea accompanied him. Just at half time, Flett's stick came in contact with Wallace's eye, and when the teams came on the ice again, H. McDougall, a new man, was put on at cover-point, and Grant went into the forward line. This improved the play of the Montrealers materially. After eight minutes' play Bain and Emerson were ruled off for indulging in a little scuffle, and did not appear on the ice again. This spoiled the Winnipeg forward combination, and they resorted to a strictly defensive game. This demonstrated the strength of the defence. Flett and Merritt were simply impregnable, and it is freely admitted in Montreal that their equals have never been seen. Many shots were rained in on Merritt, but none got behind the posts.

To summarize: The victory may well be placed to the credit of the defence. Bain was off the forward line exactly thirty-two minutes, so that in the second half, Armytage, Campbell and Howard missed him sorely. They received some very bad knocks, and were contented to play on the defensive, knowing that they had matters pretty much in their hands. For the last fifteen minutes, the Montreal men played some really wonderful hockey, but it was of no avail, the Winnipeg defense was impregnable.

After the match the Winnipegs were entertained to a pleasant supper by the officers of the vanquished club, and the best of feeling prevailed. Among the Winnipeggers present were; Nat Boyd, W. J. Boyd, Wallace Dafoe, Mr. Carelle, B. E. Chaffey, Joe. Carter, F. Picken, Geo. Soames, and brother, Hugo Ross, Major Bell, of Indian Head, and about a dozen others.

George "Whitey" Merrit was a great lacrosee star and a member of Winnipeg's first hockey team. Born in Goderich n 1862, he appeared in the first challenge game wearing cricket pads, the first goalie to be adorned with leg equipement in hockey history. His superb play in the games second half, as Montreal pressed for the tie, was key to the victory.

Rod Flett was a superb athlete who played baseball, football, and lacrosse with skill. A quick stickhandler, he was Winnipeg's cover point, even though the 23 year old had been playing hockey for only four years.

Jack Armytage was captain of the Vics. The forward was among the fittest of players resulting in him being a great second half player. In the first challenge, his rushes were so impressive that even the Montreal fans cheered him. The 25 year old Fergus, Ontario native also acted as the team's coach.

C.J. (Toat) Campbell scored the second goal in the stunning 2-0 win. Born in Erin, Ontario in 1874, he was famous for his bank shots, considered the best in the game, and for shooting hard from a long way out or while in full flight.

Dan Bain, a suberb cyclist and lacrosse player, was regarded as Manitoba's greatest all around athlete. He was the heart and soul of the team's Cup victory, even though he was expelled with Harold Henderson of Montreal in the game's second half. He kept his stick from the challenge game and recoreded the names of teammates who did not participate, "Bobby/Spare, Joe/Mascot, Abe/Manager, Redmond/Guide." Donald "Dan" Bain's (pictured below) extraordinary career in sports was recognized when he was chosen Canada's outstanding athlete of the last half of the 19th century.

 Charles Johnstone was a seldom used spare who had little impact on the outcome of either challenge. he was a member of Winnipeg's champion team at the Canadian and National Regatta and had been skating for only two seasons.

"Attie Howard had a quiet game in the Cup winning challenge but scored twice in a losing cause in the December rematch ten months later. Born in St. Andrews, Manitoba in 1871, he had a shot that was noted for its accuracy, and had been playing with Vics since 1891.

Fred Higgenbotham was a heavy hitter and a good "lifer." He was the primary carrier for getting the puck from the defensive end. Just a few months later, he was killed while playing with Joe Hall's children. he was riding a pony in the backyard when a clothesline caught him around the neck. The fall killed Higginbotham.

The violent death of Fred Higgenbothom in September 1896 shocked Winnipeg. The popular all-around athlete had helped the Victoria's win Manitoba's first Stanley Cup seven months earlier. A monument in his memory, bearing the insignia of the Victoria's stands in the cemetary of his hometown in Bowmanville, Ontario.

Light hearted Fred Higginbotham, than whom there was no better known or better liked young man in Winnipeg, met with an accident Sunday afternoon which brought to a tragic and untimely termination his earthly career, so full of brightness and promise. It appears that he was spending the afternoon with his friend Mr. Joseph Hall, at the latter's residence on the river bank beyond River park, and towards evening was playing with the children, giving them a ride on a pony. He jumped on the pony's back himself to show how he could ride, when the little animal swerved suddenly around a post and he was caught across the eyes by a wire clothes line, which he had not noticed, and was thrown backward from the pony. Though he made an attempt to save himself he fell heavily on the ground striking on the back of his head, sustaining, as it was subsequently discovered, a fracture of the spinal cord. He was removed to the house and medical aid summoned, but from the first the doctors saw there was no hope of his recovery. His whole body was paralyzed, but he retained consciousness until 5 o'clock in the morning, when evidences of complete collapse began to manifest themselves and from that time he gradually sank until 8.40, when he breathed his last, dying in the arms of his bosom friend, Mr. Hall. Only a few in the city knew of the accident Sunday night, and the news of the young man's death, when announced yesterday morning was a sudden, and severe shock to his hosts of friends, and everyone who spoke of the sad event did so in terms of deepest sorrow.

The deceased came to Winnipeg about twelve years ago, from Bowmanville, Ont., where his father still resides. He was an enthusiastic devotee of amateur athletic sports and was identified with the leading sporting clubs of the city. In the palmy days of lacrosse he was a star member of the 90th champion team. He also went to Vancouver seven years ago and played a year with the lacrosse team of that city. When hockey took a place among local sports he was one of the first to take up the game, as a member of the famous Victoria club. He played twice with the team of that club on eastern tours, being one of its bulwarks. He went east with the team last winter, when they won the championship of the world. He also figured conspicuously on the football field a few years ago. Deceased gained a wide acquaintance and many friendships through his musical abilities, being an excellent guitar player, and possessing a capital faculty for entertaining. It is a remarkable coincidence than on Saturday evening he was spending a few hours with a party of friends and when it was time to disperse he was asked to give the final song, and he selected "Nearer My God to Thee," which was his favorite air. For the past five years deceased was employed in the Hudson's Bay company's stores. He was only 28 years of age. Mr. W. J. Higginbotham, druggist, of Wirden, who is a brother of the deceased, was summoned by wire, and arrived in the city yesterday afternoon.

The body will be taken to Bowmanville, Ont., for burial. His brother has completed arrangements for the funeral services here. Services will be held at the late residence of deceased, 263 Graham avenue, at 11.30 this morning, by Rev. Messrs. Pedley and Walker. At 12 o'clock the funeral will move to the C. P. R. depot, where the remnants will be put on the 12.40 train for the east. Thus all that is mortal of the genial and whole souled young man will sever its connection for ever with Winnipeg but it will be many a long year before the memory of Fred Higginbotham will be forgotten in the Prairie capital. The pallbearers have been selected from among Mr. Higginbotham's most intimate friends. The remaining members of the popular trio, Messrs. Hall and Lacy will be among the number, with J. C. G. Armytage, who has always been associated with deceased in all branches of sport; and G. Merritt, J. Elliott and J. White. The Victoria Hockey club will attend the funeral in a body and a large number of wheelmen will be present. They will walk in the procession by the side of their bicycles. Mr. J. W. Higginbotham will accompany the remains of his brother east.