The Story of the Vancouver Millionaires, The Patrick Brothers, and their 1915 Stanley Cup Conquest
While the Vancouver Canucks' pursuit of their first Stanley Cup continues, hockey fans might not know that the city of Vancouver once hosted a Cup champion back in 1915.
Back in the formative days of professional hockey, the Vancouver Millionaires, founded by brothers Frank and Lester Patrick and their father Joe, became a hockey powerhouse.
The story of the Patrick family's building of the game of hockey in Western Canada is hockey history at it's most brilliant and breathtaking, and their stamp on the game is immeasurable to this day.
Above: Lester Patrick, Frank Patrick, Lloyd Cook
Lester Patrick had been a great rover and defenceman who first came to prominence in 1900 when he played for McGill University. In 1904, he was the star for the Brandon team in the Northwestern and Manitoba Hockey Leagues and became the first defenceman known to score a goal. With Lester, Brandon challenged the Ottawa Senators for the Stanley Cup in that season, but were beaten badly in the series. Lester Patrick would have more success with the famed Montreal Wanderers in the 1906 and 1907 seasons. Scoring 41 goals as a rushing defenceman in just 28 scheduled games while serving as captain of the Redbands, Patrick led them to the Stanley Cup in both seasons. He was then signed as a high priced free agent by Renfrew in the NHA's first year of operation.
The Vancouver Millionaires franchise had it's origins in Renfrew, Ontario in 1909, on a team then known as the Creamery Kings of the National Hockey Association. The Ambrose O'Brien owned club were nicknamed the Millionaires after it began paying salaries between $3,500 and $5,200 to stars such as the Patrick brothers, Fred "Cyclone" Taylor and Newsy Lalonde.
In 1911, the Patrick family sold it's profitable lumber company, and moved out west to capitalize on an exploding hockey scene ready to be mined for gold. Not long after setting up shop out west, the Patricks endeavored, not only to build a strong hockey club, but also to prop up the entire hockey scene, building leagues and arenas, which they would manage along with the respective clubs that they would own.
Upon leaving Renfrew, the brothers along with their father Joe, first decided upon starting a league on the West Coast. The Patricks moved quickly, buying property for the arenas in February and breaking ground by April. Both arenas were completed by December that same year, with Victoria's costing $110,000 and seating 4000 fans and the flagship arena in West Vancouver seating 10,500 at a cost of $210,000.
Once it became clear that the buildings would be completed on schedule, the Patricks began their raid on National Hockey Association players. While the PCHA had but three clubs to start, it had only 23 players signed. The players were paid through the PCHA and not by individual teams, as was the practice in the NHA.
The PCHA was officialized on December 7, 1911, and the league was operated by brothers Frank and Lester, who would play and manage the Vancouver and Victoria franchises respectively. A third team, the New Westminster Royals, were operated independently, and upon failure to build an arena, would be abandoned by the PCHA two seasons later.
The Victoria arena opened to the public on Christmas day 1911, with the first PCHA league game being played on January 3, 1912 - almost one year to the date that the Patricks hatched their new league plans.
Their timing out west would be impeccable, as the sport of hockey was just beginning to catch fire in the Vancouver area. Minimally popular in spots, it took off quickly thanks to the Patricks' building of arenas and luring of rival NHA stars such as Fred "Cyclone" Taylor, Newsy Lalonde, Dubie Kerr, Tommy Dunderdale and Eddie Oatman. The Patrick family's wealth and big game plans, combined with Taylor's star power and contract dollars made headlines - not unlike Wayne Gretzky leaving for Los Angeles 76 years later - and several star players soon followed Taylor's lead.
The PCHA was given a major credibility boost with the signing of Taylor and others and a bidding war over players ensued over several seasons.
Three teams began play in the inaugural PCHA season in 1911-12 - the Millionaires, the Victoria Senators, and the New Westminster Royals. The configuration remained intact for two full seasons, before the Victoria franchise would be renamed the Aristocrats in 1913, and the Royals would be replaced by the Portland Rosebuds - a first U.S. franchise - one season later. Further incarnations of the league would include such clubs as the Victoria Cougars, the Seattle Metropolitans, and the Spokane Canaries.
In it's first season, the PCHA did not challenge for the Stanley Cup. Despite the raiding of NHA players, a March 1912 west coast tour of the NHA's All - Stars was arranged, billed as a sort of "World Series" of hockey. The PCHA All Stars won the first two games by scores 10–4 and 5–1.
In 1912-13, NHA stars Goldie Prodgers, Jack McDonald and Ernie Johnson moved from the NHA to the PCHA and the year ended with an unofficial Cup challenge by the champion Victoria Cougars. While Victoria defeated the Stanley Cup champion Quebec Bulldogs in three straight games, the challenge went unrecognized by Stanley Cup trustees.
Beginning in the 1913–14 season, the PCHA and the NHA started working together rather than against one another, and they came to agreements to recognize each other's player contracts and suspensions while instituting a controlled player draft process to facilitate the transfer of players.
As the PCHA had addressed the NHA's most pressing concerns, the NHA did likewise, and in a further agreement for the 1914-15 season, allowed for the champions of each league to meet for the Stanley Cup. The agreement would put an end to the "challenge" era of the Stanley Cup.
In that first year of the agreement, the Millionaires would win the PCHA regular season title with a 13-4 record, thus advancing directly to the Stanley Cup final. In the NHA, the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Wanderers finished tied for first place with identical 14–6 records, and played a two game total goals series to determine the NHA champs. The Senators shut out the Wanderers in both games, and headed west to face the Millionaires squad.
The best of five series was set to be played on five consecutive nights from March 22 to March 26 at Denman Arena in Vancouver. Odd numbered games would be played under PCHA rules, allowing for six players and a rover, whereas games 2 and 4 would feature the six per side NHA rules.
Before 7,000 excited fans, the Millionaires won the first game of the series by a 6-2 score. In the second game, with six men per side, Ottawa jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but Vancouver pounced back, winning 8-3. Game 3 was even more lopsided, as Barney Stanley of the Millionaires scored a hat trick in the middle frame, to pace Vancouver to a 12-3 thumping of the Senators, and a claim on Vancouver's first Stanley Cup. The 26 goals scored by Vancouver would set a Stanley Cup final record for the time.
Taylor was a force in the series, leading all scorers with six goals, and helping pack over 20,000 fans into the Denman Arena for three games. In winning his second Stanley Cup, Taylor, by the sheer magnitude of his play, was elevated to the status of cross Canada hero. He retired in 1921 having scored 194 goals in 186 games. Taylor earned the remarkable distinction of being named to the First All-Star team in each season he played, whether it be in the PCHA, the IHL, the ECAHA, and the NHL.
The Patrick brothers were especially pleased with the Cup win, having at long last being recognized for conquering the East and the NHA.
Members of the 1914-15 Vancouver Millionaires were: Taylor, Stanley, Frank Patrick, Ken Mallen, Frank Nighbor, goaltender Hugh Lehman, Lloyd Cook, Mickey Mackay, Jim Seaborn, captain Si Griffiths, and Johnny Matz.
Defenceman Lloyd Cook, scored 11 goals and added 6 assists for Vancouver in 1914-15. Cook gained a spot on the Millionaires roster when Si Griffiths broke his ankle. He would remain with the Millionaires until 1922 and the Vancouver Maroons until 1924. He would play in two games for the Boston Bruins in 1924.
Si Griffiths was a defenceman with the Stanley Cup winning Kenora Thistles in 1907. In 17 regular season games with the Millionaires, Griffiths added 2 goals. One of the fastest big men in the game, his broken ankle kept him from the Cup final. The Millionaires proposed Lester Patrick as his replacement on the roster, but knowing Patrick's prowess, Ottawa refused the request. Cook instead, took his place.
Above: Si Griffiths, Mickey Mackay, Ken Mallin
Five foot, nine inch Mickey MacKay remained a Millionaire / Maroon until 1926. He scored a league leading 33 goals for the Millionaires in 1914-15. He would play four seasons in the NHL with the Blackhawks, Bruins and Pittsburgh Pirates. Nicknamed the "Wee Scot", he led the PCHA in scoring as a rookie. His name is misspelled as "McKay" on the Cup.
Morrisburgh, Ontario native Ken Mallen was a Millionaire for just one season, netting totals of 9 goals and 5 assists in 14 games with Vancouver. The well-travelled Mallen had made previous stops with the Montreal Wanderers, Renfrew, Ottawa and New Westminster before landing in Vancouver with the Patricks. He would play another two seasons, with the Victoria Aristocrats and the Spokane Canaries. Mallen played on a line with Nighbor and McKay,andit has never been explained why his name is absent from the Cup engravings.
John Matz scored a goal in his only regular season game with Vancouver in 1914-15. He played the entirety of that season with Grand Forks of the BCBHL. Ten years later, Matz would wear number 9 for the Montreal Canadiens in 1924-25, scoring 3 goals in 30 games.
Above: Johnny Matz, Frank Nighbor, Frank Patrick
Frank Nighbor began his legendary career with Vancouver, before moving on to an iconic career as a Ottawa Senator in 1915-16. The future Hall of Famer and perennial Lady Byng Trophy winner accounted for 23 goals in 17 games with Vancouver. In 14 seasons with Ottawa, the "Pembroke Peach" would tally 264 goals in the NHL. Referred to as the Bob Gainey of his day, Nighbor excelled at the poke check, and was exemplary in clean two way play. He would join the Canadian Air Force upon his retirement from hockey.
Frank Patrick played six seasons with the Millionaires, retiring after the 1917-18 campaign. He returned in 1922-23, for two season with the Vancouver Maroons. Frank teamed with Cyclone Taylor to become the best defensive pairing the game had seen to that point.
Defenceman Jim Seaborn played three seasons with the Millionaires, from 1914 to 1917. He signed with Vancouver after a brief few days trial with a club in Portland, Oregon. He was out of hockey for eight seasons, from 1917 to 1925, whereupon Seaborn resurfaced with the AHA Duluth Hornets. He would move on to play six more seasons with such teams as the Chicago Cardinals, the Kansas City Pla - Mors, the St. Louis Flyers, and the Minneapolis Millers.
Above: Jim Seaborn, Barney Stanley, Hugh Lehman
Barney Stanley played five seasons with the Millionaires, peaking with a 28 goal campaign in the 1916-17 season. After a Canadian hockey tour that had stops in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Regina, Stanley landed in the NHL for a one game stint with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1928. Stanley scored four goals in the Cup clinching game against Ottawa.
Cyclone Taylor, despite his legend, never played an NHL game. He was a Vancouver Millionaire from 1912 to 1923. Upon the dispersal of the NHA Renfrew franchise, Taylor's rights were awarded to the Montreal Wanderers. When they refused to trade him to Ottawa, Taylor sat out the season as a suspended player. The NHA lost him to Vancouver following the 1911 campaign. Engraved on the Cup as simple "Fred Taylor", Cyclone once bragged that he would score a goal by skating backwards through an entire team. While it never happened, the feat became mythologized to a great extent.
Above: Fred "Cyclone" Taylor
Goalie Hugh Lehman, hailed from the same Pembroke hometown as fellow Millionaire Nighbor. He remained a Millionaire and Maroons until 1926, when his rights were purchased by the Chicago Blackhawks. Lehman, had previously played for team in Galt and Berlin, Ontario, that had lost Cup challenges.
The Senators had the words "Ottawa / NHA Champions/1914–15" engraved on the base of the trophy's original bowl even though they did not win the Stanley Cup finals. This was similar to the practice prior to the NHA's agreement with the PCHA, when the trophy was officially passed on to the winner of the league championship of the previous Cup champion's league.
After the finals, "Vancouver B.C. 1914–15 / Defeated Ottawa / 3 Straight Games" was added to the Cup. Eight players names and the manager's name were also engraved inside the bowl along the fluted sides.
Two Vancouver player's names were not engraved on Cup, although there was space available. Ken Mallen played 14 of 16 regular season games, and two more in the finals. Mallen's name was left off by mistake. John Matz's was left off as he had only appeared in one game - and added a goal - as a spare that season.
Relations with the NHA soured prior to the 1915-16 season, as the Patrick's alleged that the league reneged on their player contract agreements. In retaliation, the PCHA raided the NHA Toronto Blueshirts of five key players, who went on to form the core of the new Seattle Meropolitans team.
The Millionaires also appeared in the 1917-18 Stanley Cup final, losing to the Toronto Arenas, three games to two. Vancouver outscored The Arenas in the 5 games series 21-18. The 39 goals scored by both teams, set a finals record. In 1920-21, they lost again, this time to the Ottawa Senators, three games to two. The following season the renamed Vancouver Maroons lost the final 3-1 to the Toronto St. Pats.
In 1921, the Western Canada Hockey League, another professional western hockey league was formed, and the Stanley Cup playoffs were modified to include teams from the WCHL and the PCHA. For the following two years, the leagues played a shared schedule. In the last year of the PCHA, all three remaining teams finished with losing records, which slowly led to their demise during the Depression era.
By 1924, the Seattle franchise had folded, and the two remaining teams in Vancouver and Victoria joined the renamed the Western Hockey League, ending the PCHA era. The Victoria Cougars were winners of the 1925 Stanley Cup, the last by a non NHL team.
The league merger was also felled by the Depression, as the WHL was unable to compete with an NHL that by then had expanded into American markets.
The Vancouver Millionaires would go on to win a total of five PCHA championships (1915, 1918, 1921, 1922, 1923), but the league as an entity struggled to make a profit when the Depression hit, while the NHL had become wealthier with American expansion.
With player salaries escalating, and revenues declining, the Patrick brothers sold players, and in two cases, entire teams to NHL interests. The Portland Rosebuds became the Chicago Blackhawks for a mere fifteen grand, and the Victoria Cougars were bought out by Detroit interests, eventually becoming known as the Red Wings.
The Millionaires team would exist in Vancouver until the 1926 season, having renamed themselves the Maroons two years prior.
When the old Denman Arena in Vancouver's West End burned to the ground in 1936, all Millionaires memorabilia, including original jerseys worn by players were lost.
The Vancouver Millionaires can be considered a team of "firsts", as not only were they the first Stanley Cup Champion from the west, but they were also one of the first to play on an artificial ice surface. At that time, only two rinks in Canada had the ability to produce artificial ice.
Frank Patrick, as the head of the PCHA, innovated 22 rule changes that remain in the NHL to this day. The ideas he brought were numerous and visionary. He introduced the blue line, the forward pass, and the playoff system, a change adopted by leagues of every sport around the world. Along wih Lester, they were the first to use numbers on players sweaters to identify them and created programs for the fans. The goal crease and faceoff circles were their idea. They allowed the puck to be kicked everywhere but into the net. They allowed goaltenders to fall to make saves. They created the assist and invented the penalty shot.
It is no wonder, the Patricks were called "the Brains of Modern Hockey!"
The game of Hockey, owes a great debt to the Patrick family, and the city of Vancouver.
On February 20, March 6, 2009, the Western Hockey League's Vancouver Giants payed tribute to the Millionaires legacy, by wearing the Millionaires jersey for a pair of home games against the Kelowna Rockets and the Calgary Hitmen.
You can read more about the Vancouver Millionaires and PCHA history at these links: