Klondikers Challenge for the Stanley Cup

“Hanging out in Skagway,” wrote a later observer, “did nothing for the team conditioning. They were in serious liver training.”

With our national game played out in the hyper serious world of professionalism, it is comforting to look back to simpler times when hockey was closer to community, and was played for love and glory by amateurs. One hundred years ago, before the Stanley Cup was not the captive of the National Hockey League, any Canadian team with some success at the senior level challenge the current champs.

In 1905 one of the strangest challenges came from Dawson City, Yukon. Still in the afterglow of the Gold Rush, Dawson prided itself with keeping up with the outside world. It was a boomtown filled with rogues and adventurers, none better known than Joe Boyle. The town was mad for hockey and had a state-of-the-art covered arena. On one of his frequent trips to Ottawa, Boyle issued a challenge to the reigning champion Ottawa Silver Seven and it was accepted.

The Dawson City Nuggets journeyed part of the way to Ottawa on dog-sled to play the Ottawa Senators in one of the most mismatched games in Stanley Cup history (courtesy Hockey Hall of Fame).

Boyle organized an all-star team which included Weldy Young, a civil servant, “Sureshot” Kennedy, Hector Smith, Dr D. McLennan, who would play rover, and J.K. Johnstone, a former Mountie. The team would pick up cover-point Lorne Hannay in Winnipeg. Quebec native Albert Forrest, only 17 years old, would play goal. Boyle, who had amassed a fortune in supplying the gold mines, put up some of the money, but the players were expected to pay their own way, with hopes that expenses would be recouped from gate receipts.

The “Nuggets,” as Boyle dubbed them, set out from Dawson on Sunday, December 18, 1904. Since lack of snow made the dogsleds useless, and after the bicycles all broke down, the men resigned themselves to a long walk (some 560 km) to Whitehorse. There they planned to board the White Pass & Yukon Railway for Skagway but a blizzard blocked the pass for three days and the men arrived 2 hours after the steamer left for Vancouver. “Hanging out in Skagway,” wrote a later observer, “did nothing for the team conditioning. They were in serious liver training.”

The next ship battled heavy seas and was diverted to Seattle by fog, so by the time the team doubled back to Vancouver they were five days behind schedule. The weary Nuggets arrived in Ottawa on January 11, 1905, just two days before the first game. The team checked into a local hotel and then made for a sporting goods store to buy uniforms.

Despite the exhausting trip the Nuggets were confident. They went to watch the Silver Seven practice and were not that impressed. One Nugget declared that Ottawa star Frank McGee was “not that hot.” In fact the Ottawa team included several outstanding athletes. Goalie Bouse Hutton excelled at hockey, lacrosse and football. Defenceman Harvey Pulford was amateur heavyweight boxing champ of Eastern Canada and rowed in the English Henley Regatta. But McGee stood out. Even Gretzky’s records pale in comparison. In 22 Stanley Cup games he scored 63 goals!

Dey’s arena was crammed with 2200 spectators for the first game. The Dawson City crew skated out in their new black sweaters, trimmed with gold. They were satisfied when they were only down 3-1 at the half (there were only two periods in those days). The match was rough and got rougher. In an incident reminiscent of Todd Bertuzzi, right down to the last name of the victim, Dawson’s Norman Watt smashed his stick over Art Moore’s head and knocked him unconscious. The final score was 9-2.

While Boyle sent back overly optimistic reports to Dawson, blaming the loss on poor refereeing (a great hockey tradition), the eastern press was ruthless. The Toronto Telegram reported that the Nuggets “faded away like a snowball beneath a June sun.”

The second game in this best of three proved another old hockey axiom. Hearing that the Nuggets sneered at his single goal in the first game, Frank McGee lit a fire in the second game, scoring 14 goals in a 23-2 romp, a record that will never fall. “Dawson never had the chance of a bun in the hands of a hungry small boy,” mocked the Ottawa Citizen.

The Ottawa Silver Seven celebrated their victory by inviting the losers to a banquet. Later they took the precious prize cup and drop kicked it into the Rideau Canal, which fortunately was frozen. The tour was not a complete washout for the Dawson boys. They went on tour through the Maritimes, eastern Canada and the US, winning as many games as they lost and pretty well recouping their travel expenses. Boyle remained the optimist, promising to be back, but after this strange episode, the Stanley Cup trustees tightened up the rules.

James H. Marsh is editor in chief of The Canadian Encyclopedia.

First published in the National Post and CanWest newspaper chain, now featured on The Canadian Encyclopedia.


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