© Copyright – 2015 – Victoria Sports News
Victoria’s hockey history may be more distinguished than many people realize. For example, Victoria was home to one of the very first artificial ice surfaces and one of the first professional hockey teams in Canada.
The Patrick Brothers
In 1911 the Patrick brothers, Lester and Frank, moved to the coast from Nelson, BC, where their father Joseph had sold their lumber business for a small fortune. Debating what to do with all the money, the brothers decided to bring hockey to Vancouver and Victoria. They built two rinks, the one in Vancouver would seat up to 10,000 spectators and cost upwards of $350,000 to build. They also built one in Oak Bay located on the corner of Cadboro Bay Road and Epworth Street. The Patrick Arena held approximately 3,500 (one source claims 4,200) people and cost $110,000 to build. Lester managed the Victoria rink while Frank managed the one in Vancouver.
Once the arenas were built and teams were assembled, the brothers formed the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, a professional league that rivaled the National Hockey Association of the east, which later became the National Hockey League.
The Patricks were also involved in the early development of women’s hockey in Canada, dating back to at least 1910, where they started the Nelson Ladies Hockey Club. Their sisters, Myrtle, Cynda and Dora Patrick were all involved with the club. The women’s team was coached by Lester while Dora was the captain.
Frank was instrumental in many rule changes that helped form the game today, including adding the blue lines as well as introducing playoff hockey. Long before Bobby Orr stood the NHL on its ear for being a rushing defenceman, the Patricks were the first to rush up the ice and attack rather than just protect their own goalie, as was the norm.
The legendary family has seen at least six family members play in the NHL. Lester went on to become the General Manager of the New York Rangers. During the 1928 Stanley Cup finals, the Rangers goalie Lorne Chabot suffered an eye injury and was removed from the game. Lester, at the age of 44, changed out of his business clothes and suited up to play goal; they won. He is the oldest “goalie” to play in the finals to date.
The Patrick brothers competed for the Stanley Cup at least 13 times between them as General Managers and several more as players. The Lester Patrick Trophy is awarded annually to the NHL player who demonstrates outstanding contributions to hockey in the United States.
Victoria’s bid for the Stanley Cup
The Victoria Aristocrats, who were formerly the Victoria Senators, won an “international championship” in a series held during the 1913 season against a team from Quebec called the Bulldogs; however, the N.H.A. refused to award Lord Stanley’s cup to a team that won in an international championship event. The Stanley Cup was to be awarded to Canada’s national champions. The Aristocrats would have to wait to lift Lord Stanley’s legendary cup. The NHL officially lists the Quebec Bulldogs as the 1913 Stanley Cup champions in a series they won over the Sydney Miners.
During the 1914 season the Victoria team (now named the Cougars) again challenged for the Stanley Cup. They were up against the Toronto Blueshirts – the entire series took place in Toronto and was played with six players aside, something that Victoria was not used to, as at the time seven-man hockey was the norm. The Blueshirts prevailed and won their first Stanley Cup.
During six of the next 10 years Frank’s Vancouver Millionaires (later named the Maroons) challenged for the cup, winning in 1915 over the original Ottawa Senators.
In 1925 the Victoria Cougars finally won the Stanley Cup over the storied Montreal Canadiens. It was the final Stanley Cup victory before the NHL was formed. It was also the final cup victory for a west coast based team until the Anaheim Ducks won in 2007. The Cougars ended up moving to the city of Detroit and eventually became the legendary Detroit Red Wings.
At the time, the city of Montreal had teams that won the cup 15 times in 31 years, dating back to 1893. Team names included the Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Montreal AAA, Montreal Victorias and Montreal Shamrocks. The Canadiens went on to win 23 NHL Stanley Cup Championships.
Victoria’s hockey rinks
Twice the citizens of Victoria lost their rink in Oak Bay, once to the military, which simply commandeered the building and a second time where the new building (located near the original) was lost to fire. The third building, the Victoria Memorial Arena, was built in 1949 on the same land that the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre is located today. The SOFMC was completed in 2005. For two years the city was without a home for a professional or a top-level amateur team.
The building has a seating capacity of 7,400 for some events and 7,004 for hockey, while the building will take up to 9,000 people for concerts. The Memorial Arena, which later in its life became known as the “Barn on Blanshard” held just 4,000 people.
Professional and major junior hockey in the capital
The Victoria Maple Leafs of the professional Western Hockey League (different than the major junior league of the same name) called Victoria home for three seasons from 1964-1965 to 1966-1967. The team, which was the Toronto Maple Leafs farm team, produced NHL goaltender Gary Smith who spent parts of 15 seasons in the NHL, three of those with the Vancouver Canucks.
The first professional hockey team to call SOFMC home was the East Coast Hockey League’s Victoria Salmon Kings. They played in Victoria from 2004-2005 to 2010-2011. During the first season, they played several games in the Bear Mountain Arena (now named The Q Centre). Before the Salmon Kings hit the ice, a team hoping to call themselves the Victoria Spiders had wanted to make Victoria home; to move from San Francisco. The San Francisco Spiders lasted one year in the International Hockey League before the league folded. They never made it to Victoria.
The previous major junior hockey team to call Victoria home was the Victoria Cougars – no connection to the Patrick family’s PCHA Victoria Cougars. They played in the Memorial Arena from 1967 to 1971 as a BC Junior Hockey League team in the Junior-A category, then from 1971 to 1994 they played in the WHL as a major junior franchise. They moved to Prince George for the 1994-1995 season, where they remain. While in Victoria the Cougars produced 58 NHL players including Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Grant Fuhr, The Courtnall brothers Russ and Geoff, Mel Bridgeman, Curt Fraser and Len Barrie to name a few.
When it was announced that Victoria would finally get another major junior franchise after a 17 year absence, Victoria hockey fans were quick to adopt the team from Chilliwack, where they were known as the Bruins.
The city of Victoria’s rich hockey history continues today with the Royals. The average nightly attendance has settled at nearly 5,000 fans per game, which is 1,000 more than the old “Barn on Blanshard” could hold at maximum capacity. In their first four years in Victoria, the Royals have had three consecutive winning seasons.