by Bruce Cherney (part 2)
Following the end of the Manitoba Professional Hockey League (MPHL) regular season, the Brandon Wheat Cities were scheduled to face the Kenora Thistles in a play-off series to determine the league champions and the holders of the Stanley Cup. Sports writers noted that Brandon was well prepared for the challenge against the Stanley Cup champions. The star players who had two months earlier played for the Thistles in their Stanley Cup series against the Montreal Wanderers — “Bad” Joe Hall and Art Ross — had returned to Brandon’s line-up for the MPHL season. Hall was on the Wheat King’s roster as centre, while Ross played cover-point (defenceman).
Ross was one of the first rushing defencemen. In 1947, he donated the Art Ross Trophy awarded to the NHL player with the most regular season points.
The Thistles’ line-up was reinforced with the signing of Frederick “Fred” Whitecroft, a rover from Peterborough, Ontario, to a $700 contract just to play for Kenora in the play-off round against Brandon.
The best-of-three game championship (sometimes referred to as the “forgotten Stanley Cup series,” since it doesn’t appear in the official record books) was played on neutral ice in Winnipeg at the Arena Rink, which was built in 1905 along Bannatyne Avenue and was just west of the General Hospital. The rink could seat 2,500 spectators.
“Winnipeg hockey enthusiasts will have a chance of seeing real Stanley Cup hockey on Saturday night (March 16),” commented the Manitoba Free Press.
Meanwhile, the Montreal Wanderers announced on March 7, 1907, to the Montreal Gazette that they were prepared to travel to Winnipeg to challenge the winner of the MPHL. “The executives (of the Wanderer club),” reported the Montreal newspaper, “decided that whether Brandon or Kenora wins, the eastern champions will make a bid to bring back the cup before the present season closes.”
The Wanderers had confirmed that the Brandon-Kenora series was a Stanley Cup match-up.
William Foran, the acting trustee of the cup, had also informed the Montreal executive that their Stanley Cup challenge was not to take place until the MPHL series was completed, which was another acknowledgement that the league play-off was a contest for the national hockey championship cup.
The Free Press reported that the “games (between Brandon and Kenora) should be about the fastest that have been seen in Winnipeg for some time. Besides the honor of winning out the championship of Manitoba, the winner also gets possession of the Stanley Cup and will defend it against the Wanderers of Montreal.”
In the first game of the series, Kenora quickly jumped to a 3-0 goal lead in the first three minutes of playing time, but the Wheat Cities didn’t give up.
“Nothing daunted, the yellow and black clad warriors fought grimly and pluckily until well on in the second half (games were then played in two 30-minute halves) their determined effort had won them the admiration of all the spectators, and if the garrison finish made had been more successful, it would have been a popular victory.”
The Free Press called it “a rattling good hockey game that was a disappointment for Thistle fans since it hadn’t been more decisive.”
Brandon scored the last two goals of the game, but their comeback fell short and they lost to Kenora by an 8-6 tally.
Brandon team captain Hall was judged to be the best of the Wheat Cities squad, who played “the game of his life.”
According to the newspaper (the same article was carried by the Brandon Daily Sun), “in years to come, when grandchildren gather round his (Hall’s) knee, and memory harkens back to the good old days, he can tell without boasting of the memorable game of March 16, 1907, and of the important part he played in it.”
Having won the first game of the best-of-three series, the Thistles were one victory away from claiming the MPHL crown and keeping the Stanley Cup.
In the second game on March 19, “Brandon went down to defeat after a gallant fight,” according to the Sun. “They rained in shots innumerable on the Kenora net, but proved poor goal getters, while a couple of the scores made against them were more or less fluky, one being from a face (off) right in front of the goal, and another caroming in off one of their own men. The Thistles, however, deserved their victory, as they played consistent hockey from start to finish, and although fortunate in getting a couple of lucky goals, they were robbed of hard earned efforts by the exceptional game played by Charlie Quinn in the nets (for Brandon).”
Near of the end of the first half, Brandon’s Hall was “cracked over the hand and banged up against the boards,” suffering a fractured thumb. After retaliating, Hall was assessed a penalty, but he wasn’t able to return to the ice due to the injuries he sustained.
Brandon scored the first goal of the game, but Kenora replied with four unanswered goals and a 4-1 victory to claim the MPHL championship and retain the Stanley Cup they first won in January 1907.
Before the Stanley Cup games between the Thistles and Montreal Wanderers, controversy arose after the eastern team arrived in Winnipeg on March 17 at 6 o’clock in the morning. Montreal player Hod Stuart told the press that his team might refuse to participate in the Stanley Cup challenge if Alf Smith and “Rat” Westwick were allowed to play. Instead, Stuart said the Wanderers would travel to Houghton, Michigan, for an exhibition game against the International Professional Hockey League (IPHL) team. The Ottawa Citizen called it a bluff, saying the Wanderers were keen to play for a huge gate in Winnipeg.
When the Montreal club arrived in Kenora aboard a special train from Winnipeg on March 20, the two sides couldn’t agree on the days the series was to be played as well as the eligibility of players.
Foran, the acting trustee of the Stanley Cup, had already ruled that former ECAHA players, Westwick and Smith, who had played for Kenora during the MPHL championship, were ineligible for the contest against the Wanderers.
Foran threatened to take the Cup back to Ottawa: “If the two clubs ignore the instructions of the cup trustees by mutually agreeing to play against Westwick and Smith when both were positively informed these men were ineligible to participate in the present cup matches, the series will be treated as void, and the cup will be taken charge of by the trustees. It will remain in their possession till the various hockey leagues can educate themselves up to a standard where decent sport will be the order of the day” (The Globe, March 25, 1907).
The same newspaper sided with Kenora: “William Foran ... declares that Smith and Westwick are not regular members of the Kenora team and will not be allowed to defend the silverware. But if not, why? Is Hod Stuart, who helped the Wanderers gainst Kenora in Montreal, a legitimate member of the Wanderers or of Pittsburgh, with whom he played during the early part of the season.”
The Kenora Miner mentioned that Smith and Westwick had already played three games for the Thistles before the Stanley Cup challenge. “They are certainly as much entitled to play with Kenora as the majority of men the Wanderers are bringing up to play with them.”
The MPHL executive also sent a telegram to Foran saying that they were supporting the Kenora team and that the rules of the league allowed Smith and Westwick to play.
Trustee Foran was in Kenora on March 18 when he ruled that the series was to begin on March 22. The Thistles weren’t prepared to accede to this ruling, as they had just won the MPHL championship and needed some time to prepare to face the Montreal squad. In fact, if the MPHL championship had gone to three games, then Kenora wouldn’t have been able to play on the appointed date. The Thistle executive called Foran’s dates for the play-off an arbitrary stand in view of the contest with Brandon.
(Next week: part 3)