Indeed, the province has seen its fair share of great games and champion teams over the years. In recent times the Vancouver Giants and Kelowna Rockets have won the Memorial Cup, and the Powell River Regals have won the famed Allan Cup three times in the last decade.
But the big prize, the greatest of them all, has not been to beautiful British Columbia for more than eight decades. It was in late March of 1925 that the Victoria Cougars won the Stanley Cup by defeating the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 in a best-of-five series played at Patrick Arena in the B.C. capital.
Frank and Lester Patrick brought professional hockey to British Columbia in 1912 in the form of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA). The league’s skill level rivaled the eastern NHA (pre-1917) and NHL (post-1917) such that playoffs for the Stanley Cup ended in an east-west showdown for many years during this era.
When the PCHA folded in 1924 Vancouver and Victoria (of the PCHA) then moved to the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL) and, as part of the restructuring of the WCHL, the Cougars signed four players from the PCHA: star goalie Hap Holmes, and skaters Frank Foyston, Jack Walker, and Gord Fraser. These players complemented a roster that included Frank Frederickson and Slim Halderson, two members of Canada’s gold medal team from the 1920 Olympics.
The Cougars finished third in the 28-game regular season behind the Calgary Tigers and Saskatoon Crescents, but they beat both teams in the playoffs to advance to the Stanley Cup Final against the Canadiens, who beat the Toronto St. Pats 5-2 in the NHL playoffs in the east and were chasing their third Stanley Cup.
"Like a field of splendid thoroughbreds the 10 doughty Cougars spat upon their hands, snapped their teeth and made furrows in their brows as they made the pledge to go out and get the championship,” the Victoria Times said of the Cougars’ run to the final. “From that moment on the Cougars did not lose a game and they disposed of the toughest competition that could be marshalled against them.”
Montreal traveled west to defend its win of 1924, giving Victoria fans a rare chance to see future Hall of Famers Howie Morenz, Aurel Joilat and Georges Vezina, along with the rest of the Montreal lineup. Knowing an opportunity to see this kind of skill may not come again, fans lined up the night before the game, hoping to grab one of the 4,000 available tickets.
Goaltender Holmes did what few men ever did – outplay Vezina in the Canadiens’ net – as Victoria won the opener 5-2, with Fraser and Walker leading the way with two goals each.
"The size of the score came as a big surprise to most of the fans but it knocked Canadiens on their beam ends,” the Times said following the opening game. “They could not fathom it any easier than Vezina could read a poem in English."
The series shifted across the Strait of Georgia for Game Two in Vancouver, where Walker once again notched a pair of goals in a 3-1 Victoria win, putting the Cougars on the verge of victory in the series.
Morenz prevented a sweep by netting a hat trick for the Habs in Game Three, a 4-2 Montreal win back in Victoria. The Canadiens, frustrated with their inability to stop the Cougars’ offence, went with two forwards and three defencemen, a lineup that helped them to their only win.
Three days later, on , the Cougars skated to a one-sided 6-1 win to claim the Stanley Cup. The final whistle may have ended the series, but the fans at Patrick Arena had long known it was witnessing the final game, beginning the celebration early.
"The Cougars left absolutely no doubt as to which club was the best,” said the Times. “They skated like fiends, passed the puck like masters, shot like machine guns, and their defence was as hard to penetrate as the side of a battleship."
Who could have known then that the Cougars would lose the Cup, in Montreal to the Maroons, the next year, or that the NHL would take control of the Stanley Cup in 1927 thereby eliminating all other teams from its competition and making the Cougars the last non-NHL team to hoist the Cup?
It would take until 2007 before another west coast team claimed hockey’s top prize, when the Anaheim Ducks defeated the Ottawa Senators in five games to win the Stanley Cup and rekindle the memories of Victoria’s run 82 years earlier.
1924-25 VICTORIA COUGARS
Clem Laughlin (captain)
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