It really can happen.
I was enjoying a steak the other evening at the Mic Mac Bar & Grill in Dartmouth with my son and his family. The old fellow and the younger fellow were discussing the arrival of the Stanley Cup playoffs, that annual two-month hockey marathon that keeps winter habits around until June.
Somehow I managed to work in the old story about a New Glasgow hockey team playing for the historic mug in 1906. Suddenly one of the granddaughters got in on the conversation.
With an innocent but mischievous smile on her face, she asked me, “Did you cover that for the newspaper, Papa?”
I didn’t laugh — at least not right away.
It made me realize that in a few weeks I will be into my 80th year. Nothing funny about that, I can assure you.
But back to granddaughter’s question.
“No,” I tried to explain, “I didn’t go to Montreal, and there was no TV back then, not even radio. Fans had to wait till the next day to read it in the paper.”
Just as surprisingly, she had another question.
“Papa,” she said, “did the Toronto Maple Leafs get in the playoffs that year?”
To straighten out her curiosity, I explained it is now 110 hockey seasons since the New Glasgow team went to Montreal to play the Montreal Wanderers.
That was before there were any Maple Leafs, before there was even a National Hockey League.
She still wasn’t sure about the time frame, so I put it a different way. “My father,” I said, “was eight years old then. But I don’t think he went to Montreal. If he were alive today, he would be 118 years old. That’s even older than I’ll ever be.”
As the girls went back to eating and I resumed devouring my tenderloin, their father and I got down to details. I was hoping the kids were listening.
Way back in 1906-07, the Stanley Cup was a challenge trophy. That’s how teams like the one from New Glasgow got the chance to play for it. Ten years later, only NHL clubs were eligible for what has since become the most historic award in North America professional sports.
How did the New Glasgow Cubs get involved?
First of all, they deadlocked with the Halifax Wanderers for first place in the Nova Scotia league, forcing a one-game showdown on neutral ice for the championship. That game was ordered to be played in Truro.
Years ago, I repeated a snippet from the Halifax Chronicle that was published the morning after the New Glasgow-Halifax game. I thought it illustrated vividly what a hockey scene was like in those long-ago days — and how differently newspaper reports were written.
“An hour before the time for opening the doors,” it read, “the street facing the rink was a surging mob of people of both sexes. Ladies formed the majority, anxious to the utmost to gain vantage points of observation, and when the doors opened, a crush ensued.
“Two ladies suffered severely in the efforts of the crowd in entering. Both had fainted, and one was removed to her home. The other pluckily concluded to remain and was one of the most enthusiastic of the Halifax contingent.”
The determined woman didn’t help the Halifax cause. New Glasgow ran off with the game, 7-1. That advanced the Cubs to the Maritime playoffs against teams from Moncton and Summerside. New Glasgow took all four of its games.
Big plans began.
As the NHL Guide reported, the Montreal Wanderers “accepted a challenge from New Glasgow, N.S. prior to the start of the 1906-07 season” to play for the Stanley Cup. The games were scheduled to be played in Montreal between Christmas and New Year’s.
The 1905-06 scoring champion Jack MacDonald and the runner-up Jimmy Williams were available for the trip. But another star, Ches Gregory, wasn’t included because he had joined the Moncton Victorias for the 1906-07 campaign. Had Gregory played, New Glasgow would probably have enjoyed a much better chance. For something like 25 years, he was a leading scorer in Maritime hockey.
Things didn’t occur without a major dispute away from the ice. New Glasgow players went to Montreal “in a deliberate defiance” of the Maritime Provinces Amateur Athletic Association that had ruled the New Glasgow team would be declared professional the moment they stepped on the Montreal ice. It didn’t interfere with the games being played.
A large headline in the Halifax Herald the day before the first scheduled match read: “New Glasgow Players Defy MPAAA and Have Gone To Montreal.” In a subhead, the paper reported, “This may not affect the Provincial League, though there is talk of forming a professional organization.” In fact, a Maritime professional setup was formed later.
The series turned out to be lopsided — and that’s being kind to New Glasgow. The Wanderers won the opener by a 10-3 score though, at one stage, the game was deadlocked 2-2. Montreal had an easy 7-2 victory two nights later.
One Halifax report put the outcome this way: “With all respect for the sportsmanlike spirit which encouraged the New Glasgow team to come (to Montreal) and measure sticks with the world champions, the series was really no more than good practice for the Wanderers to prepare themselves for their first regular match of the season.”
And so it was.
One confession, however. I’m still not sure if I convinced my granddaughter that I wasn’t alive when the New Glasgow team travelled to Montreal those 110 hockey seasons ago.
Nonetheless, the town’s Stanley Cup challenge remains a couple of fine-print lines in the NHL Official Guide and Record Book, living proof that New Glasgow really did have a crack at the famous silverware.
Even if I wasn’t there.