Oilers aren’t the one Edmonton group enjoying for the Stanley Cup
The Stanley Cup has a long and turbulent history, dating back to the late 19th century when it was first established by Lord Stanley of Preston, Governor General of Canada, as an award to Canada’s top amateur hockey team.
Edmonton Oilers’ Mark Lamb, John Muckler coach and Kelly Buchberger celebrate with the Stanley Cup on May 24, 1990 after Game 5 of the 1990 Stanley Cup Final. (Photo: B Bennett / Getty Images)
Over the years, the city of Edmonton has been fortunate to have won the Cup five times, with two more trips to the finals by the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers first competed for the Cup in 1983, but this wasn’t the first time an Edmonton team played for the Stanley Cup.
Edmonton’s first crack at the Cup
The first Edmonton team to compete for the Stanley Cup was briefly called “Edmonton Hockey Club” and fought for the trophy in December 1908. Just 14 years earlier, the same Edmonton Hockey Club accepted Edmonton’s first recorded hockey game, playing on the frozen North Saskatchewan River, losing a supposedly close game to the North West Mounted Police.
The Edmonton Hockey Club played in Edmonton’s first recorded hockey game, which game took place on the North Saskatchewan River. (THW archive)
The hockey club would eventually move to an ice rink and build a heated rivalry with their cross-river opponents, the Strathcona Shamrocks, in the years to come. Games against the Shamrocks were important to the game’s growth in Alberta as the Shamrocks’ secretary, RP Pettipiece, also served as editor of the South Edmonton News and devoted a variety of articles to the sport and rivalry between the two teams. Another fascinating person who took part in this rivalry and played for Edmonton was William A. Griesbach, who later became Mayor of Edmonton and a member of the Canadian Senate.
In 1907, the Edmonton Hockey Club became one of the founding teams of the Alberta Amateur Hockey Association and became league champions that inaugural season. After Edmonton won the league, he had the opportunity to challenge Stanley Cup Champion Montreal Wanderers for the trophy. The Wanderers were tough competition after fending off two previous challengers, but Edmonton had an ace up their sleeve … at least they thought.
For the first game in the two-part series, Edmonton brought in six brand new players, including future Hockey Hall of Famers Didier Pitre, Tommy Phillips and Lester Patrick. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned for Edmonton and they were beaten 7-3 by the Wanderers. Their defeat was attributed to a lack of chemistry, which resulted in two of the wrestlers being sent home in favor of regulars. This personnel change seems like the team they needed in the second game 7-6, but it wouldn’t be enough as the Wanderers fought off the cup challenge at 13-10.
A second shot in the cup
Just two years later, the Edmonton Hockey Club earned another chance to play for the Stanley Cup, this time against the Ottawa Senators.
Hand-colored group portrait of the famous Canadian hockey team, the Ottawa Senators, as they pose with the 1905 Stanley Cup. Ottawa would be Edmonton’s opponent in a 1910 Cup challenge. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios / Getty Images)
After the 1907-08 season, the AAHA was largely inactive, with Edmonton only participating in exhibition games to prepare for future Stanley Cup challenges. Unlike Edmonton, the Senators received the Stanley Cup in March 1909 as a reward for heading the Eastern Canada Hockey Association and beating defending champions Wanderers.
Beginning in 1910, for Ottawa’s Defense of the Cup, it was decided by the Trustees that only players who had been running with their team for the whole year could take part in Stanley Cup challenges. This was likely to prevent situations similar to those of Edmonton’s first run of the Cup, in which the majority of their players had never played for the team before their challenge.
After a successful defense of the Stanley Cup against Galt HC of the Ontario Professional Hockey League less than two weeks earlier, the Senators were supposed to defend the cup against Edmonton. The streak was predicted to be close, but Edmonton just couldn’t match the Senators and lost both games by 21:11 overall.
The injury added insult, the team collapsing later that year.
A new team and another opportunity for Edmonton
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the remains of the collapsed Edmonton Hockey Club became a new team. Loosely called the Edmonton Deacons when it was founded, the team later adopted the Edmonton Eskimos name, which was likely named after Edmonton’s rugby team of the same name.
Edmonton Eskimos 1926 (Public Domain)
The Eskimos would play in the AAHA’s Big Four Senior League and, when they were dissolved, would help found the Western Canada Hockey League. The Eskimos dominated the early WCHL, winning two straight season championships before gaining the right to play for the Stanley Cup. At the time, there were three top leagues vying for the cup, namely the NHL, the WCHL, and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association.
With a new playoff format in 1922-23, the champions of one of these leagues received a bye to the Stanley Cup final while the champions of the other two leagues competed in a best-of-three series. After winning their league, the Eskimos were given a bye to the final, while the Ottawa Senators defeated the Vancouver Maroons to secure their spot.
The Eskimos and Senators faced each other in a two-game series that was very close but was ultimately won by the Senators. Game 1 ended with a score of 2-1 in favor of the Senators, with the crucial record in extra time coming from future Hall of Famer Cy Denneny. The second game was a brutal affair with several players unable to finish the game due to injuries. (From How Ottawa Overcame Numerous Handicaps. The Globe, 3/4/1928) The situation got so dire for the Senators that defenseman King Clancy was forced to rotate through every position during the game and even do a round of goalkeeper Clint Benedict shot two minutes into the net. This was the first and only time a player played every position in a Stanley Cup final game. Despite the obstacles on their way, Ottawa managed to hold onto a 1-0 win and a Stanley Cup win.
Unfortunately, the Eskimos wouldn’t last long after their Cup challenge, as the team gave up in 1927 after most of their top talent left to play for Boston in the NHL a year earlier. (From “A History of the Edmonton Arena Building in Photographs, Part 1,” Edmonton Journal, 12/13/2009.)
Review of the predecessors of the Oilers
When you think of hockey in Edmonton, it’s only natural that the first thoughts that come to your mind think of the Oilers and their success in the ’80s and early’ 90s, but the Oilers weren’t the only Edmonton team who had the opportunity to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup. Without the founding and success of the Edmonton Hockey Club, hockey might never have become as popular in Alberta as it is today.
Although the Edmonton Hockey Club and its resurrected counterpart, the Eskimos, failed to win the Stanley Cup, they paved the way for the Oilers, who quit the job and did what the early Edmonton teams never could.
Hi everyone, my name is Chris! I’m a Ryerson University alum and a huge sports fanatic. I love spending my time sifting through hockey history and current events, looking for interesting and unique stories to tell.
I cover the Philadelphia Flyers for THW and try to tell convincing stories and offer unique perspectives on the team!