Who was the first US team to win the Stanley Cup?
Nearly every hockey fan in Seattle has used this question at least once to try and outwit a sports radio talk show host or win beers at trivia night at their local bar. The answer is of course is the 1917 Seattle Metropolitans.
Let’s take a closer look at the start of professional hockey in Seattle. Many people believe that we need to bring the National Hockey League (NHL) back to Seattle. The truth is that the NHL has never been in Seattle. In the early days of professional hockey, the National Hockey Association (NHA), along with the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) and the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL) were three professional leagues. The Stanley Cup was the prize given to the team that won a best of 5 series in a challenge between the three leagues. When the NHA folded in 1917, the National Hockey League (NHL) was formed with many of the same clubs.
In 1947, the NHL was able to lobby the Stanley Cup trustees to give them full control of the Stanley Cup. Since that time, no Seattle team has ever been able to compete for the coveted prize. The Seattle Metropolitans first made their appearance in 1915 when they joined the new PCHA. While Seattle is located in the northern US, due to the mild winter climate, hockey wasn’t possible until an indoor ice arena was built.
Seattle finished their first season at .500 with 9-9 record. The 18 game season is a fraction of the 82 game schedule of today’s NHL teams. Seattle’s inaugural season was marked by large crowds showing that Seattle had taken to the game and was a hockey town. Two years later, the Seattle Metropolitans, coached by the legendary Pete Muldoon, won the Stanley Cup in a domination of the Montreal Canadians.
They shocked the Metropolitans with an 8-4 win in the first game of the series. The Metropolitans came roaring back with 4 straight victories, completing their championship season with a 9-1 win on March 26, 1917.
It’s fun to note that the victorious Metropolitans share of the prize money for winning the Stanley Cup was $180 for each player. This meager sum is a far cry from the large salaries of today’s athletes.
In 1919, the Metropolitans won their league and again advanced to host the Montreal Canadians in the Stanley Cup finals. What would happen next is unimaginable in today’s sports culture. The Stanley Cup wasn’t awarded to either team! The Metropolitans started the series by taking a 2 game to 1 series lead. The fourth game ended in an overtime tie. With a chance for the Metropolitans to finally close out the series and claim their 2nd Stanley Cup, the Canadians rallied to win yet again. With the series now tied at 2-2-1, a sixth and final game was scheduled for the first time ever.
Then disaster struck!
The Spanish Flu pandemic that had been ravaging contries across globe came to Seattle. The Spanish Flu struck the Canadians locker room, causing the Seattle public health department to step in and cancel the game. They feared spreading the highly infectious disease in the crowded ice arena. One of the Canadian players died in a Seattle hospital after contracting the disease, prompting the cancellation of the remainder of the series.
The Metropolitans who appeared to be on the verge of winning their second Stanley Cup, went away empty-handed, as the Stanley Cup was never awarded that year. The following season, 1919-20, saw the Metropolitans make the Stanley Cup finals for the 3rd time in 4 years. They traveled east to play the Ottawa Senators of the NHA, but fell three games to two in a five game series.
The disappointed squad continued to battle in the playoffs for the next several years, but never made it back to the finals to compete for the Stanley Cup.
Following the 1923-24 season, the team was disbanded and the arena turned into a parking garage. The loss of the Seattle Metropolitans and the conversion of their ice arena was an unceremonious end to a glorious beginning of hockey in Seattle. The early success of the Seattle Metropolitans and their immortalization as a Stanley Cup winner has lead to Seattle’s designation as the "Original Hockey Town USA" – at least by me! This will be sure to annoy all of those Detroit hockey purists, but they are blind to the fact that there are at least 26 towns today billing themselves as Hockeytown USA or Hockey Town USA.
The fact of the matter is that Seattle was the first! Feel free to use this fact as your ace in the hole the next time you are playing trivia with your basketball fans.