Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Patrick's Hockey Team

On this wonderful day when we celebrate Saint Patrick, I can't help but think of two Irish institutions which have graced the Toronto hockey scene. Topping the list is former Toronto Maple Leaf icon Francis Michael "King" Clancy. Last March, I wrote a piece about the huge party celebrating King Clancy Night at Maple Leaf Gardens on St. Patrick's Day 1934 - Full Story.

Not too far behind Clancy are the Toronto St. Pats who entered the National Hockey League in time for the 1919-20 season.

This new professional franchise representing the city of Toronto came about when the NHL Toronto Arenas collapsed in February 1919. For most of the summer and fall, local hockey fans were kept in suspense as to whether or not they would be making the journey to Arena Gardens on Mutual Street to cheer on a big-league team.

On December 9, 1919 any fears of a winter without NHL hockey were removed. Newspaper reports informed the public that a group of businessmen had stepped forward to come to the rescue. The new hockey brokers were the same individuals who were associated with the St. Patrick's team (formerly of the Senior OHA League). In the mix as officers in this new venture were men with links to the defunct Toronto Arenas and the Tecumseh Hockey Club. When the Arenas fell by the waste side, Tecumseh was set-up to takeover the Toronto franchise. In fact, one of their members, Charlie Querrie, represented Toronto at an NHL meeting prior to the St. Patrick's gaining control.

The job of putting together the on-ice product for the St. Pats fell to Frank Heffernan. He also laced up his skates and served as team captain. A newspaper story from the day described him as "a high-class player." One of the first signed by Heffernan was right winger Cully Wilson. An offer was made to Cecil "Babe" Dye who starred for the St. Patrick's the previous year. Dye, would sign with Toronto and went on to become an important piece in the drive to capture the Stanley Cup in 1922.

On December 23, 1919 Heffernan's efforts were rewarded when the Toronto St. Pats took to the ice for their first National Hockey League encounter. The contest was played in Ottawa with the Senators providing the opposition.

With the Duke and Duchesses of Devonshire among the dignitaries looking on, Frank Heffernan was summoned to centre ice for a presentation. Being no stranger to the community, having gone to Ottawa College, the St. Pats forward received a floral horseshoe.

As for the game, it was played in mild conditions, thus having an impact on the state of the ice. Game reports revealed the puck "was difficult to nurse."

Ottawa got on the scoreboard in the opening period when Frank Neighbor beat St. Pats netminder Mike Mitchell. On the play, the Ottawa forward stripped defenceman Ken Randall of the puck as Randall came from behind the net. Gaining control, Neighbor slapped the puck into the St.Pats cage.

The Senators would add to their lead over the final two periods. In the middle frame, Harry "Punch" Broadbent scored on a rebound. Then, Jack Darragh put on a display with time ticking down in the closing moments of the game. He picked-up the puck at centre ice and scooted towards the St. Pats zone with no one in sight. When his shot was stopped, Darragh took the rebound and maneuvered around the net. Emerging on the other side, he tucked the puck past Mitchell.

Opening the new campaign with a 3 to 0 loss, Toronto's new entry in the NHL headed home to try their luck in the friendly confines of Arena Gardens. Travelling to Toronto for the match-up were the Quebec Bulldogs.

Hoping to impress the home supporters early, the St. Pats finally got their offence in gear. After failing to notch a single goal in their initial effort, Toronto raced out to a 4 to 1 advantage over Quebec. By games end, they coasted to a 7 to 4 victory over the visitors, with Corbett Dennenay providing the fireworks. On the night he hit the twine for three goals and assisted on another.

The crowning moment in St. Pats history came in March 1922.

Playing against the Vancouver Millionaires, the Stanley Cup Final came to a close on March 28, 1922. Toronto defeated Vancouver 5 to 1, thus winning Lord Stanley's silver mug. The St.Pats took three of the five games.

Babe Dye
Babe Dye lead the St. Pats in post-season play, scoring nine goals. In the final game, he potted four markers behind Vancouver goalie Hugh Lehman.

Dye's two goals in the first period provided his teammates with a 2 to 0 advantage. Corbett Dennenay upped the margin to three, netting the only tally in period two. At 1:30 of the final period, Dye completed his hat trick. A minute latter, at 2:30, Dye scored Toronto's fifth and final goal. John Ross Roach had his bid for a shutout come to an end when Jack Adams beat him at the ten-minute mark.

The Globe newspaper heaped a ton of praise on Dye when describing his play and contributions.

"Babe Dye was in the limelight most of the time. The baseball-hockey star was never better. It was his masterpiece in hockey, and it was Dye and his bullet shot as much as anything else which enabled the locals to carry off the highest honours professional hockey can give," summed-up the Globe the next day.

The final chapter for the St. Pats would be written on February 12, 1927. In a tight contest against the Ottawa Senators, the St. Pats were blanked by a 1 to 0 score.

Like their very first game in the National Hockey League in 1919, Toronto faced Ottawa and were unable to produce any results on offence. The lone goal was scored by Jack Adams.

On February 14, 1927 word filtered out that the Toronto franchise had been sold to a group which included Conn Smythe. Wasting no time putting his imprint on the team, Smythe changed the name of his new acquisition to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Also, he altered their colour scheme from green to blue.

Having not scored in their final encounter, one must examine the St. Pats previous tilt to determine who scored the final goal for the Irishmen.

Two days prior to facing Ottawa, the St. Pats and New York Rangers met at Arena Gardens on February 10, 1927. The Rangers won 3 to 2 with both St. Pats goals coming in the first period. Toronto's first tally was scored by Albert McCaffery. The honour of recording the final St. Pats goal went to Bill Brydge.

On this Saint Patrick's Day, we raise our glass high, saluting the likes of Heffernan, Dye and Brydge, and all those who donned the green and white of the Toronto St. Pats!

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