Friday, May 20, 2011

2011 Playoffs : Antti Niemi and Harry Holmes

Came across this neat tidbit in the Toronto Sun while munching on my second bowl of Cheerios. The last goaltender to capture consecutive Stanley Cups while playing for different teams was Harry "Hap" Holmes.

In the 2011 playoffs, San Jose Sharks puck-stopper Antti Niemi has the opportunity to match Holmes accomplishment. Last year, Niemi won the Stanley Cup as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. Niemi and his San Jose teammates are in tough against the Vancouver Canucks, as they battle for the Western Conference title.

Harry Holmes was born on February 21, 1892 in Aurora, Ontario. For three seasons (1908-09 to 1910-11) he played on the Parkdale Canoe Club in the OHA-Sr. league. Over the following five seasons (1911-12 to 1914-15) Holmes participated in one match with the Toronto Tecumsehs (1911-12), and the remainder of his playing time saw him 'tending goal for the Toronto Blueshirts (National Hockey Association).

Hap Holmes

In November of 1915, Holmes headed west. He signed a contract to play for the Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA). Having missed the playoffs in his initial year in Seattle, Holmes reached the pinnacle of hockey success for a second time in the 1917 post-season. Earlier in his career, he won a Stanley Cup with the 1914 Toronto Blueshirts.

On March 26, 1917, the Metropolitans faced the Montreal Canadiens in game four of the Stanley Cup Series. Holmes opponent at the other end of the rink was George Vezina. Playing in Seattle, the Canadiens took game one by a score of 8-4. The Metropolitans responded by winning games two (6-1) and three (4-1). The Series was a best-of-five affair. With Lord Stanley's silverware on the line in game four, Seattle cruised to a 9-1 landslide pasting of Montreal. In a brilliant display of offensive skills, Bernie Morris netted 6 of Seattle's 9 goals. The only Montreal player to beat Holmes was Didier Pitre.

Prior to the 1917-18 hockey season, Harry Holmes became the centre point in a series of convoluted deals. Most history references indicate that Holmes signed with the NHL Montreal Wanderers as a free agent in November 1917. The next transaction involved him being loaned to Seattle in the PCHA. Under the impression he had a deal to return to the PCHA, Holmes received a wire 15-minutes before his scheduled departure from Toronto to the coast. He was advised by Frank Patrick to delay his trip. Holmes only goal was to play hockey, so he entered into discussions with Charlie Querrie who ran the Toronto franchise in the National Hockey League. Frank Patrick had apparently granted Holmes permission to negotiate with another organization for the 1917-18 campaign.

Then, the Montreal Wanderers staked their claim as the rightful owners of Harry Holmes, professional hockey player. At the end of December 1917, Sammy Lichtenhein, owner of the Wanderers, offered to trade Holmes to Toronto for one of their better players - Reg Noble. The Toronto Arenas wanted no part of this proposal. Reading press reports from that era, reveals that neither Holmes or Toronto management were convinced the Wanderers had any say concerning the goalies future.

With a new calendar year underway, developments in this situation quickly brought the matter to a resolution. On January 2, 1918, a fire destroyed the Westmount Arena in Montreal, which served as home to the Wanderers. This combined with roster issues, forced the Montreal Wanderers to leave the National Hockey League. The Montreal players were dispersed to other clubs. A newspaper headline on January 4, 1918, reads, "WANDERERS OUT OF THE N.H.L., TORONTOS TO GET HOLMES."

The Toronto club, by adding Harry Homes to their line-up, represented the National Hockey League in the 1918 Stanley Cup Series. Holmes was a considerable upgrade when compared to Toronto's other two goalies - Artie Brooks and Sammy Herbert. His inclusion was deemed as the missing ingredient which was required for Toronto to advance and challenge for the Stanley Cup.

Facing the Vancouver Millionaires to determine the 1918 Stanley Cup champions, the Series went the full distance of five games. The seesaw battle started with Toronto winning game one by a score of 5-3; Vancouver took game two 6-4; Toronto game three 6-3; Vancouver game four 8-1.

The fifth and deciding game was played on March 30, 1918 at Toronto's Arena Gardens on Mutual Street. There was no scoring in the first and second periods. In the final frame, Alfie Skinner opened the scoring providing Toronto with a 1-0 lead. Cyclone Taylor scored for Vancouver, after converting a pass from Mickey "Tornado" Mackay. The clinching marker for Toronto came off the stick of Corbett Denneny. In a solo rush, which started at centre ice, Denneny breezed by the Vancouver defenders to reach goaltender Hugh Lehman. The netminder took a "plunge and slide" motion towards Denneny, who flipped the puck past Lehman. The Arenas held on for a 2-1 victory and were crowned Stanley Cup champions.

As for Harry Holmes, the following excerpt from a newspaper report on the game, provides details on his contribution to Toronto's win.

Outside of Dennanay's great work the outstanding feature was the marvellous work of Harry Holmes and Hugh Lehmann, the rival goalkeepers. No better exhibition of goalguarding has ever been seen in Toronto than this pair gave Saturday night. They were both wizards. It is positively uncanny the way in which this pair came out and out-guessed players who penetrated the defences. The crowd cheered them time and time again.

NOTE: Back in the day, newspapers misspelled Corbett Denneny's surname. They added an "a" prior to the last letter. Also, they added an extra "n" to goalie Hugh Lehman's last name

After his stint in Toronto (playing two games in 1917-18), Holmes returned to the PCHA and Seattle. He would play 12 more years of pro hockey (1918-19 to 1927-28). In addition to his Stanley Cups with Toronto (1914 & 1918) and Seattle (1917), Holmes would notch a fourth title win with the Victoria Cougars. The Cougars, of the Western Hockey League (WCHL), were the final non-NHL team to win Lord Stanley.

Harry "Hap" Holmes passed away on June 27, 1941 in Florida. He migrated to the sunshine State hoping the climate would aid his ill health. At a meeting of the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee on June 7, 1972, Holmes was elected to join hockey's other elite performers in the grand institution.

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