Sox's Series' gains equal NHL pains

Updated: February 16, 2005, 7:08 PM ET
Associated Press

The line in the NHL record book is simple and direct: 1919, No Champion.

A health crisis swept the world that year -- a flu epidemic killed at least 20 million people -- and the championship series was called off after five games.

No Stanley Cup was awarded.

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Until now, 1919 was the only year without a North American hockey champ since 1893, when Lord Stanley, the governor general of Canada, came up with a trophy for the best hockey team in North America.

There won't be a Stanley Cup paraded around the ice this year, either. The NHL canceled what little was left of the season Wednesday after a series of last-minute offers were rejected on the final day of negotiations focusing on a salary cap.

Back in 1919, the Stanley Cup was awarded to the winner of a series between the champion of the 2-year-old NHL -- then an intimate three-team league with franchises in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto -- and the winner of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association -- with teams in Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria, B.C.

The NHL schedule was an 18-game affair in those days, a time well removed from the October-to-May marathon of modern hockey. The season was split into two halves, with the first-place finishers meeting in what amounted to the Stanley Cup semifinals.

Then it would be on to the championship series against the PCHA champs for the treasured Cup.

That year, Seattle won the PCHA title in a two-game series against Vancouver decided by total goals. The NHL title went to Montreal in a best-of-seven playoff series against Ottawa.

In the finals opener, Seattle beat Montreal 7-0, easily scoring on Hall of Fame goalie Georges Vezina. Montreal tied the series in Game 2, winning 4-2 as Newsy Lalonde scored all four goals. In Game 3, Seattle won 7-2 on Frank Foyston's four goals.

Game 4 ended at 0-0 after 1 hour, 40 minutes of overtime. And Game 5 stretched into overtime, too, going an extra 15:57 before Odie Cleghorn scored for Montreal to tie the series at two games apiece.

But there was a problem: The players were exhausted. The flu outbreak was becoming widespread, and Montreal defenseman Joe Hall left Game 5 with a high fever (he never made it out of the hospital in Seattle and died of the flu). Lalonde was sick, too. Three other Canadiens and manager George Kennedy were hospitalized.

Rosters were limited to eight skaters back then, and Montreal was left with three healthy players. Kennedy offered to use replacements from Victoria, but Seattle balked.

So the series was abandoned after five games, declared a deadlock.

Perhaps sports historians should have sensed in October that something would be amiss come Stanley Cup time. After all, that's when the season was supposed to begin -- and also the month in which the Boston Red Sox won the World Series.

The last time the Red Sox were baseball's champions, of course, was 1918, and the following spring there was no Stanley Cup.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press