Thursday, December 30, 2010

1896-97 Montreal Victorias Ernie McLea Jersey

When the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup was donated by Lord Stanley of Preston as an award for Canada's best amateur team in 1892, it was on a challenge basis, meaning more than one club could have the rights to hold the cup during a given year.

The first holders of the cup were the Montreal Hockey Club (also known as Montreal AAA, which stood for Amateur Athletic Association), who won the rights to the cup as champions of their league, the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada. In 1894, four clubs tied for the best record in the league and following a series of playoff games to break the tie, the Montreal Hockey Club repeated as champions.

The Montreal Victorias won the AHAC championship in 1895 but were not originally awarded the cup, as the trustees of the cup has already accepted a challenge for the cup, still held by the Montreal Hockey Club, from Queen's University of Kingston, Ontario.

Montreal Victorias
Graham Drinkwater of the Montreal Victorias in 1895

The trustees of the Stanley Cup, in a most unusual decision, decided that if Montreal AAA defeated Queen's University to defend the supremacy of the AHAC, the Victoria's, champions of the league that Montreal AAA belonged to, would be awarded the cup! The Montreal Hockey Club did win 5-1 and the Montreal Victorias became holders of the Stanley Cup for 1895.

The AHAC champion Victorias were challenged by the Winnipeg Victorias of the Manitoba Hockey League during the Montreal Victorias AHAC season on February 14, 1896. The Winnipeg Victorias came away victorious in the battle of Victorias by a score of 2-0, led by goalie Whitey Merritt, the first goalie to ever wear leg pads.

Two weeks later the Winnipeg Victorias locked up the MHL season title to retain ownership of the cup and were immediately challenged by the Montreal Victorias when their regular season concluded with them repeating AHAC champions in early March.

The only problem was that no suitable ice could be found with spring now on hand and the Montreal Victorias challenge, while accepted by the trustees, was postponed until the following winter. When cold weather again arrived, before the start of the 1896-97 season, the Montreal Victorias challenge of the Winnipeg Victorias was scheduled on this date in 1896 to be played at the Granite Rink in Winnipeg.

It was described at the time as the greatest sporting event in Winnipeg history, with fans paying as much as $12 for a seat while fans back in Montreal gathered for up to the minute reports via telegraph.

Things went well for the home team as Winnipeg led at halftime by a score of 4-2. Montreal fought back, and while Winnipeg was able to score again, the team from the east was able to tie the game at 5-5 before the 20 year old Ernie McLea, who had already scored twice for Montreal and with time winding down, fired his third goal of the game past Winnipeg goaltender Merritt to win the game in the closing seconds to regain the cup for the Montreal Victorias in what was called "the finest match ever played in Canada" when it was all over.

McLea's three goals were the first hat trick in Stanley Cup history.

Montreal Victorias
The AHAC champions and Stanley Cup holders, the Montreal Victorias.
Note the diminutive size of the Stanley Cup during it's formative years when compared to the AHAC championship trophy towering above it.

Graham Drinkwater and Mike Grant from the 1986 Stanley Cup champion Victorias would eventually be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, both in 1950.

The Montreal Victorias would go on to win the 1897 AHAC title that season to retain the Stanley Cup and then turn back the challenge of the Ottawa Capitals in December of 1897. After once again repeating as league champions in 1898, with McLea scoring four goals in seven league games, they would once more defeat the Winnipeg Victorias in a two-game, total-goal series by a score of 5-3 in February of 1899.

The Victorias would finally relinquish the Stanley Cup after three years and 21 days when the Montreal Shamrocks won the Canadian Amateur Hockey League championship, a new league the Montreal Victorias were now members of. The Victorias finished the season with a 6-2 record, one game behind the Shamrocks 7-1 mark with their only two losses coming at the hands of the Shamrocks.

The Victorias would never again hold the Stanley Cup, but would remain active as an amateur club as the divide between amateurs and professionals widened during the early part of the twentieth century. The Victorias would win the Allan Cup twice, once in 1908 and again in 1928 before ceasing operations in 1939.

Today's featured jersey is a 1896-97 Montreal Victorias Ernie McLea jersey. McLea became the first man to ever score a hat trick in a Stanley Cup game on this date in 1896. He joined the Victorias in 1896 for two games, scoring one goal and then appeared in two more Stanley Cup games, which included his noteworthy hat trick, the first ever in a Stanley Cup game.

Over the next three seasons, McLea scored eight in eight games in 1897, four more in seven games in 1898 and four goals in four games in 1899. He played one final game for the Victorias in 1900 and finished his five year career with 17 goals in 22 games played.

The Victorias represented the Scottish population of Montreal and wore burgundy sweaters with a "V" logo in various fonts during their early days. Like many clubs in the late 1800's the Victorias were named after Queen Victoria of England.

Montreal Victorias sweater

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