On March 26, 1917, the Seattle Metropolitans defeat the famed Montreal Canadiens 9-1 to win the Stanley Cup, capturing the best-of-five series in four games. The Metropolitans are the first American team to win hockey's most coveted prize, and their victory gives Seattle its first major professional sports championship. Metropolitans center Bernie Morris scores six goals in the deciding Game 4 victory, putting the finishing touches on a Stanley Cup Final for the ages. His 14 total goals for the series are three more than the Canadiens team and remain the most ever scored in a Stanley Cup Final.
Prelude to a Championship
Beginning with the 1914-1915 season, the winners of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) and the National Hockey Association (NHA) played a championship series for the Stanley Cup, hockey's most coveted prize. The location of the championship series rotated each season between the two leagues. The first season, the Vancouver Millionaires swept the Ottawa Senators in Vancouver to become the first western team to win the Cup. The following year, the Canadiens won their first of 24 Stanley Cups, defeating the Portland Rosebuds in Montreal.
The 1915-1916 season was the PCHA's first with four franchises: Vancouver, Portland, the Victoria Aristocrats, and the expansion Seattle Metropolitans. Portland (13-5) dominated the regular season, winning the league title by four games over second-place Seattle and Vancouver (9-9). The Rosebuds then became the first American team to play for the Stanley Cup, losing in five games to the Canadiens. Late in the year, the Canadian military commandeered the Victoria arena as a weapons depot, leaving the Aristocrats homeless for the duration of the war. That offseason, league founder Lester Patrick moved his Victoria franchise to Spokane, rebranding as the Canaries.
When the 1916-1917 season began, expectations for the second-year Metropolitans were high. Five Seattle players had already won the Stanley Cup with Toronto in 1914, and though it had taken the "Mets" much of the 1915-1916 season to coalesce, they had won five of their final six games. They were the league's most complete team over the final nine games, scoring the second most goals and allowing the second fewest. All signs pointed to a run at the 1917 PCHA championship.
In his season preview for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, reporter Royal Brougham (1894-1978) wrote, "With four of the best teams ever assembled in the history of the sport on the coast, followers of the popular ice sport are holding their breath and waiting for the start of what should be a banner hockey year" ("Hockey Teams In ..."). Of the 28 starting players in the PCHA that season, an astounding 14 would later be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame (seven Millionaires, three Metropolitans, three Rosebuds, and one Aristocrat).
The Mets opened the season at Vancouver against a supremely talented Millionaires squad. Visions of announcing their arrival as a championship-ready team immediately evaporated in a hail of Vancouver goals, the Millionaires trouncing Seattle 6-1. A quick turnaround did not materialize, and after four games, Seattle was 1-3 and in last place with the league's worst offense and second-worst defense. With criticism mounting from media and fans, coach Pete Muldoon (1887-1929) remained positive, telling Brougham that the Metropolitans would soon turn it around and that by season's end, goaltender Hap Holmes and the Seattle defense would rank as the league's best. He was correct.
In their first game following the 1-3 start, goalie Harry "Hap" Holmes registered the league's first shutout of the season and the Mets reeled off four consecutive victories. They found themselves atop the standings on January 1, 1917. In the first game of the new year, however, the Mets were beaten badly at home by Portland in a physical game that Brougham wrote was, "a wild battle that started in whirlwind fashion and ended like a miniature Verdun." Nine games into the season, a single game separated first from last place.
Epic Clash in Portland
It didn't take long for the Mets to develop intense rivalries with both Portland and Vancouver. In Vancouver, the Mets found kindred spirits. Both teams played an athletically similar brand of hockey and shared a deep respect for one another. In contrast, Portland's style was based on the eastern philosophy of size and brute strength. The Rosebuds used those attributes to push Seattle around, causing the Mets to routinely abandon their gameplan and react to the Rosebuds' physical play. The majority of Seattle's penalty minutes the first few seasons came against Portland. A heated rivalry grew, but it was one-sided as the Rosebuds won two-thirds of the games.
At the halfway point in the 24-game season, the Mets remained in first place, though only two games up on last-place Portland. By February 1, Seattle and Vancouver began to pull away from Victoria and Portland, leading to a dramatic finish. The Mets played their final game at Portland, the league's toughest road venue. With a win, the crown belonged to the Metropolitans. Lose, and a two-game aggregate-goal playoff series would be staged the following week against Vancouver. The Metropolitans were 1-6 all-time at Portland, while the Rosebuds were 6-1 that season against Seattle and Vancouver in the Rose City. Most pundits thought a Seattle victory improbable.
With excitement in Seattle peaking, an additional railcar brimming with Metropolitans fans was affixed to the team train to Portland. In a game on par with the greatest in team history, Seattle won 4-3 on a last-minute Bernie Morris goal. An exuberant Brougham penned, "It's all over but the shouting. Showing all kinds of dash and pep, the Seattle Mets won the 1916-17 championship of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association by trimming the Portland Uncle Sams four goals to three" ("Metropolitans Beat Rose ...").
Direct Path to the Cup Final
Nineteen-seventeen was the final year in which the PCHA regular season champion went directly into the Stanley Cup Final. The lack of any playoff rounds thus amplified the importance of each regular season game, giving the PCHA its finest season. For the first time, the championship was won on the final day.
In the NHA, the season was split in halves, with the winners playing an aggregate-goals series for the championship. Montreal won the first half and overwhelmed the red-hot Ottawa Senators, winners of the second half, to claim the title.
The Canadiens immediately boarded a train for the west coast. Tradition held that the defending champion brought the Stanley Cup with them. The ultra-confident Canadiens saw no need to follow tradition, thinking themselves unbeatable, and left the Cup in Montreal with manager George Kennedy (1881-1921) bragging, "the Canadiens will win without much effort," and star player Newsy LaLonde chiming in to remind reporters to "not lose sight of the fact that we played the majority of those Mets for two seasons in the East and there is nothing they can show us about hockey" ("Montreal Team Makes ...").
So confident were the Canadiens that they stopped to barnstorm on the trip west, setting foot in Seattle only on the morning of Game 1. Upon their arrival, Kennedy told reporters, "I do not expect my men to have their feet tonight because of the long trip they have just finished. Seattle may win tonight, but after that I shall be greatly surprised if my men do not make a clean sweep of the remaining games" ("Mets Will Fight ...").
When Game 1 began, it was quickly evident that the Canadiens had their feet, and by night's end, Kennedy's men had dismantled the Mets, jumping out to a 5-1 lead before coasting to an 8-4 victory. Broughham, the Mets' official scorer in addition to his newspaper duties, quipped that "the locals played like a lot of school boys" ("Seattle is Beaten ..."). Pundits now saw a quick end to the series. The previous night's "fracas was expected to be the Mets' best chance to stop the Montreal crowd as everything was in their favor," wrote Brougham. If Montreal continues to "play in last night's style and if Seattle isn't over its stage fright by Tuesday, the home pets are in for another drubbing" ("Seattle is Beaten ...").
Instead, Hap Holmes and the Mets defense suffocated the explosive Canadiens' offense over the next three games. Seattle limited Montreal to one late goal in each game, outscoring the Flying Frenchmen 19-3 to run away with the Cup, winning 6-1 in Game 2, 4-1 in Game 3, and 9-1 in Game 4. Bernie Morris' 14 goals led all scorers, while Frank Foyston added seven.
'Hockey Champions of the Universe'
The championship, over hockey's most storied franchise and defending Stanley Cup champions, was a crowning achievement for the burgeoning city. The next day's Seattle Post-Intelligencer read:
"Seattle's valiant hockey team put the climax on a successful ice revolution at the Arena last night, kicked the props from under the tottering Canadien dynasty and climbed rough-shod over the fallen monarchs to the place of power as hockey champions of the universe. Historians who write of the rise and fall of Les Canadiens dynasty will record how the dashing band of Flying Frenchmen traveled 5,000 miles to find an adversary worthy of its steel and discovered a foe that outclassed it in every department of the great ice game. Chroniclers will tell how the Montreal invaders battled with all the skill and cunning in their power but met a team that would not yield and fought back with a speed, skill and tremendous driving force before which the defense of the Canadiens was futile" ("Mets Capture ...").
The Montreal Daily Mail wrote simply, the Canadiens "never gave up but they were outclassed" ("Canadiens Went To ...").
News of the Metropolitans' exploits graced the pages of major North American newspapers ranging from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to the Boston Globe to the Vancouver Daily World to the Ottawa Journal. The New York Times Sunday edition covered Game 3, announcing the Metropolitans had taken the lead in the best-of-five series.
The Stanley Cup series featured nine future hockey Hall of Famers: Seattle's Frank Foyston (1891-1966), Jack Walker (1888-1950), and Hap Holmes (1888-1941) against Montreal's Newsy Lalonde (1887-1970), Didier Pitre (1883-1934), Georges Vezina (1887-1926), Jack Laviolette (1879-1960), and Tommy Smith (1885-1966). Seattle resident Mickey Ion (1886-1964), inducted in 1961, refereed the series.
At the end of the season, the Mets were lavised with league awards. Foyston was voted PCHA MVP. Morris' 54 points set the league record; a mark never broken. Holmes and the Seattle defense ranked first while the Mets' offense finished second. Two All-PCHA teams were released with Foyston, Morris, and Walker making the league's squad while Foyston, Holmes, and Morris were media selections. Morris was one of only three unanimous selections to the league's all-star team.
The Mets were the PCHA's most successful franchise over their nine years and played for the Stanley Cup twice more, tying in 1919 and losing in 1920. The franchise disbanded after the 1924 season when the its home arena was converted into a parking garage for the newly constructed Olympic Hotel. Though most Metropolitans players continued their careers in the NHL, many returned to Seattle to raise families. The pinnacle of the Metropolitans' success, the 1917 Stanley Cup victory, remains an enduring part of Seattle's sports legacy.