Foyston, Frank Corbett (1891-1966)

  • By Kevin Ticen
  • Posted 2/17/2023
  • Essay 22638
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Frank Foyston was the first captain of the Seattle Metropolitans hockey club, scored the first goal in franchise history, was the city's first athlete to win a major league Most Valuable Player award, and the city's first athlete to be inducted into a hall of fame. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Royal Brougham, who chronicled Foyston's Seattle career, wrote, "there may have been better men on skates, but nobody can prove it" ("Christmas Cards ..."). Slight of build but supremely confident and a fearless competitor, Foyston played 16 seasons in major league hockey, including nine with the Mets, followed by a successful coaching career, before retiring to his turkey ranch near Port Orchard. After Foyston died in 1966, Brougham wrote, "you missed one of the all-time greats if you never saw Frank Foyston perform with a hockey stick. He wielded it like Fritz Kreisler his bow, Willie Mays his bat, and Arnold Palmer his 2-iron" ("Spinning the Sports ...").

Out of Ontario

Born in Minesing, Ontario, on February 2, 1891, Frank Corbett Foyston was the third of seven siblings, including six boys. He grew up in a tightknit family in which the spotlight rarely shone on any individual member. As he began to excel in hockey, a certain selflessness pervaded his playing style. Though he was a great scorer – he would twice lead the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) in goals – he was "one of the most unselfish players in the game. Any time he sees a man in a better position to take a shot, that man is going to have the opportunity" ("Team Work Will ..."). Foyston had the rare ability to make those around him better without sacrificing his own chances. "He instills confidence in his teammates and it is this quality as much as his playing ability which makes him a valuable asset to any team" ("Foyston on Edge ...").

Foyston won the first of his three career Stanley Cups in 1913-1914 as a 23-year-old upstart with the Toronto Blueshirts, and then in November 2015, Foyston and four of his Toronto teammates moved west to form the core of the expansion Seattle Metropolitans of the PCHA. Blueshirts teammates Jack Walker (1888-1950) and Cully Wilson (1892-1962) were more heralded when they arrived in the Northwest, but Foyston was named team captain by coach Pete Muldoon (1887-1929), who said Foyston was a "first-class leader" ("Hockey Gossip ..."). Muldoon was prescient; Foyston became the heart of the Metropolitans. Recalling the team years later, Royal Brougham wrote, "the bright and shining star was a blond, hollow cheeked little fellow with a slim, almost fragile looking body which made him appear like a choir boy trying to play a man’s game. But when the whistle blew, Frank Foyston was a whirling dervish on skates, a will o’ the wisp with an uncanny shooting eye" ("Foyston’s Visit ...").

Foyston played 16 seasons of major league hockey overall, nine with the Metropolitans. An all-star in each of his final eight Seattle campaigns, he was named to the PCHA's all-star first team six times. He holds the Mets' career records for goals, points, and games played, and ranks third in assists. Bernie Morris (1890-1963) set the Seattle goals record for a single season, but Foyston has the next three best marks. In 1958, Foyston was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. "He was considered an offensive magician and star attraction wherever he played," wrote the Hall. 

Most Valuable Player

The Metropolitans' 1916-1917 season was dramatic. The PCHA consisted of just four franchises -- Seattle, Spokane, Vancouver, Portland -- and all were formidable. In this high-water season for the PCHA, Morris set the league's points mark, and Vancouver’s Doc Roberts set the goals record – yet Foyston was named the league's Most Valuable Player. As the Mets held off the supremely talented Vancouver Millionaires for two fraught months, it was Foyston who routinely made the critical play.

In the 1917 Stanley Cup Final, a best-of-five series against the Montreal Canadiens, Foyston’s leadership shepherded a remarkable turnaround after a crushing defeat in Game 1. The Mets rose up, outscoring the "Flying Frenchmen" 19-3 over the final three games to claim the Stanley Cup. Every skater played so well that The Seattle Times' Game 2 recap noted, "Picking stars from the Seattle team last night is as difficult as locating a summer resort in Iceland. Every man on the team played remarkable hockey" ("Mets Triumph In ..."). Morris’s 14 goals in the series remain the most scored in a Stanley Cup Final, while Foyston’s seven also broke the previous record and stands fifth today. Remarkably, the pair’s scoring exploits came against Georges Vezina (1887-1926), their generation's greatest goaltender and himself a Hall of Famer. Today the NHL's goalie-of-the-year award is named for Vezina. 

A Call to Arms

The 1917-1918 season was marked by upheaval. The U.S. formally entered World War I less than two weeks after the Metropolitans' stunning 1917 Stanley Cup championship, but Canada had been at war since 1914. Needing replacement soldiers, the Canadian government passed the Military Service Act in August 1917, subjecting all male citizens between the ages of 20 and 45 to military service. A September 16, 1917, Seattle Times headline announced, "Hockey May Be Killed By War." Players were "unable to leave Canada except under passport for only two weeks absence" until their draft deferments were heard ("Hockey May Be ..."). Married men were expected to receive waivers, but the Mets' roster included five bachelors, and it was clear "the Seattle team will probably be hit hardest" by the Canadian draft ("Hockey League to ...").

The situation remained unsettled by Thanksgiving 1917. Morris, who was married, was granted an exemption by the Canadian government, as were Wilson and Bobby Rowe (1886-1947), but the remaining players had not yet had their cases heard. The start of the season was pushed back until December 28. Walker and Eddie Carpenter (1890-1963) were granted exemptions but were compelled to remain in Canada working jobs essential to the war effort. Five days before the opening game, Jim Riley (1895-1969) and Roy Rickey (1893-1959) were granted deferments, but, reported The Seattle Times, "Captain Foyston ... seems lost" for the season. "A letter received from him yesterday stated that as yet he knew nothing of his draft status and would have to await some word before he could leave Canada" ("Seattle Hockey Team ...").

On December 26, news broke that the PCHA would play the season with only three teams due to a dearth of professional players. Muldoon, the Mets' coach, would move to Portland to coach the Rosebuds, and PCHA owner and hockey legend Lester Patrick (1883-1960) would coach Seattle.

Patrick’s first act as Mets manager was to quash rumors that Foyston would play the 1917-1918 season in the NHL, stating he "had not given up hope of getting Frank Foyston back" ("Hockey to Open ..."). Some three weeks into the season, with the Mets in last place, a message from Foyston arrived for Patrick: "Leaving tonight for Seattle. Will arrive Sunday. Am in good condition" ("Foyston Will Join ..."). "The Seattle team’s hockey title chances went skyward last night," reported the Post-Intelligencer, "when it was learned that Frank Foyston, last year’s captain of the world’s champions, had left Toronto for Seattle" ("Foyston Will Join ...").

Foyston met the team in Vancouver, where the Mets responded with a comeback victory against the Millionaires on January 22. Upon its return to Seattle, the club announced that a "Foyston Day" would be held at the Ice Arena. "Reliable old Frank is one of the most popular men who ever wore a local uniform and the Seattle fans want to let him know they are glad he is back" ("Hockey Septet to ..."). On January 30, the Metropolitans overcame a two-goal deficit to beat Vancouver in double overtime on Foyston Night. A "blushing Frank, laying aside the floral bouquet and gifts presented him at the opening of hostilities, skated out and figured prominently in the victory. Foyston snagged a pair of goals himself; was credited with one assist, and put up a flashy game from every angle" ("Seattle Beats Vancouver ..."). The win rocketed the Metropolitans into first place, where they remained at season’s end. Though they claimed their second consecutive PCHA championship, they were upset by Vancouver in the playoffs.

Shortly after the season, Foyston's military deferment expired and he was drafted into an infantry regiment likely heading to Europe. Goalie Hec Fowler, who had filled in for veteran Hap Holmes (1888-1941) during the 1917-1918 season, was likewise drafted. In May, "a draft of cadets for the royal air force arrived" in Toronto in the charge of lieutenant Frank Foyston, who had been "transferred to the flying corps, where he hopes to become a pilot" ("Ex-Seattle Hockey ..."). Foyston spent the summer of 1918 in Toronto training alongside some of hockey’s biggest names. "Fate is dealing strangely with the nine athletes who made up the great Seattle hockey team of 1918," wrote The Seattle Times ("Fate Put Out ..."). 

In October 1918, rumors again spread that even if Foyston wasn’t immediately sent to Europe, he would be obligated to remain in the East and perhaps play in the NHL. The Toronto owners "made an offer to Frank Patrick of the Pacific Coast Hockey League for the services of Frank Foyston," telling the Ottawa Citizen of their "desire to have Foyston as captain of our team" ("Toronto Arena Hockey ..."). At month's end, word reached Seattle that Foyston had been seriously ill with the Spanish Flu but was now recovered and had "passed his examinations as a flyer and expects to go overseas shortly" ("Influenza Takes In ..."). Instead, the war ended on November 11, though death continued unabated as the Spanish Flu spread, made drastically worse by returning soldiers. The PCHA directors scheduled a meeting to plan the season as soon as "the quarantine ban is lifted," signaling a likely January start to the campaign ("Pacific Coast Hockey ..."). On December 5, 1918, Foyston wired that he had been discharged and was on his way to Seattle. 

Back in Action

In the shortened 1918-1919 season, the Metropolitans finished second behind Vancouver during the regular season and then defeated the Millionaires in a two-game playoff series determined by aggregate goals to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. And they prevailed without Morris, who was arrested the afternoon of Game 1 and charged with draft evasion. 

What seemed to be insurmountable loss was overcome when the Metropolitans pounded the Millionaires 6-1 in the opening contest and effectively ended the series. As he had done countless times over his career, Foyston shouldered the burden; filling whatever void was needed at any moment – in this case, scoring. In the most pressure-filled game of the season with the Mets making their "crippled stand against the invaders," Foyston "played the best hockey of his career" ("Seattle Overwhelms Vancouver ..."). So extraordinary was the Mets' effort that Brougham quipped, "the coast artillery boys got in from the front last night and Hughie Lehman, goaltender of the Vancouver hockey team, thought they were all up at the Arena shooting hockey pucks at him" ("Seattle Gets Big ...").

In the Stanley Cup Final against Montreal, Foyston scored nine goals, second-most all-time, to lead Seattle in a dominating performance. The Mets outscored the Canadiens 19-10 for the series and were on the cusp of winning their second Stanley Cup, but on the morning of the deciding game, the Canadiens' roster was ravaged by the Spanish Flu. Eventually the disease claimed the life of Hockey Hall of Famer Joe Hall (1881-1919), who died in a Seattle hospital. The health department stepped in and the series was abandoned, ending the Final in a tie, with no Stanley Cup awarded.   

Into the Coaching Ranks

A year later, with Morris in prison for the 1919-1920 season, Foyston topped the PCHA in goals for the first time and led the Metropolitans to their third Stanley Cup Final in four years. But despite Foyston’s six goals in the Stanley Cup Final, the Metropolitans lost the Cup to the Ottawa Senators in five games.

Foyston continued to lead the Metropolitans until the franchise disbanded following the 1923-1924 season. From Seattle he moved to Victoria, where he played in two more Stanley Cup Finals and won the Cup with the Cougars in 1925 against Montreal. After the 1925-1926 season, the Victoria franchise moved to Detroit, and Foyston spent his final two seasons in the National Hockey League. All told, he played in six Stanley Cup Finals, registering 26 goals in 25 games. With the Metropolitans, he scored 22 goals with five assists in 14 games.

Upon his retirement, Foyston moved easily into the coaching ranks. After a few years in the Northeast, he was hired to coach the Seattle Seahawks, a minor league franchise founded by former Mets coach Pete Muldoon. Foyston was hugely successful as a coach, The Seattle Times calling him "one of the most popular managers ever to direct a sports venture in Seattle" ("Foyston Given Promotion ..."). Foyston coached Seattle stalwarts Johnny Houbregs (1908-1994), Emmett Venne (1906-1968), Dave Gilhooly (1911-1978), and Hal Tabor (1909-2001). Two-time Stanley Cup champion Roger Jenkins told radio man Leo Lassen that "Frank Foyston taught him more about hockey fundamentals than any of the many coaches and managers with whom he has been associated" ("This Ice Age ..."). 

When the Seahawks hired Foyston in 1933, he said, "I’ll try to find a winning team for the Seattle fans. They’re all my friends so how can I disappoint them" ("Former Met To ..."). In just his second season, he fulfilled that promise by leading the Seahawks to their first regular-season title, though they lost in the playoffs. 

Inexplicably, he was fired a few days before the following season in "one of the biggest surprises of Seattle sports history" ("Gagne Resigns; Foyston ..."). To save the cost of one salary, Seahawks management replaced him with former Montreal Canadien Art Gagne as a player/coach. "Art is a fine fellow ... I wish him all the success in the world," Foyston said ("It Isn’t News ..."). But the highly touted Seahawks fell apart under Gagne and sat deep in last place six weeks later. Recognizing their mistake, the club fired Gagne and brought back Foyston in mid-December. A second Foyston Night was scheduled for early January; it attracted a who’s who of Seattle sports, including former Metropolitans stars Wilson, Walker, Morris, and Rowe. Remarkably, "under Foyston’s expert handling, the team righted itself, soared to the top in Seattle’s most thrilling athletic comeback and waltzed through the playoffs to win the championship" ("Foyston Quits Job ...").

Life After Seattle Hockey

Foyston directed the Seahawks for a total of four seasons before announcing his retirement from hockey in the summer of 1937. While he never coached again, he remained a staple at games, cheering on all iterations of Seattle hockey from the Seahawks and Ironmen through the Totems, once remarking, "I’d love to have had a Guyle Fielder on any of my teams" ("Arena Demolished, Memories ..."). In 1945, the Ironmen played the Boston Olympics for the national amateur hockey championship. Asked to compare the Ironmen to the Metropolitans, Foyston said, "Conditions are different; the style of play has radically changed. But I will say that we old timers were never able to keep up the sustained speed of the modern players. These fellows really ramble up and down the ice" ("Foyston Lauds ..."). Wrote Brougham: "Down in his heart, Frank probably feels like some of the rest of us old fans ... the 1945 Ironmen don’t rate with Foyston, Jack Walker, Hap Holmes, Bernie Morris, Cully Wilson, Bobby Rowe and the rest of the old era. In their prime, they were the best in the world" ("Foyston Lauds ...").

Late in their playing careers, teammates Foyston and Morris had purchased adjoining turkey farms on Long Lake near Port Orchard. Brougham wrote in 1941 that "those two turkey ranchers in the front row of the hockey game Friday night were only a couple of the greatest players of all time – Frank Foyston and Bernie Morris" ("The Morning After"). In 1963, Foyston watched as the structure that housed the old Seattle Ice Arena was demolished to make way for the IBM Building in downtown Seattle. Ever the hockey enthusiast, he reminisced that "Seattle was a real great hockey town in those days. And it still is for that matter" ("Arena Demolished, Memories ..."). The Post-Intelligencer wrote, "Foyston, at age 72, is just as sharp as his shot from the blue line was back in 1917. But, to many of his neighbors on Long Lake, near Port Orchard across the Sound, he’s just another turkey rancher" ("Arena Demolished, Memories ...").

Foyston was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in April 1958, the first Seattle athlete enshrined in a major sports hall of fame. He would be joined by teammates Walker (1960) and Holmes (1972). (The Sonics’ Lenny Wilkens (1989), Seahawks’ Steve Largent (1995), Mariners’ Randy Johnson (2015), and the Storm’s Lauren Jackson (2020) were first in their respective sports.) Meanwhile, superlatives flowed any time Foyston’s name appeared in print. As a player, he was "without a doubt one of the greatest little puck chasers who ever stepped on the steel blades" ("Mets Will Start ..."). The Seattle Times wrote that "Frank Foyston is to professional hockey what Christy Mathewson has been to baseball. He plays with his head as well as his body ... is a perfect gentleman on and off the ice, and best of all ... he plays for that team, not for Frank Foyston" ("Colonel Lore Discusses ..."). 

Often, genius is manifested in one’s ability to make complexity appear ordinary. Perhaps Foyston’s brilliance is best portrayed in a Jack Walker anecdote as told to The Seattle Times. In 1929, Walker had returned to Seattle to play with Pete Muldoon’s Eskimos. Helping his old coach, Walker taught the young forwards one of Foyston’s signature moves. Foyston would "dash up to the defense at full speed, then apply the brakes and pivot to gain an opening." A straightforward play, "hundreds of times it worked for goals." The young Eskimos, however, could not execute it. "Day in and day out [Walker] drilled them at it, but they just couldn’t grasp the idea. Finally, he went to Skipper Muldoon and declared, 'Pete, it just can’t be done ... There’s only one Frank Foyston'" ("Muldoon Peer of ...").


Craig Bowlsby, Empire of Ice (Vancouver, B.C.: Knights of Winter, 2012) 98, 115, 121, 129, 145, 154, 179-80, 198, 221, 266; Kevin Ticen, When It Mattered Most (Seattle: Clyde Hill, 2019) 6, 15; “Jimmy Riley Joins Colors at Coast,” Calgary Herald, April 30, 1918, p. 12; “Hockey Notes,” Ottawa Citizen, February 21, 1914, p. 8; “Sporting Notes and Comments,” Ibid., April 5, 1918, p. 8; “Toronto Arena Hockey Club Seek Foyston As Manager Of Its New Team In NHL,” Ibid., October 22, 1918, p. 6; “Frank Foyston Ill,” Ibid., October 24, 1918, p. 8; “Fowler for Siberia,” The Province, October 3, 1918, p. 12; “Norman Fowler Is Heading For Coast,” Ibid., October 8, 1918, p. 10; “Team Work Will Play Large Part,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 24, 1915, p. 11; Royal Brougham, “Mets Surprise Champions by Big Victory,” Ibid., March 21, 1917, p. 8; Royal Brougham, “Hockey League to Operate in Spite of War, Announced,” Ibid., September 30, 1917, p. 26; “Hockey Opens Here Tuesday At the Arena,” Ibid., December 30, 1917, p. 31; “Foyston Will Join Seattle Septet Again,” Ibid., January 17, 1918, p. 10; “Mets on Way to One More Hockey Title,” Ibid., January 27, 1918, p. 23 & 25; “Foyston On Edge For Honor Night At Arena Battle,” Ibid., January 28, 1918, p. 4; “Seattle Beats Vancouver in Thrilling Game,” Ibid., January 31, 1918, p. 10; “Ex-Seattle Hockey Stars in Canadian Aviation Service,” Ibid., May 11, 1918, p. 15; “Frank Foyston to return to Coast; Holmes May Come,” Ibid., December 3, 1918, p. 13; “Mets Will Start Practice Dec. 26,” Ibid., December 15, 1918, p. 36; “Star Hockey Man Lost to Local Team,” Ibid., December 23, 1918, p. 15; “Players Anxious For Big Battle,” Ibid., December 31, 1918, p. 13; “Seattle Plays Vancouver in Title Game Tonight,” Ibid., March 12, 1919, p. 11; Royal Brougham, “Seattle Gets Big Lead in Title Hockey Series,” Ibid., March 13, 1919, p. 1; “Hockey Star To Marry Tonight,” Ibid., April 9, 1919, p. 12; “Foyston Night Set Wednesday,” Ibid., January 4, 1936, p. 14; “Foyston to Manage Seahawks,” Ibid., December 16, 1935, p. 1, 13; Leo Lassen, “Foyston Quits Job As Hawk Ice Pilot,” Ibid., June 30, 1937, p. 17; Royal Brougham, “The Morning After,” Ibid.,, February 17, 1941, p. 13; Royal Brougham, “The Morning After: The Heroes Come, The Heroes Go,” Ibid., March 1, 1938, p. 13; Leo Lassen, “Sports Parade: Ion Buzzes About Big Time Ice,” Ibid., April 29, 1938, p. 21; Leo Lassen, “This Ice Ace Gets Around,” Ibid., November 10, 1943, p. 18; Royal Brougham, “The Morning After: Thrill Makers of Athletics,” Ibid., January 18, 1944, p. 14; Royal Brougham, “The Morning After: Foyston Lauds Seattle Team,” Ibid., April 12, 1945, p. 13; Royal Brougham, “The Morning After: Christmas Cards Bring Memories,” Ibid., December 25, 1950, p. 18; Royal Brougham, “The Morning After: Foyston’s Visit Brings Memories,” Ibid., October 14, 1958, p. 24; Bill Knight, “Arena Demolished, Memories Linger,” Ibid., April 12, 1963, p. 24; Royal Brougham, “The Morning After: Spinning The Sports Wheel,” Ibid., January 23, 1966, p. 31; “The Readers Write,” Ibid., June 21, 1974, p. 17; “Hockey Team Has Fast Practice,” The Seattle Times, November 25, 1915, p. 14; “Mets Triumph In Torrid Tilt With Flying Frenchmen,” Ibid., March 21, 1917, p. 15; “Hockey May Be Killed By War,” Ibid., September 16, 1917, p. 47; “Muldoon Is Here Ready for Action,” Ibid., November 11, 1917, p. 44; “Hockey League Awaits Finish Of Draft Call,” Ibid., November 18, 1917, p. 51; “Seattle Hockey Team Shapes Up Despite Losses,” Ibid., December 23, 1917, p. 44; “Spare Players for Seattle Team Will Arrive Here Soon,” Ibid., January 16, 1918, p. 13; “Hockey League Race Furnishes Thrills,” Ibid., January 20, 1918, p. 47; “Metropolitans Hand Beating To Millionaires,” Ibid., January 23, 1918, p. 13; “Hockey Septet to Leave for Beaver Hang Out Tonight,” Ibid., January 24, 1918, p. 15; “Hockey League Leadership Is Stake Tonight,” Ibid., January 25, 1918, p. 20; “Colonel Lore Discusses Frank Foyston,” Ibid., January 30, 1918, p. 15; “Fate Puts Out New Deals For Hockey Stars,” Ibid., April 17, 1918, p. 19; “Influenza Takes In Seattle Hockey Star,” Ibid., October 12, 1918, p. 7; “Pacific Coast Hockey Season To Open Soon,” Ibid., November 12, 1918, p. 19; “Great Hockey In Sight This Early,” Ibid., December 8, 1918, p. 70; “Loss Of Players Hits Seattle Hard,” Ibid., December 23, 1918, p. 17; “Play For Western Ice Title Tonight,” Ibid., March 12, 1919, p. 22; “Seattle Overwhelms Vancouver in Hot Go,” Ibid., March 13, 1919, p. 22; “Foyston to Marry,” Ibid., March 22, 1919, p. 17; “Colonel Lore Discusses Frank Foyston, Seattle Fans to Honor Star Puck Chaser,” Ibid., January 30, 1918, p. 15; “Former Met To Guide Seattle League’s Entry,” Ibid., October 1, 1933, p. 27; “Gagne Resigns; Foyston Returns,” Ibid., December 16, 1935, p. 13; “It Isn’t News But --,” Ibid., December 16, 1935, p. 27; “Foyston Given Promotion; New Winger Signed,” Ibid., February 14, 1936, p. 12; “Seattle’s Foyston Joins Hockey Hall of Fame,” Ibid., April 28, 1958, p. 22; “Ice Hockey Under Way In Portland On Friday Night,” The Seattle Star, December 25, 1917, p. 8; “Third Successive Victory for Toronto Hockey Team,” Vancouver Daily World, March 20, 1914, p. 14; “Hockey Gossip,” Ibid., November 29, 1915, p. 11.

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