The Pittsburgh Pirates were a professional ice hockey team in the National Hockey League (NHL), based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from 1925–26 to 1929–30. The nickname comes from the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team. For the 1930–31 season the team moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and played one season as the Philadelphia Quakers.
Franchise History[edit | edit source]
Early Days[edit | edit source]
The Pittsburgh Pirates' history traces back to the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets of the US Amateur Hockey Association. The Yellow Jackets' owner was a former referee named Roy Schooley. Even though the team won the USAHA Championship in 1924 and 1925, Schooley encountered financial problems. His team was purchased by attorney James F. Callahan. Callahan renamed the team the Pittsburgh Pirates, after he cashed in a favor from Barney Dreyfuss the owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team. During this time, Eddie Livingstone was eyeing Pittsburgh as a city for his proposed rival league to the NHL, and Frank Calder negotiated to put a franchise in Pittsburgh to thwart this. This resulted in the Pirates being granted a franchise by the National Hockey League (NHL) on November 7, 1925, becoming the seventh team to join the NHL as well as the league's third US-based team.
The Pirates were assigned, to what would later be called, the NHL's American Division with the Boston Bruins and the New York Americans. The only other American teams in the NHL were the Bruins (1924 – present) and the New York Americans (1925 – 1942). The Duquesne Gardens, located in the city's Oakland neighborhood, served as the team's home arena. The Pirates, dubbed the "Mighty Steel City Sextet" in the Pittsburgh Press, were comprised mostly of leftovers from the former Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets. Ten former Yellow Jacket players would play for the Pirates.
Inaugural Season[edit | edit source]
The Pirates first season was the 1925–26 NHL season. On Thanksgiving night 1925, the Pirates beat the Boston Bruins, 2-1, on the road in their very first NHL game on November 26, 1925 at the Boston Arena. Defenceman and captain Lionel Conacher scored Pittsburgh's first-ever NHL goal. Conacher beat Boston goaltender Charles Stewart at the 17:50 mark of the second period to tie the game at 1-1. Pirates' left wing Harold Darragh notched Pittsburgh's first game-winning goal 9:20 into the third period. While Pittsburgh goaltender Roy Worters stopped 26 of 27 shots to record the first win in franchise history.
Two nights later, on November 28, 1925, the Pirates would stun the Montreal Canadiens. Legendary Habs goaltender, Georges Vezina, would play his final game in a 1-0 loss to the Pirates. Vezina had started the game with severe chest pains and left the game during the first intermission with a high fever. He died four months later from tuberculosis.
The first NHL game ever played in Pittsburgh was on December 2, 1925 in which 8,200 fans paid $1.00 to see the 8:30 p.m. faceoff at The Gardens. The Pirates lost to the New York Americans in overtime, 2-1, and Conacher scored the lone goal for Pittsburgh at 9:15 of the second period.
In 36 games, the Pirates had an impressive 19 wins, 16 losses, and 1 tie for third best in the league. With a 0.542 winning percentage, that first season would arguably be the team's best. They made the playoffs their inaugural year. The Pirates faced the Montreal Maroons in a best-of-three, semi-final Stanley Cup playoff series. However the team lost the series to Montreal in two straight games at the Duquesne Gardens. The Maroons would later win the Stanley Cup.
1926-1928[edit | edit source]
After a good start to their franchise history, things went downhill from there. In their second season, 1926–1927, the Pirates missed the playoffs after finishing in fourth place.
The Pirates' third season (1927–28) was that other season. In their third season, 1927–1928, the Pirates had 19 wins, 17 losses, and 8 ties and made the playoffs. This playoff series would be based on a two game total goal series format. In the playoffs the Pirates would be beaten by the Rangers 6-4. As their 4-2 win in Game 2 could not overcome a 4-0 white washing that they suffered in Game 1. This marked the second time the team lost in the first round to the eventual Stanley Cup winner. It would turn out to be the last playoff game the Pirates would play.
Decline[edit | edit source]
In 1928 financial problems forced the original owner, Callahan, to sell the team to an ownership group which included mobster Bill Dwyer with Boxing promoter and ex-lightweight boxing champion, Benny Leonard as his front man. Despite the sale of the team, things didn't improve on the ice. Cleghorn left the team at the end of the 1928–1929 season and became a referee in the league. This led to the Pirates to assign coaching duties to Frank Fredrickson in 1929–30. The team also switched to black and orange uniforms for their fifth and what would be their final season. The 1929–30 season saw the Pirates achieve their worst win-loss record with 5 wins, 36 losses, and 3 ties in 44 games. In five seasons, they were above .500 only twice and made the playoffs only twice.
Things didn't improve financially either. With the stock market crash of 1929 followed by the Great Depression, the owners found themselves in financial difficulties. Attendance was down and they tried selling off their star players to make ends meet. The team was $400,000 in debt by the end of the 1929–30 season and in need to replace the aging Duquesne Gardens.
Relocation[edit | edit source]
On October 18, 1930 at the NHL Governors meeting, Leonard moved the team to the other side of Pennsylvania and renamed them the Philadelphia Quakers. However, Leonard's intention was to return the team to Pittsburgh as soon as a new arena was built. Thirteen players from the Pirates were transferred to the Philadelphia Quakers after Pittsburgh franchise relocated. These players were Cliff Barton, Harold Darragh, Herb Drury, Gord Frasier, Jim Jarvis, Gerry Lowrey, Rennison Manners, Johnny McKinnon, Hib Milks, Joe Miller, Rodger Smith & Tex White. Frank Fredrickson was also transferred to the Quakers, but he was released by Philadelphia two days later. The Quakers had a wretched season in 1930–31. The team then received permission from the NHL on September 26, 1931 to temporally cease operations as they sought a permanent arena in either Pittsburgh or Philadelphia.
Meanwhile the poor economy was taking a toll on the entire league. The Great Depression would devastate the NHL as 4 teams were forced to fold, leaving behind just six teams. When a new Pittsburgh arena failed to materialize, Leonard surrendered his franchise in 1936. As it turned out, a new arena in Pittsburgh wouldn't be built until the Pittsburgh Civic Arena (now Mellon Arena) opened in 1961. The NHL would play with six teams for 25 years before deciding to expand. The expansion in 1967 brought the Pittsburgh Penguins to the NHL and the city of Pittsburgh and the orange and black uniformed Philadelphia Flyers to Philadelphia. The last active Pirates player was Cliff Barton, who played his last NHL game in 1940.
Historic Firsts[edit | edit source]
The Pittsburgh Pirates have left their mark in the NHL record books and NHL history with many firsts and other notable achievements.
- Odie Cleghorn, the Pirates' coach (and occasional player) for the first four seasons, was the first NHL coach to change his players on the fly.
- Cleghorn was also the first coach to use three set forward lines, which was a huge change from the standard, which was to simply leave the best players out for as long as possible.
- The Pirates set an NHL record in salaries by signing defenceman Lionel Conacher to a three-year deal worth $7,500 a year. Conacher was later named Canada's athlete of the half-century.
- On December 26, 1926 the Pirates and the New York Americans combined for a still standing NHL record for most shots in one game. The two teams combined for 141 shots in a 3–1 New York win. Roy Worters made 70 saves for the Pirates and Jake Forbes made 67 saves for the Americans. That is a record that still stands today.
- The Pirates were the first team in Pittsburgh to use the black & gold color scheme.
Logos and Uniforms[edit | edit source]
The Pirates were the first team in Pittsburgh to use the black & gold color scheme, basing their colors around the Flag of Pittsburgh's colors. Decades after the team folded, the colors have become the team colors of all three of Pittsburgh's major sports teams. However, during the team's existence, they would be the only team in the city with the colors, as the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team, like all other baseball teams at the time, had a more patriotic red, white, and blue color scheme and wouldn't adopt black & gold until 1948. The NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers were not in existence until 1933, three years after the team left town and two years after the franchise folded altogether.
The Pirates would later have a connection with Pittsburgh's next NHL franchise; the Pittsburgh Penguins used the Pirates as an example of a team other than the Boston Bruins using the black & gold color scheme when the Bruins protested to the NHL over the Penguins change in team colors in January 1980. The NHL allowed the Penguins to change their colors as a result of the Pirates using these colors.
The Pirates wore bright yellow wool jerseys with black trim stripes with a "P" on the front of their jerseys during the 1925–1926 season. The team used the Pittsburgh's city crest emblems from older police jackets on the uniform sleeves. Callahan's brother was a policeman in the city and offered the use of police emblems to the team. The first year jerseys appear to have been inherited from the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets old jerseys. The Pirates featured new jerseys in 1928–29 that were gold with black striping. The word "Pirates" written in arched, blocked lettering. The city crest on the sleeves was replaced with a "P".
In 1929–30 the Pirates switched to black and orange uniforms for their fifth and final season. The wool jerseys featured a chain-knit logo of a pirate face with an eye patch and hat with skull and cross bones. The jersey featured double striping on the sleeves and a diagonal background behind the crest. The orange and black remained when the Pirates moved across the state to become the Quakers, Philadelphia's first NHL team, adopting script lettering like the original Pirates' uniforms. When the Philadelphia Flyers joined the NHL in 1967, they adopted the orange and black colors first worn by the Pirates and Quakers.
Olympic Winners[edit | edit source]
Members of the team who were also Olympics medalists.
1920[edit | edit source]
- Frank Frederickson won a gold medal with the Canadian national hockey team
- Herb Drury won a silver medal with the American national hockey team
1924[edit | edit source]
- Bert McCaffrey won a gold medal with the Canadian national hockey team
- Herb Drury won a silver medal with the American national hockey team
Season-by-Season Record[edit | edit source]
Note: GP = Games played, W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, Pts = Points, GF = Goals for, GA = Goals against, PIM = Penalties in minutes
|1925–26||36||19||16||1||39||82||70||264||third in NHL||Lost Semi-finals (Maroons)|
|1926–27||44||15||26||3||33||79||108||230||fourth in American||Out of Playoffs|
|1927–28||44||19||17||8||46||67||76||395||third in American||Lost Semi-finals (Rangers)|
|1928–29||44||9||27||8||26||46||80||324||fourth in American||Out of Playoffs|
|1929–30||44||5||36||3||13||102||185||384||fifth in American||Out of Playoffs|
See Also[edit | edit source]
- Philadelphia Quakers
- List of Pittsburgh Pirates (NHL) players
- Head Coaches of the Pittsburgh Pirates (NHL)
- List of Pittsburgh Pirates seasons
References[edit | edit source]
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- Hockey Database
- Sports Encyclopedia: Pitsburgh Pirates (NHL)
- Pittsburgh Sports Report March 2008
|National Hockey League|
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