The Toronto Hockey Club, known as the Torontos and the Toronto Blueshirts were a professional National Hockey Association team that played in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The club won the Stanley Cup in 1914, before becoming the centre of controversy amongst National Hockey Association owners leading to the NHA suspending operations and the owners forming the National Hockey League. The franchise was taken away from its owner in 1917 and the Toronto players played in the NHL in 1917–18 as the Torontos, winning the Stanley Cup again under temporary ownership. The temporary operators then formed an official franchise for the 1918–19 season that eventually evolved into today's Toronto Maple Leafs.
Founding to Cup winners
In 1911 National Hockey Association (NHA) owner Ambrose O'Brien, who had operated four franchises including Cobalt, Haileybury, Montreal Canadiens and Renfrew decided not to operate hockey franchises any longer. Three of the four franchises had beened by O'Brien before the previous season and now Renfrew would fold as well. Quebec and Montreal Canadiens had bought two of the franchises from O'Brien, and the final two were sold to Toronto interests. The Toronto franchise was bought by Percy Quinn, who was also president of the Dominion Lacrosse Association, a Canadian professional lacrosse league that had patterned itself after the NHA.
Although the NHA franchise was bought from O'Brien who had operated a team with it, no other assets came with the franchise. According to Coleman, the franchise for the Blueshirts was that used by the Montreal Canadiens. Other books quote O'Brien as selling the Canadiens to George Kennedy, leaving the case of which franchise was sold in dispute. In any case, the Toronto team was built from scratch and did not include any players from Les Canadiens. The first manager was former Ottawa Senators player Bruce Ridpath, who had intended to be a playing-coach but was no longer able to play due to an injury suffered when he was struck by an automobile the previous year.
Toronto had not previously had an arena with artificial ice that would be large enough for an NHA team, but in 1911, work began on Arena Gardens, which was planned to be the largest indoor arena in Canada. Two teams were scheduled to use the rink for NHA play. The Tecumseh Club in Toronto also received an NHA franchise in 1911 and the schedule for the 1911–12 season was drawn up with two Toronto teams. No games were scheduled to be played in Toronto until the end of January, when the new arena was supposed to be ready. It soon became clear that construction of Arena Gardens would not be finished in time, and in mid-December it was announced that the two Toronto teams had been dropped from the schedule and the league would play with only four teams that season.
The Blueshirts played their first game on December 25 1912 before 4,000 fans at Arena Gardens. The Toronto Hockey Club was owned by Quinn, managed by Ridpath, and initially coached by Tom Humphrey who was soon replaced by player-coach Jack Marshall. The team Ridpath put on the ice included Cully Wilson and future hall-of-famers Hap Holmes, Harry Cameron, Frank Foyston, and Frank Nighbor. The Blueshirts finished the year in a tie for third place.
Before the 1913–14 season, the club faced some upheaval. Ridpath resigned as manager in October 1913, and the club was sold to Frank Robinson. Despite the changes, the Blueshirts won the Stanley Cup in 1914, defeating the Montreal Canadiens in a playoff to decide the NHA champion.
After the season, the team then played a series with the Victoria Cougars of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. It was intended as a challenge series for the Stanley Cup, but was ruled an unofficial challenge because Victoria had not applied to the Stanley Cup trustees. Nevertheless, the Blueshirts defeated Victoria in a best-of-five series played in Toronto in three straight games.
The Livingstone era
The next season, the team fell to fourth place in the six-team NHA with a record of 8 wins and 12 losses (down from 13 wins and 7 losses). Robinson joined the Canadian military in 1915, leaving the Blueshirts effectively rudderless. Sensing an opportunity, Eddie Livingstone, owner of the Toronto Shamrocks, purchased the Blueshirts from Robinson and owned two NHA teams.
At the same time, the Pacific Coast Hockey Association—upset over the NHA's efforts to bring Cyclone Taylor back east—broke all ties with the NHA and conducted a player raid. The PCHA created a new team in Seattle and stocked it with the Blueshirts' two leading scorers in Wilson and Foyston, their goaltender, Hap Holmes, and two other key members of the Toronto team in Jack Walker and Eddie Carpenter. The only regular Blue Shirt player to remain in Toronto was Cameron. To make up for the players lost in the raid, Livingstone transferred Shamrocks players to the Blueshirts and allowed the Shamrock franchise to go dormant. The Blueshirts, comprised mostly of former Shamrock players, skated to a record of 9 wins, 14 losses and 1 tie in the 1915–16 NHA season, finishing in last place in the five-team league.
Livingstone was frequently at odds with his fellow owners, particularly Sam Lichtenhein of the Montreal Wanderers. Tempers boiled over when the NHA added a second Toronto team in 1916–17, representing the 228th Battalion of the Canadian army. The 228th was forced to withdraw its team in mid-season when the unit was called overseas. That left the NHA with an odd number of teams, and the team owners—at a meeting that did not include Livingstone—decided to even-up the number of teams by suspending operations of the Blueshirts for the rest of the season. All players were given to other NHA teams for the rest of the season. At the time, the plan was to return the players to the Toronto franchise, but the rest of the league wanted Livingstone out.
1917–19: Arena era
Before the start of the 1917–18 season, the NHA owners announced that the league would not operate in the 1917–18 season. About two weeks later, all of the owners except Livingstone announced that they were creating a new league, the National Hockey League. Livingstone was not invited to participate in the new league. However, the other teams wished to continue a team in Toronto, and also needed a fourth team to balance the schedule due to the Quebec Bulldogs' decision to sit out the season. Accordingly, Livingstone's landlord, the Toronto Arena Company, was given a temporary Toronto franchise in the NHL and took Livingstone's Blueshirts players for the inaugural 1917–18 NHL season. At the time, Frank Calder, the NHA and NHL president, was demanding that Livingstone sell his franchise, and promised to pay Livingstone the proceeds. The NHA/NHL claimed the $5000 franchise fee from the 1919 St. Patricks was to 'buy' Livingstone's hockey club. The proceeds appear to have gone into Mr. Calder's pocket.
To Toronto fans, it would have looked like little had changed. Although the team had no official name, it was made up mostly of former Blueshirts. As a result, the newspapers still called the team the Blueshirts or the Torontos, as they always had. Led by general manager Charlie Querrie and coach Dick Carroll, the team won the Stanley Cup in 1918. In fitting fashion, no winner was engraved on the Stanley Cup. However, in 1947, the NHL added the name of the Toronto Arenas for 1918.
The Arena Company had originally promised to return the Blueshirt players to Livingstone. Instead, before the 1918–19 season, it formed a new club, the Toronto Arena Hockey Club. This new franchise was separated from the Arena Company because it was due money to Livingstone from the players and the Stanley Cup revenues (fixed later by court at $20,000). The NHL readily admitted this new team as a member in good standing. Charlie Querrie remained as general manager. It had a dismal five-win season, and blamed Livingstone for interference.
By 1919, the NHA owners had established that there would be no revival of the NHA. However, the dispute with Livingstone forced the Arena Company into bankruptcy. The Arenas were sold to a group headed by Querrie, who renamed them the Toronto St. Patricks. This team became the Toronto Maple Leafs midway through the 1926–27 season.
Despite the ties to the Blueshirts, the Maple Leafs do not claim the Blueshirts' history as their own, though they claim the history of the "temporary" Toronto franchise of 1917–18.
The following former Blueshirts have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame:
- Tom Humphrey
- Jack Marshall
- Charles L. Coleman (1966). Trail of the Stanley Cup, Vol I.. National Hockey League, 201.
- Holzman, Morey (2002). Deceptions and Doublecross. Dundurn Press.
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