The Present Past: Calgary’s Hockey Stampede

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Maurice Richard, Elmer Lach, and Toe Blake guided the Montreal Canadiens to the 1946 Stanley Cup over the Boston Bruins in a five-game rout. With all due respect to one of the most storied organizations in professional sports, they can kick rocks. 

In 1946, the only championship that mattered to many Calgarians had little to do with the Stanley Cup or professional hockey at all. Another trophy was front of mind for Calgary hockey fans of the mid-twentieth century, as Calgary’s team competed in one of Canada’s oldest and most storied hockey tournaments, a tournament that still exists today. Come read about it after the jump.  

There are any number of trophies given out to professional athletes, some of which seem a little strange even (try rationalizing the Selke to yourself sometime). However, ask any Canucks fan, there’s something absolutely remarkable about the Stanley Cup. Aside from the fact that it is without a doubt the most spectacular item given out in pro sports, I think Colby Cosh articulated what makes the Stanley Cup different:

Acknowledging all of this, I am not here to talk about the Stanley Cup. You’ve been there, you’ve read that. Instead, let’s talk about how four decades after it was first given out, the Stanley Cup wasn’t the only hockey trophy that captured the imaginations of Canadians. The trophy I am referring to here is the Allan Cup, the trophy given to Canadian amateur hockey champions and here is the story of Calgary’s first Allan Cup Win.

THE ALLAN CUP: A WESTERN WELCOME 

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In the first few years following the Second World War, Alberta experienced an exceptional period of growth stemming from the discovery of crude oil in Leduc on February 13, 1947. However, Alberta had already established itself as an amateur hockey hotbed for a couple years before the province’s economy began its rapid expansion.

Canadian hockey was already deeply divided over which league allowed professional (financially compensated) players and which ones insisted upon players playing strictly for gentlemanly competition and love of the sport. Amateur players were also eligible to represent Canada at the Olympics because, well, the Olympics used to care about amateurism instead of EVIL CORPORATIONS MANNNNN. I’m just kidding, I love corporations. And the Olympics. And any potential sponsors of the Nation Network. 

Though it might seem like an antiquated argument, the amateur/professional debate burned white hot in Canada during the first decades of the twentieth century and to cover in the detail would require a lot more space.  

For this story, just know that the Western Canada Senior Hockey League was established in 1945, with the intention of becoming the premiere amateur hockey league on the prairies. In the first season for the WCSHL, Calgary’s team, the Stampeders, had a season to remember.

Anchored by players like Dunc Grant, Ken “Red” Hunter, Sid “Tiny” Craddock, Napoleon “Bunny” Dame, and Fred “Deargodtheseplayershadthecoolestnames” Hockeysman, the Stamps finished the season in first-place with a record of 28-7-1, seven points clear of second-place Edmonton. Also, if you’re interested, Red Hunter opened up a bar and bowling centre in Saskatoon after he retired which is still in operation today. Here’s the menu, which has a surprising amount of Asian cuisine to be honest. 

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This is Dunc, which I assume is short for Duncan? I can’t be sure. It’s a shame he missed out on the nickname ‘SLAM’ though. 

The Stampeders battled their provincial rivals, the Edmonton Flyers, for first place all season long and as Steven Sandor noted in The Battle of Alberta, the games were bonkers:

The two teams had played each other twelve times during the regular season schedule; each had won six of those encounters. What made their season series so interesting is that, in their six wins, Edmonton had outscored Calgary by a 31-19 count; in their six wins, the Stamps had outscored the Flyers by a 45-18 margin. 

Given these numbers, it shouldn’t surprise you that of the WCSHL’s top-ten scorers, all of them played for either Calgary or Edmonton. Calgary’s Dunc “SLAM” Grant scored 45 goals in 36 games, which is nuts, and Red Hunter led the league in points with 81 in 36 games, or a 2.25 ppg rate. I assume that both players had excellent corsi as well. 

It also shouldn’t surprise you that the Stampeders and Flyers faced off for the 1945-46 WCSHL championship in what was going to be a showdown of two top teams poised for a prolonged, seven-game struggle. Except it wasn’t. The Stamps pummeled the Flyers in five games over which Calgary outscored Edmonton 22-8. 

The Stamps capped off the series with a 5-0 shutout win on home ice at Calgary’s Victoria Arena, located near where the Stampede Corral sits today. Here is an image of a program from the VIctoria Arena circa 1936 courtesy of the University of Alberta’s Archive titled “Peel’s Prairie Provinces” which you can check out here.

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Side Note: This program contains a guide to the rules of hockey from 1936 which I thought was pretty cool as well. Read the section on the ‘Forward Pass,’ I am not sure if I could understand the rule less.

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POWER AND POISE

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Beating the Flyers meant that the Stampeders still had to get through two more of western Canada’s toughest teams in order to represent the West for the Allan Cup. First up, the Winnipeg Orioles for the Prairie Championship. 

The Orioles were a formidable foe and featured former New York Ranger Max Labovitch. The coach of the Orioles seemed to also think that, despite their incredibly lame team name, the Orioles were going to make short work of the Stampeders. I’ll let the sports editor of the Calgary Herald from March 26, 1946 tell you the story of what happened in the first game: 

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Boom. Roasted. Mamini would be vindicated as the Stampeders were the Jose Bautista to the Winnipeg’s Darren O’Day, beating the Orioles by a combined score of 23-5 over a three-game sweep. The victory over Winnipeg meant that the Stamps had a date with the Trail Smoke Eaters, a team who had gained national fame after winning the 1939 World Championships. 

While the series was close, the Stampeders dispatched the Smoke Eaters after tying them in games one and two (I suppose this wasn’t the best format for a tournament finals) then winning games three and four for a sweep of the best-of-three and a ticket to the Allan Cup Finals.  The best part? The finals, which was held throughout Canada like a sort of hockey super bowl, was in Alberta this year. 

The opponents, the Hamilton Tigers, were travelling a heck of a long way for this series and, given the Allan Cup’s strict amateur guidelines, players were only given a per diem of $6/day. Naturally, some players argued it wasn’t worth leaving work for this and threatened to boycott the series, forcing an “Eleventh hour agreement” (Sandor, Battle of Alberta, 56) and the series was set. 

Simply put, the Stamps killed it. The national media was astounded at the calibre of play from the western champs and the coach of the Tigers George Redding called the Stampeders “one of the best [teams] he’d seen.” Here’s a link to the Ottawa Citizen story detailing game one of the series, it’s chalked full of good quotes about the Stamps play. 

The Stamps weren’t able to sweep the Tigers but, in a meaningful way, that may have been even sweeter for them. Game five of the Allan Cup Finals was in: The Edmonton Gardens, home ice of their bitter WCSHL rivals the Edmonton Flyers. In the clinching game and in front of an understandably “Hamilton Conscious” crowd, the Stamps put on a defensive clinic, shutting out the Tigers 1-0 and winning the first Allan Cup in Calgary’s history.

In a moment of western solidarity, the Stamps coach Jack Arbour had some nice things to say about their vanquished provincial foes. You can read the whole story from the Calgary Herald’s 

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GO SEE THIS STUFF FOR YOURSELF

Unsurprisingly (because it’s literally a sports-junkie’s Mecca and everyone in Calgary needs to see this place to believe it) Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame at Winsport has some awesome information about this team as well as this framed photo of the team:

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Thanks to Helena for providing me with this photo of the Stamps and what I can only assume is a slice of her very 2003 ska-appropriate belt. 

Also, I know many of you have been to the Corral, maybe at the Stampede or maybe for a concert, but the walls are covered in cool photos from Calgary’s hockey past. The Stampeders photos reside on the Corral’s North side between sections 59-74 and 75-90, so you can see them there as well.

This team’s Allan Cup victory is cool for a number of reasons. Firstly, the Stamps put Calgary hockey into the national spotlight during their single-minded, hockey domination tour of 1945-46. Secondly, the story of the Stampeders encapsulated an era before professionalism’s ubiquity had enveloped all of Canadian sport. Though the precise terms of amateurism are dicey at best, these players fiercely protected their status as amateurs, believing that their version of the game was more pure. Oh, and thirdly, the Stamps clinched a national championship on Edmonton ice. Which is perfect.