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Mon Mar 23, 2020, 10:54 PM

For those of us who played and love hockey....................

The forgotten story of ... how Spanish flu tore apart the 1919 Stanley Cup final

The disease known as the “Spanish flu” was first reported in North America in January 1918 in Kansas. By the time owners and organizers began to prepare for the league’s second season, the flu was becoming a specter. Due to the virus, only three delegates were able to attend an October 1918 meeting that was required to transfer team ownership and settle on the final number of teams in the league. That same month, Hamby Shore, a star player for the Ottawa Senators, died from the Spanish flu. The rest of the fall would see deaths across sports in North America: a famous curler in Manitoba, an American League umpire in Boston, the president of the Alberta branch of the AAU, the secretary of the Montreal City Amateur Hockey League and the Eastern Hockey Association.

News about the league planning for its season was printed next to columns advising citizens to wash their hands, keep healthy diets and find cures for the flu in nature. “Evidence seems to prove that this is a germ disease, spread principally by human contact, chiefly through coughing, sneezing or spitting,” the Leader-Telegram in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, wrote. “So avoid persons having colds – which means avoiding crowds – common drinking cups, roller towels, etc.” Bowling alleys, the sites of competitive tournaments, were mandated to close. “I understand that preparations are being made for different rugby and other games this week,” Toronto health officer Dr Charles Hastings said. “These games must be discontinued. They only jeopardize people’s lives. It is inconceivable that the people in charge of them have not more judgment.”

Still, NHL play began on 21 December 1918, in part because of the minimal crowds it drew compared to today. (Attendance numbers from 1918-19 aren’t readily available, but for context, in 1926-27, Ottawa averaged 85 fans per game.) At the time, the NHL season was divided into two 10-game halves, and only three teams would compete: the Senators, the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Arenas. The Canadiens won the season’s first half, finishing with a 7-3 record. The defending Stanley Cup champions, Toronto, struggled, winning three games in the first half. By the time they announced their intention to shutter amid chaos behind the scenes after 17 games, they had logged only two more wins. NHL president Frank Calder convinced the Arenas to hold on for an 18th game, but that was as far as they – or the regular season – would go. The league pivoted, announcing that Montreal would face Ottawa in a seven-game series to determine which team would advance to play the Pacific Coast Hockey Association champions in the Stanley Cup final.


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