Ottawa hockey historian Paul Kitchen looks back at the Senators first game as part of the National Hockey League:
For Ottawa hockey fans 95 years ago, on the sub-zero evening of Dec. 19, 1917, the match they were eagerly anticipating as they pushed and shoved their way into the downtown Dey’s Arena was as auspicious as it was the opposite. On the one hand, this was opening night of the inaugural season of the National Hockey League. On the other hand, the badly disorganized Senators were about to be trounced by their longtime rivals, Les Canadiens de Montréal.
There had been bad feelings among the owners of teams in the predecessor league, the National Hockey Association. So much so that they suspended operations and formed a new circuit, the National Hockey League, at a Nov. 26, 1917, meeting in Montreal’s Windsor Hotel. The four teams were the Toronto Arenas, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens and Montreal Wanderers. Within a month, the Wanderers’ rink caught fire and the team disbanded, leaving only three clubs to complete the season. But there were high hopes for the NHL, even as the First World War recruitment drained talent from pro hockey. Yes, Ottawa’s great star Punch Broadbent was overseas, but one of the game’s most prolific scorers, Joe Malone, was in uniform for the visitors. So to was Montreal goalkeeper Georges Vezina, who would be facing the magnificent Clint Benedict in the Senators’ net.
Imagine the shock and dismay when the Sens skated out minus two of their additional stalwarts, defenceman Hamby Shore and winger Jack Darragh. They remained in the dressing room brooding. Shore because he was claiming back pay; Darragh because his contract was for 20 games, while the schedule called for 24. In fact, the other players were also upset but finally made peace and appeared on the ice. Minus Shore and Darragh, the Senators fell behind 3-0 in the first period as the two holdouts huddled under the stands haggling with management. Shore settled in time to start the second period and Darragh followed midway through the middle frame. It was too late. Though Cy Denneny for the barberpoles whipped three pucks past Vezina, Malone countered with five in a 7-4 Canadiens victory.
It was indeed an inauspicious start for the Senators in their first game in the new league. But hockey fans are always optimistic and are sometimes rewarded. Over the next 10 years the NHL Senators would win four Stanley Cups – 1920, 1921, 1923 and 1927. They were known as “The Super Six.”
For the record, there was one other game on that Dec. 19 opening night. The Wanderers defeated Toronto 10-9 at the Montreal Arena.
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