- Ice Hockey
Ice Hockey Timeline
THE BEGINNINGS 1900 - 1920
The province's first hockey league – the Calgary Senior Hockey League – was formed in 1901. From its beginnings and through the early twenties, the game spread to the cities, towns and villages throughout the province. In 1907, the Alberta Amateur Hockey Association (AAHA) was created to develop and govern the expanding amateur game and to distinguish it from an emerging professional game. The AAHA immediately established two levels of senior hockey. It followed that initiative in 1913 with the introduction of intermediate hockey, a step below senior, and then formalized junior hockey in 1914.
It was in the first decade of organized hockey that professionalism began creeping into the game, despite the AAHA's efforts to keep separate the professional and amateur games. Many senior teams were accused of using non-residents – labelled "ringers" – in competitions. For example, only a year after the formation of the AAHA, in 1908, the Edmonton Eskimos challenged for the Stanley Cup. Although they lost, the club set a new record for "ringers" in Stanley Cup competition with six of their seven players, including the legendary Lester Patrick, being brought in from outside Edmonton to compete. In response to this professional-amateur conflict, the Allan Cup was donated in 1909 to be awarded to the national senior champions, the "pure" amateurs, leaving the professionals to compete for the Stanley Cup.
The principal focus in Alberta then shifted back to amateur hockey. As the game grew within the province, inter-provincial competitions, at the senior, intermediate and junior categories, became more prevalent.
PROFESSIONAL HOCKEY: 1921 - 1936
Alberta's first foray into a professional hockey league came in 1921. It was a result of allegations that many players in the Big Four (senior) League were, in fact, professional. The Western Canada Professional Hockey League (WCHL) was established, essentially replacing the Big Four League. The WCHL operated from 1921 to 1926, competing for the Stanley Cup in playoffs with the Pacific Coast Hockey League (PCHL) and the NHL. In the league's last season (1925/26) teams from the PCHL joined it to form the Western Hockey League (WHL), so named because it included American teams. The league suffered from the absence of artificial ice, which reduced the number of home gates, and an inability to be able to compete with the high salaries being paid to players in the NHL. When it folded, many of its players moved on to the NHL; others were left without teams.
Consequently, in 1926 a new professional league, the Prairie Hockey League (PHL) was formed. It and three in the east that were created about the same time, introduced a new level of hockey: minor professional. The "minor" status made them ineligible to compete for the Stanley Cup. The two Alberta teams, the Edmonton Eskimos and the league champion Calgary Tigers, dropped out prior to the second season, which proved to be the league's last.
In 1932/33, a new professional league was formed, another that crossed international boundaries: the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL), which included the Edmonton Eskimos and the Calgary Tigers.
In 1933/34, the league added teams from Portland and Seattle and changed its name to the Northwest Hockey League (NWHL). At this time there was still no artificial ice in Alberta. Playoff games often had to be played in locales that had artificial ice, thus depriving Alberta teams from the game profits they would have had from home games. There would be no more professional hockey in Alberta until the1950's.
At the amateur level, a significant hockey event for Alberta occurred in 1926. The Calgary Canadians brought the province its first national hockey title when they won the Memorial Cup. In senior hockey, the small towns like Blairmore, Coleman and Canmore dominated the game through the twenties; but in the early thirties, the cities took over. The Edmonton Gainers' Superiors took the provincial senior title in 1931, 1933, and 1935. As well, they were the first team from Alberta to compete on the international stage, taking the Paris Cup and the International Championship in Switzerland.
Also at the amateur level, women's hockey in Alberta was blooming. It was growing not only in the larger centres, like Edmonton and Calgary, but also in the smaller settlements of ruraly Alberta, where women took up the game with enthusiasm. From 1917 onward, the Banff Winter Carnival provided a focal point for women's ice hockey in western Canada because if attracted teams from Alberta and British Columbia. The Edmonton Monarchs were a highly successful team, winning the championships at Banff in 1918, 1926, and between 1929 and 1932.
SENIOR AND MILITARY HOCKEY: 1933 – 1945
The senior game was at the forefront once again following the demise of professional hockey in the mid-1930s. In 1935/36 Calgary became the only city on the prairies with artificial ice and in April, 1937 hosted the Allan Cup final which unfortunately featured Sudbury and North Battleford.
The City of Calgary chalked up another Alberta first when the 1939/40 Calgary Stampeders became the province's first senior team to reach the Allan Cup final. They lost in three straight games to Kirkland Lake. A strong Lethbridge Maple Leafs team took the Alberta-B.C. title in 1941 and '42.
The success of the Alberta senior teams to this point made for a promising future. But World War II temporarily changed that. As the war went on, there was an exodus of players from professional hockey to the military. The branches of the armed forces then established teams across the country to provide recreation for military personnel serving throughout Canada. Many of the former pros and seniors performed in military hockey.
Thus began a short but unique period in Alberta's hockey history. In the absence of senior teams, the military teams – Currie Army, Calgary RCAF Mustangs, Edmonton Vics, Lethbridge Bombers, Red Deer Army Wheelers – stocked with many NHL stars, competed for the Allan Cup. The Currie Army team, operating out of Calgary, was the league's powerhouse for three years.
POST WAR: THE AMATEUR GAME FLOURISHES: 1945 - 1951
After the War senior and intermediate hockey flourished like never before. In 1945/46 senior hockey returned in the form of the new Western Canada Senior Hockey League (WCSHL); and intermediate hockey in Alberta would capture the attention of hockey fans not only in Alberta but throughout Canada. For the next few years, it was Alberta's major centers that thrived.
The WCSHL featured the Calgary Stampeders, Edmonton Flyers, Saskatoon and Regina, later to be joined by the Lethbridge Maple Leafs. In its first five years, league teams reached the Allan Cup final on four occasions. The Stampeders won in 1946, becoming the first Alberta team to capture the Cup, and were finalists in 1947 and 1950. The Flyers won in 1948. Oddly, the Stamps and Flyers each won the Cup in the other's home rink.
In 1950/51, recognizing a degree of professionalism in the league, officials re-labelled it the Western Canada Major Hockey League (WCMHL). Defined as a step above senior play, it withdrew from Allan Cup competition and, instead, competed for the Alexander Trophy. An intermediate team, the Edmonton Waterloo Mercurys, represented the province in the Allan Cup playdowns that year.
This was a period of unprecedented popularity for intermediate hockey in Alberta. The Edmonton Independent All Stars captured the Western Intermediate championship in 1946 (there was no national title at the time) and the Coleman Grands took it in 1947.
The Edmonton Waterloo Mercurys won in 1949 and achieved even greater success in 1950 when they captured the World Hockey Championship in London. In 1950, in the absence of the Mercurys, the Lethbridge Maple Leafs took the Western Canada Intermediate Championship and then went on to replicate the Mercurys' success. They won the World Championship in Paris. The pinnacle of the intermediate game's success, however, came the following season when the Mercurys won gold at the VI Olympic Winter Games in Oslo, Norway.
In the late-1930s junior hockey was beginning to grab its share of the limelight as NHL and other pro teams started to put money into minor hockey development and sponsorship became commonplace. A powerful Lethbridge Native Sons club reached the Abbott Cup (western Canada) final in 1948. In 1949 the Western Junior Hockey League (WJHL) was formed with the Native Sons, Medicine Hat Tigers, Calgary Buffaloes, Bellevue Lions (later the Crowsnest Coalers), joining teams from Regina and Moose Jaw. The Edmonton Oil Kings would join in 1951.
THE RISE AND FALL OF PROFESSIONAL AND JUNIOR HOCKEY: 1951 - 1966
In 1951/52, professional hockey officially returned to the province when the Edmonton Flyers and Calgary Stampeders of the WCMHL joined the professional Pacific Coast League (to be re-named the Western Hockey League a year later). The league's teams were sponsored by NHL clubs and the quality of play was of a standard not far off that played in hockey's top league. In the first four years, the Alberta teams captured three championships (Edmonton two, Calgary one). The Flyers added another championship in 1962.
One consequence of the return of the pro game was, once again, the demise of senior hockey. Alberta's participation in the Allan Cup playdowns virtually disappeared, the seniors unable to compete with the professionals for fan support. During this era, in the absence of senior hockey, the intermediate game rose to greater prominence, particularly in Central Alberta. The Ponoka Stampeders in Central Alberta were one of the top teams in the early fifties, taking the provincial title in four consecutive seasons. Periodically, the top team in each of Alberta's intermediate league would enter the senior Allan Cup playdowns.
In the meantime, the WCJHL, like the seniors, was victimized by the return of professional hockey, the televised NHL games, and rising operating costs in the face of diminishing attendance. After the 1955/56 season, the league folded. The only remaining junior 'A' team in the province, the Edmonton Oil Kings, joined the Central Alberta (intermediate) Hockey League (CAHL). Playing out of that league for the next ten years, but still competing in Memorial Cup playdowns, the Oil Kings established a truly remarkable record in junior hockey. They were Western Canada champions and Memorial Cup finalists for seven consecutive seasons, during which they twice won the Memorial Cup. In 1966, they and the Drumheller Miners were declared co-champions in the CAHL. Both went on to national titles, the Oil Kings taking the Memorial Cup, the Miners the Allan Cup. This is the only time that two teams from one league have won national championships in the same season. The league folded shortly thereafter as the Oil Kings were ordered back to a junior league and other teams in the league could not afford to continue.
By the 1960s, the professional WHL was losing ground to the now-televised NHL hockey. Attendance fell and following the 1962/63 season both the Stampeders and Flyers withdrew from the league. Rising operating costs and, by then, inadequate arenas contributed to the teams' folding. Once again, the pro game disappeared. It would not return until 1972.
A RETURN TO AMATEUR HOCKEY: 1964 - 1972
Two new leagues started up in Alberta in the mid-sixties. The first was a junior league.
Throughout the early sixties, the Edmonton Oil Kings were essentially the only junior team in the province. As a result, the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) was established in 1964 to increase the opportunities for youngsters to play in the junior category. Like the Oil Kings, the league's champion was eligible to compete for the Memorial Cup. By the late sixties, though, junior hockey throughout western Canada went through a short period of turmoil and reorganization. It began in 1966 when the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) combined with the Oil Kings and the Calgary Buffaloes (soon to be Centennials) to form the Canadian Major Junior Hockey League (CMJHL). When the CAHA reorganized junior hockey in 1970, the CMJHL, by then the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL), was designated as tier 1 and one of three major junior leagues in the country that could compete for the Memorial Cup. The AJHL was designated tier 2 and would compete for the Centennial Cup (later the Royal Bank Cup), the tier 2 national championship. The Red Deer Rustlers won the first Centennial Cup championship in 1971.
As well, in the absence of professional hockey, there was, once again, a re-birth of senior hockey on the prairies. The Western Canada Senior Hockey League (WCSHL) was formed in 1964 and included teams from Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary. A new Alberta Senior Hockey League (ASHL) was established in 1968 to rival the WCSHL. Between 1967 and 1971 Calgary teams represented the west in the Allan Cup final on three occasions, each time coming up short. It was becoming apparent, though, that even with decent crowds the senior game was proving to be unsustainable. Costs, especially travel, and the reluctance of players to miss work to travel, were becoming too much for teams to endure. One more impediment to senior hockey success was soon to emerge.
1972- To the Present
PROFESSIONAL HOCKEY RETURNS AGAIN: 1972 - PRESENT
The major developments of this era were the return of professional hockey to Alberta and the expansion of junior hockey in western Canada, including in Alberta.
Professional hockey returned in 1972 when the 12-team World Hockey Association was established as a rival to the NHL. The Alberta (soon to be Edmonton) Oilers were one of the founding members. They were joined by the Calgary Cowboys for two seasons (1975/76-1976/77). Both teams began this era of professional hockey in arenas – the Edmonton Gardens and the Stampede Corral –considered to be too small and out-dated for professional hockey. The Cowboys were not well-received and survived only two years. The Oilers' performance, first in the Gardens and then in the new Northlands Coliseum, was, at best, mediocre. But in 1978/79, largely due to the arrival of 18-year-old superstar Wayne Gretzky, they moved from mediocrity to regular season WHA champions in what turned out be the league's last season. In 1979, the Oilers joined the NHL. The Calgary Flames followed in 1980 and after three years moved into the new Olympic Saddledome. Fans in the province embraced NHL hockey. In the years that followed, they were rewarded with six Stanley Cups, five by Edmonton and one by Calgary. Since then, each team has experienced successful and unsuccessful seasons but the fans have not wavered in their support.
The NHL's success spelled the downfall of senior and intermediate hockey. A major change occurred in the amateur ranks in the mid-eighties. Senior and intermediate hockey were blended into one category by the CAHA. In 1984 Allan Cup-level teams were classified as Senior AAA and the former intermediate category was re-classified as Senior AA. The national Senior AA championship was soon discontinued. The Allan Cup championship also lost much of its lustre. Where once there had been many senior leagues across the country vying for the Cup, today there are only AA leagues. Individual teams from those leagues wishing to compete for the Allan Cup must register their intentions before season play begins. Fewer than 20 teams from across the country now register.
On the junior front, the WCJHL has thrived throughout the prairies and B.C. and into the U.S., resulting in yet another name change; it became the Western Hockey League (WHL) in 1978. Medicine Hat (1970), Lethbridge (1974) and Red Deer (1992) have increased Alberta's representation in the league. But professional hockey came at a cost in both Edmonton and Calgary. Fan support for the Edmonton Oil Kings and the Calgary Centennials dwindled in the face of professional hockey. The current Oil Kings team, established in 2007, is the third effort to bring junior hockey back to Edmonton since the Oil Kings first left in 1976. The Calgary Hitmen is the second junior team in the city since the Centennials left in 1977.
Professional hockey appears here to stay; and junior hockey is on solid footing throughout Alberta. In Calgary, the Hitmen's 16 years in the league suggests that they can co-exist with the professional Flames. Whether the young Edmonton Oil Kings can survive along side the Oilers remains to be seen. Intermediate hockey is gone; and interest in senior hockey has diminished significantly in the face of the overwhelming popularity of the professional game.
One category of hockey that has endured since the game's beginnings in the province – unaffected by the professional-amateur conflict that often dominated the sport – is university hockey, which dates back to 1908 when the University of Alberta was established. For many years, in the absence of university competition, the Golden Bears played in senior leagues. Then from the early days of western intercollegiate play until 1962 they consistently overwhelmed their western opposition. Since the national university championship began in 1962/63, no other university can match the success of the Golden Bears – 19 appearances in the national championship, including 13 titles. The Universities of Calgary (Dinos) and Lethbridge (Pronghorns) joined the Canada West Universities Athletic Association in 1964 and 1980 respectively.
Another category – women's hockey – has been played in Alberta since the late 1800's. Although there was limited participation from its beginnings up to World War II, there were some highlights for Alberta hockey fans, most prominently two national titles by the Edmonton Jasper Place Rustlers in the mid-1930s. During the War and for years after, women's hockey was near non-existent. It wasn't until the early 1970s that it made a comeback. Since then, it has grown dramatically in size, popularity and stature. The Alberta Women's Council of the AAHA was established in 1978. Female registrations in the province (first recorded in the 1980s) have grown from 4,462 in 1999/00 to 8,468 in 2009/10. Women's hockey has expanded to various levels, including university, elite and professional. A national championship was established in 1981/82. Since then, the Edmonton Chimos, founded in 1973, and Calgary Oval X-Treme (1995-2009), have been Alberta's most powerful clubs. The Chimos have been to the national championship on 16 occasions and victorious on four. In 2011/12, Team Alberta, combining the Chimos and the Strathmore Rockies, is playing in the professional Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL).
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