The ill-fated 1919 Stanley Cup Final features the Seattle Metropolitans against the storied Montreal Canadiens. While the five-game series is played on the Mets' home ice, Seattle is at an immediate disadvantage when leading scorer Bernie Morris is arrested and jailed for draft evasion. An improbable 0-0 tie in Game 4 and a Montreal victory in Game 5 leave the series deadlocked at 2-2-1 on March 29 -- and that is where it ends. The Spanish Flu pandemic sweeps through Seattle, hospitalizing five Canadiens players and killing Montreal's Joe Hall, and the series is abandoned. It is the first and only time that a major North American professional sports season ends with co-champions.
Prelude to a Showdown
When the 1919 Stanley Cup Final began in Seattle on March 19, it had all the makings of one of the great series in professional sports. It featured championship teams, superstar players, charismatic coaches, and -- just four months after the armistice was signed to end World War I -- a Seattle populace eager to celebrate. When the series concluded two weeks later, most of the participants would indeed call it the greatest series ever played.
The Final pitted the Seattle Metropolitans, 1917 Stanley Cup champions, against the 1916 champion Montreal Canadiens. It was a joyful time globally after one of the bloodiest conflicts the world had ever seen. Soldiers returned home daily to cities far and wide greeted by cheering crowds and ecstatic families.
George Kennedy's (1881-1921) National Hockey League champion Canadiens featured four future Hockey Hall of Famers including the sport's greatest goalie, Georges Vezina (1887-1926); its biggest superstar, Newsy Lalonde (1887-1970); Didier Pitre (1883-1934), famous for earning more money per game than baseball star Ty Cobb; and hockey's first superstar enforcer, "Bad" Joe Hall (1881-1919).
Seattle coach Pete Muldoon's (1887-1929) Pacific Coast Hockey Association champion Mets roster showcased a trio of future Hall of Famers in 1917 PCHA Most Valuable Player Frank Foyston (1891-1966); goalie Harry "Hap" Holmes (1888-1941); and rover Jack Walker (1888-1950). Seattle had its own star bad boy, Cully Wilson (1892-1962), along with the phenomenal Bernie Morris (1890-1963), whose record 54 points in 1917 was never topped in the history of the PCHA.
The two teams had squared off in the 1917 Final, with Seattle winning to become the first American team to claim the Stanley Cup. The upstart Metropolitans had outscored Montreal 23-11, with Morris scoring 14 goals himself in the series. The following season had been chaotic due to the war, but all was finally right again in the world with two great teams on the ice and North America's most coveted sports trophy, the Stanley Cup, at stake.
Morris Arrest Stuns Mets
As the teams prepared for their playoffs, the bliss surrounding the Metropolitans was shattered. Morris had been a no-show for Game 1 of the PCHA league championship series. Instead, his lawyer hand delivered a note to the Mets locker room saying that Morris, a Canadian citizen, had been mistakenly arrested by the U.S. military for draft evasion, with a message from Morris imploring the boys to win until he was released and could rejoin them.
Morris had registered for the U.S. military as required by a treaty between Canada and the U.S. but claimed exemption because of his Canadian citizenship. While away for the offseason, a notification was sent to his Seattle address to report for a military physical. When he failed to report, he was inducted into the military on November 5, 1918, six days before the armistice was signed. Immediately charged with evasion, his case was dropped when he arrived in Seattle three weeks later and stated that he had been home in Canada for the offseason. But during divorce proceedings from his estranged wife in February 1919, Morris had testified under oath that his residence the previous three years had been in Seattle. The military was using that testimony as confirmation that he received his summons and was derelict of duty.
Without Morris, the Mets' prospects of knocking off the talented Vancouver Millionaires in the PCHA championship series looked dim. Foyston, however, filled the void left by his teammate and close friend, leading the Metropolitans to a stunning victory over Vancouver and into the Stanley Cup Final. Simultaneously, a team of lawyers worked to free Morris, filing a Writ of Habeas Corpus, demanding that Morris go before a judge to determine the validity of the charges, hopeful that he would be immediately released.
The Stanley Cup Final was set to begin on March 19, 1919. With a five-day train ride separating Seattle and Montreal, the entire series was scheduled to be played in Seattle. Games 1, 3, and 5 would be played by Western rules, seven to a side with the use of the forward pass between the blue lines. Games 2 and 4 would be played by Eastern rules, six to a side without the forward pass.
When the puck dropped for Game 1, some 3,500 fans wedged into the 2,500-seat Seattle Ice Arena while Morris remained jailed at Fort Lewis, having yet to stand before a judge. The Mets set a blistering pace and trounced the Canadiens 7-0. Seattle newspaperman and Metropolitans official scorer Royal Brougham (1894-1978) wrote that "every member of the striped-jerseyed Mets were 'on' last night" ("Seattle Skaters Win First ..."). Mets goalie Hap Holmes "gave the greatest exhibition of goaltending ever staged" while Foyston chipped in a hat trick, his second in three playoff games without Morris ("Seattle Skaters Win First ...").
On the morning of Game 2, Federal Judge E. E. Cushman dismissed the Writ of Habeas Corpus and denied bail for Morris, stating that as a prisoner of a military tribunal, he was not entitled to bail. Morris, the Mets' leading scorer the previous four years, was out for the series and likely headed to prison. It was now clear that the military planned to use Morris and his celebrity as an example to others on the perils of draft evasion.
That evening, playing by Eastern rules familiar to Montreal, Newsy Lalonde added to the Mets' misery, scoring the first four goals of the contest as the Canadiens thrashed the beleaguered Metropolitans 4-2. Two nights later, playing again by Western rules, Foyston scored four goals as the Mets smacked the Canadiens 7-2.
'The Most Remarkable Effort'
Up two games to one and having outscored the Canadiens 16-6, the Mets looked to end the series in Game 4 as they had done in 1917. What happened instead was perhaps the greatest championship game ever played. Afterward, Brougham wrote "they may be playing hockey championships for the next thousand years, but they'll never stage a greater struggle than that which held 4,000 spectators spellbound last night" ("Was Most Remarkable ..."). Hockey legend Frank Patrick (1885-1960) called it "the hardest-played game in hockey history" while NHL President Frank Calder (1877-1943) said "the game was the most remarkable effort in all hockey annals" ("Was Most Remarkable ...").
Fans erupted as the Mets' Cully Wilson staked Seattle to a lead with a goal as the first period expired, but Hall-of-Fame referee Mickey Ion (1886-1964) immediately waved off the goal, determining that it was scored a half-second after he had blown his whistle. That would be the only puck to find the net that evening. Three full periods and two 10-minute overtime periods later, exhausted bodies were strewn across the ice as the game was called a 0-0 draw. Afterward, many players had to be carried to their respective locker rooms.
Montreal coach George Kennedy immediately argued that the game had not been completed and thus the next game must be played once again under six-man rules. A hearing the next day by officials from both leagues affirmed his argument, assigning Eastern rules once again to Game 5.
Four nights later, the Canadiens shocked the Mets as Seattle, still down a man with Morris now on trial, uncharacteristically ran out of gas late in the game. Up 3-0 at the end of the second period, fans in Seattle could feel the Stanley Cup in their grasp before Newsy Lalonde and the Canadiens came roaring back. Two quick Montreal scores in the third period made it 3-2. With less than 3 minutes to play, Lalonde showed off his skills, reaching high in the air to snag a rebound and immediately firing the puck past Holmes to tie the score and send the series to a second consecutive overtime game.
When the extra time began, the fatigued teams fought with everything they had, each narrowly missing goals. Fifteen minutes into overtime, exhaustion won. Foyston, playing with a deep thigh bruise, took a vicious hit and had to be carried to the bench. Moments later, Jim Walker broke a skate and was sent off just as Cully Wilson collapsed on the ice. Kennedy immediately sensed the advantage and sent rested substitute Jack MacDonald onto the ice. He promptly scored the game-winning goal to tie the series 2-2-1.
Decisive Game Called Off
Game 6 was scheduled for April 1, 1919 -- but would never be played. The Spanish Flu pandemic that was devasting the world had finally reached Seattle. Soldiers returning home from the war were spreading the deadly virus around the globe, infecting approximately one-third of the world's population and causing an estimated 50 million deaths worldwide.
With five Canadiens players under doctor's supervision, Montreal could not field a team and offered to bring in replacement players for the final game. PCHA President Frank Patrick and Seattle coach Pete Muldoon declined the offer, finding it unfair to win a championship by beating replacement players. Thus, the "greatest series" was never completed, and 1919 became the only year in major North American professional sports with co-champions.
Four days after Game 6 was to be played, Montreal's Joe Hall died from the disease in a Seattle hospital. The father of three was 37 years old.
As he journeyed home to Montreal, Lalonde told reporters in Vancouver, British Columbia, that Seattle would have won Game 6, which was to be played under Western rules. Despite playing in their third Stanley Cup Final in four years, the Western rules had "completely bewildered" the Canadiens as Seattle had outscored Montreal 14-2 in the two previous games played under Western rules.
On April 12, Morris was found guilty and sentenced to two years hard labor at Alcatraz Island military prison in California. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he was the first foreign national on the West Coast convicted of draft evasion. PCHA President Frank Patrick said he would appeal all the way to President Woodrow Wilson if needed. By fall, Morris was transferred to an Army unit, and the following March, one year after his incarceration, he was granted an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army.
Morris was sent back to Seattle in time to catch the team train to Ottawa for the 1920 Stanley Cup Final. He played in all five games but didn't score a goal as Seattle lost the series to the Senators, 3-2. That would be the last time a Seattle team played for the Stanley Cup.