Last time we looked at the early development of senior hockey in Winnipeg and Toronto, and noted that Winnipeg's ascendance to the highest levels came much quicker than Hogtown's. We found that the winter weather in Winnipeg (say that five times fast) likely played a large role in that early development, since much colder temperatures provided much more consistent natural ice at a time when playing surfaces were at the whim of the elements.
But although we were looking at the success of individual teams, noting that the Winnipeg Vics won several Stanley Cups while Toronto teams couldn't even win a Stanley Cup challenge game, much less a seriesthis despite Toronto having a much (much) larger population to draw upon for talent. However, the analysis didn't address one important point: just because one Winnipeg team was able to soar far above the Toronto clubs, it doesn't necessarily mean that Winnipeg hockey was better overall.
At first glance, this point might have some validity. Between 1894 and 1902, the best senior teams in Winnipeg, in order, were: Winnipeg Vics, Winnipeg Vics, Winnipeg Vics, Winnipeg Vics, Winnipeg Vics, Winnipeg Vics, Winnipeg Vics, Winnipeg Vics, and Winnipeg Vics. That's nine straight for the Vics. Although the Winnipeg HC (also called the Pegs) was competitive with the Vics for the first few years of Winnipeg senior hockey, the Vics soon became the dominant side. Between 1895 and 1902, the Vics played the Pegs 35 times, and outscored them 210-82. There was no other senior club in Winnipeg after 1894, and it seemed that the Pegs existed largely as punching bags for the mighty Vics, allowing them to warm up for their almost-annual Stanley Cup challenges.
Results of Winnipeg Senior Clubs, 1893 to 1902 Inclusive
Club Years GP GF GA GF/GA
Winnipeg Victorias 10 50 272 121 2.25
Winnipeg HC 10 49 143 260 0.55
Winnipeg Dragoons 2 7 16 50 0.32
Now, we can contrast this situation to that in Toronto at the time. In these 10 seasons, there were six different senior clubs that were best in any one season, as determined by goal differential:
Season Best Toronto Team
1893 Toronto Granites
1894 Toronto Osgoodes
1895 Toronto Varsity
1896 Toronto Osgoodes
1897 Toronto Athletics
1898 Toronto Osgoodes
1899 Toronto Oarsmen
1900 Toronto Wellingtons
1901 Toronto Wellingtons
1902 Toronto Wellingtons
You can't have that many different best teams without having at least that many teams to begin with. Indeed, there were as many as seven senior hockey teams playing in Toronto at this time, peaking in 1893. Recall that at this time, Winnipeg really only had one senior team (the Vics), or maybe one-and-a-half to be fair to the Pegs.
Season Toronto Senior Teams
So at the beginning of the 1890s, it's clear that the senior hockey talent in Toronto was being spread much thinner than in Winnipeg, giving the latter city an advantage in team success at the Stanley Cup level, since its best players played for a single team. Indeed, when the Pegs did come up with a player of real quality in Tony Gingras, the Vics simply lured him over to their side in 1898.
In the 10 seasons from 1893 to 1902, there were actually 11 senior clubs that played in Toronto, though most played only a few seasons. Perhaps this inconsistency from season to season was detrimental to the development of hockey in the city, who knows. But it was always news to find out who would be competing for senior honors each year; only the Varsity club played every season:
Results of Toronto Senior Clubs, 1893 to 1902 Inclusive
Club Years GP GF GA GF/GA
Toronto Granites 4 20 172 99 1.73
Toronto Wellingtons 4 14 92 57 1.61
Toronto Osgoodes 7 31 275 213 1.29
Toronto Victorias 4 21 140 116 1.21
Toronto Varsity 10 42 295 273 1.08
Toronto Oarsmen 1 5 22 21 1.05
Toronto Athletics 3 10 70 86 0.81
Toronto St. Georges 1 4 18 23 0.78
Toronto HC 2 16 85 116 0.73
Toronto Trinities 4 17 67 138 0.49
Toronto New Forts 1 12 20 138 0.14
In 1891, Toronto had a population of about 181,000 as compared to Winnipeg's 25,000. With seven times the population, one would think the city would be able to support about seven times as many senior hockey teams, if their overall talent levels were about the same. This is clearly not the case, however, since the number of senior teams operating in Toronto dropped quickly after this time, reaching a low point of two in 1901, when the Wellingtons defeated Varsity in a three-game series to earn city honors.
Season Toronto Senior Teams
In 1902, the Wellingtons were again OHA champions, led by George Chadwick, George McKay, and Irving Ardagh, and challenged the Winnipeg Vics for the Stanley Cup. Toronto still had five times the population of the western city (208,000 to 42,000 in 1901), and now Hogtown sported only three senior teams, allowing more concentrated talent than before. The Vics still had a stranglehold over their provincial championship (which they would soon relinquish), but the Pegs had come up with a young player named Billy Breenpossibly the best player you've never heard ofwho would never play for the Vics. But the Toronto clubs had certainly caught up in terms on focusing their talent on a small number of teams.
Yet the Vics still took the Cup challenge series easily, winning both games by 5-3 scores. And while it's true that the Vics had the best player at each position available in their city, the same was almost true for the Wellingtons.
Iain's Picks for Best 1902 Players in Winnipeg and Toronto
Winnipeg Pos Toronto
Art Brown (Vics) G Dutchy Bilton (Wellingtons)
Rod Flett (Vics) P Worts Smart (Wellingtons)
Magnus Flett (Vics) CP Irving Ardagh (Wellingtons)
Burke Wood (Vics) R George McKay (Wellingtons)
Dan Bain (Vics) C George Chadwick (Wellingtons)
Tony Gingras (Vics) LW Reddy Hynes (St. Georges)
Fred Scanlan (Vics) RW William Gilbert (Varsity)
So the Wellingtons did have the bulk of their city's talent. If I were building a Toronto All-Star team that season, I'd probably have put St. George's rover Herb Birmingham on right wing instead of Gilbert, who wasn't a consistently good player. But in order for these two positions to make a difference, each player would have to be a full goal per game better than the players they're replacing, and the Wellingtons were hardly weak at the wings, with Chummy Hill and Frank McLaren, both solid players. And that would only bring them to a tie with the Vics.
It therefore seems clear to me that even as late as 1902, Winnipeg hockey was still substantially ahead of the Toronto game. The talent that had been spread so thin in Hogtown before was now concentrated on only a few teams, and yet the best of these teams was still unable to really compete with the Vics. The gap was certainly narrowing, but it was still there. The frostbitten folk from the west had it over the country's second-largest city (at the time), when it came to developing top-notch hockeyists.
For the sake of completeness, it's interesting to note how consistent the hockey situation was in Montreal, Canada's largest city at the time (with nearly double the population of Toronto) and its clear hockey hotbed. Only three senior-level teams operated in Montreal: the Amateur Athletic Association (AAA, or Winged Wheelers), the Vics (pretty much every city had a hockey team or athletic club named after Good Queen Vic), and the Crystals, who gave way to the Shamrocks in 1896.
Results of Montreal Senior Clubs, 1893 to 1902 Inclusive
Club Years GP GF GA GF/GA
Montreal Victorias 10 80 404 295 1.37
Montreal AAA 10 82 323 256 1.26
Montreal Shamrocks 7 55 202 237 0.85
Montreal Crystals 3 24 58 116 0.50
The Montreal sides had many advantages over the Ontarians, of course. Besides a longer tradition of playing the game, they had a superior (colder) climate, and twice the population to boot. No wonder it was so difficult to wrest the Stanley Cup from the city; until 1903, when Ottawa first took the trophy, only the Winnipeg Vics had been able to accomplish the feat.