When most people think of the Yukon, they probably think of a desolate and wild territory in the upper fringe of the Canadian landscape. But what if I told you that three years before any team from the country’s largest city made an appearance on the biggest stage in professional hockey, an unlikely group from the northern region made a run at the Stanley Cup.
On January 13, 1905, a collection of senior league players from Dawson City, a boom town during the Klondike Gold Rush, played the first of two games of a Stanley Cup challenge at Dey’s Arena in Ottawa. But the story here begins long before the puck dropped in game one, in fact, it was 23 days earlier that the Nuggets began their trek to the capital of the Great White North.
That journey for the fortune seekers would begin on December 18 of the previous year with a cheerful sendoff from the local faithfuls. Little did they know about the trials their neighbors would face as they headed east.
In order to reach the Canadian Pacific Mainline in Vancouver, which would take them the 2200 mile distance to Ottawa, the eight (later to become nine) Dawson City players would have to first make the 331 mile trip to Whitehorse, the territory’s capital, where a train would take them to port in northern Alaska, where they would venture by boat to Vancouver. The majority of the team left on the 18th by dogsled, while three players left the following day on bicycles (the cyclists would later be forced to walk because of the conditions).
As can be expected, it was not an ideal journey by any means, the team reportedly faced several snow storms, an avalanche, and temperatures around negative 20 celsius (-4 fahrenheit) along the way. But after many days of slow travel, the Nuggets finally reached Whitehorse and were able to board the train to Skagway, Alaska.
Only, when they reached their destination, the ship that was supposed to take them to Vancouver was already gone, having left two hours earlier. Disgruntled and still nursing their wounds from the previous days, the players were stranded in the port city for five whole days before another ship docked that could take them south.
In this time, the team reportedly held a single practice in the Alaska town, or so an unnamed Nuggets player told the Ottawa Journal:“We had one practice while we stuck around Skagway. It was a rink 40 feet by 50, half of it covered with sand, which dulled our skates.”
Eventually, a battered skow arrived at the docks and they were finally back on the road to Ottawa, but par for the course, fog surrounding Vancouver forced the boat to come into port in Seattle, where the Nuggets would have to take another train 200 miles up the coast to the crown of British Columbia before boarding the mainline that would take them across their native country.
Upon arrival in the capital on January 11, the Klondike’s finest requested that the series be pushed back several days so they could rest from the journey. That request was declined.
Two days later, they suited up for the opening game in a best of three challenge for the Stanley Cup with the thought of riches in their mind, as fan of the team and mining tycoon J.A. Acklin, who was in the city on business at the time, promised each player a thousand dollars (approximately 30,000 in today’s money) in the event of a win.
Unfortunately for the visitors, their opposition had other ideas, as the two time defending champion Ottawa Silver Sevens put a 9-2 beatdown on the Nuggets. That would be nothing, however, compared to what the team would face the following Monday, where Frank McGee and company would run amuck upon their western compatriots, taking the game and the cup by a score of 23-2, the largest win in Stanley Cup history.
Such a historic effort was certainly not helped by the fact that Dawson’s enforcer, Norman Watt, reportedly said that Ottawa star McGee was “not that good” because he had only scored a single goal in the first game. McGee responded by scoring 14 goals, including eight straight at one point, to sink the weary Nuggets.
In celebration of the win, members of the winning squad ended up drop-kicking the cup into the Rideau Canal, where it would lay until it was rescued off of the ice the next day.
The Yukon men, attempting to regain their pride, would play 23 exhibition games in the U.S. and the maritimes before heading home, finishing 13-9-1, including a 2-1 series win in late march over a team in Pittsburgh.
At least for some members of the team, the journey home was comparable in misery to the trip out, as 17 year old goaltender and MVP of the challenge series, Albert Forrest, was forced to walk the final 155 miles of the homecoming from Pelly Crossing to Dawson City by his lonesome. He was described by teammates as “frugal as a church mouse”.
The team’s two best players, Weldy Young (a former Silver Sevens player who left the team after attacking fans at an 1898 game) and Captain Lionel Bennett, didn’t make the 4,400 mile trek. Young because of his duties as an election official, Bennett because he wished to stay with his injured wife, who had been dragged behind a runaway sleigh.
Who knows what may have happened if both players had come along. If Dawson City somehow miraculously pulled off the upset of the century and won the series, NHL history may be very different. With Stanley Cup challenges, it is customary for the defending champion to host the next series. Would teams have braved the Northern wilderness, or would Lord Stanley’s gift have remained in the heart of the Yukon permanently?
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
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