Tuesday, June 03, 2008

1916: Portland's Stanley Cup

So it's Stanley Cup time again. If you're like most Portlanders, you probably don't care too much about hockey. Maybe you didn't even realize the playoffs were on. That's understandable, I guess, since we don't have a pro team of our own here, just a junior team, and the Winter Hawks may be moving to Salem soon.

But Portland wasn't always the hockey backwater it is today. Once upon a time, back in the early 20th century, our fair city was home to the Portland Rosebuds, the very first pro team south of the Canadian border. Ok, so "Rosebuds" is not a very fierce name by today's standards, but it sounds like they weren't half bad. In addition to being the first US-based team, the Rosebuds were also the first US team to play for the Stanley Cup. Seriously. In the 1916 Stanley Cup Finals, Portland lost to the Montreal Canadiens, losing Game 5 of the 5-game series by a single goal. (The following year, the Seattle Millionaires became the first US team to win the Cup finals. Bastards.)

But there's a bit more to the story. Engraved on the Cup are the words "Portland Ore./PCHA Champions/1915–16", listing us alongside all the Cup champions in years before and since. The years prior to the 1914-15 season were the "Challenge Cup" era, in which you won the cup by challenging the current owner for it; if you beat them, the Cup was yours. It was sort of like how boxing and the America's Cup work these days. Then the rules changed, setting up an annual series between the champions of the East Coast (NHA) and West Coast (PCHA) leagues of the era, with the Cup awarded to the winner. Despite this change, three of the next four seasons saw teams engraving their name on the Cup after defeating the previous year's champion -- the only exception was the 1916-17 season, in which Montreal repeated as NHA champions before losing the Cup to Seattle. So according to the era's standard practice (if not strictly according to the rules), the Cup belonged to Portland for just over a month, from the end of the regular season (Feb. 25th, 1916) through the end of the finals (March 30th). Purists and sticklers may argue the cup wasn't truly and officially ours, but I think reasonable people can disagree on that detail. Or more to the point, I know what I prefer to believe.

Besides being a fun historical curiosity, the 1916 cup may come in handy if we ever manage to land an NHL team of our own, whether by expansion or relocation. A couple of years ago the Pittsburgh Penguins were thinking about relocating, and Portland was on the short list. In the end they managed to swing themselves a schweet deal to stay in Pittsburgh, but you can't help but wonder what might have been. They're in the Stanley Cup finals this year, you know. In recent years the cup's often gone to teams in lucrative markets with no historical roots in the sport (Anaheim, Raleigh NC, Tampa Bay, etc.). We, however would be able to spin a win as the end of a 92 year Cup drought. So, sure, we technically would've gone nearly all of the drought without a major league team of any kind, but a drought's a drought, right?

One reason most Portlanders have probably never heard of the Rosebuds is that essentially nothing has survived from that era. The team went away, the whole league went away, and the old Portland Ice Arena where they played in was eventually demolished in the 1950's. Aside from a few old photographs displayed at Memorial Coliseum, there's no obvious evidence the Rosebuds ever existed, and to see those photos you'd have to go and endure three periods of the present-day Winter Hawks. I'm only that masochistic a couple of times a season, tops. There are a few tidbits around the interwebs concerning Portland hockey history, like this article at the PSU Daily Vanguard, and a site dedicated to the memory of the 1960s-era, not-quite-major-league Portland Buckaroos. That's a separate and rather colorful bit of Portland history I don't have space for here, so check out that site if you're curious.

In case you were wondering, the Portland Ice Arena was located on NW Marshall St., up in Northwest Portland, on the block that's now home to Marshall Union Manor, a high-rise retirement community constructed circa 1974. (More info here and here.) So here's what the spot looks like today:

Marshall Union Manor, NW Portland

Marshall Union Manor, NW Portland

Marshall Union Manor, NW Portland

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