By Andy Eide
The story of the Seattle Metropolitans, and their 1917 Stanley Cup triumph, has mostly been relegated to the world of footnotes and quirky sports minutia. Faded black and white photos featuring ghost like figures adorned in barbershop-pole sweaters have circulated, but the figures in those photos have been long since forgotten. Names like Frank Foyston, Jack Walker, and Hap Holmes are in the Hockey Hall of Fame but are otherwise anonymous.
That wasn’t always the case and local Seattle author Kevin Ticen is hoping to turn a deserved spot light on a major part of Seattle’s history with his new book When It Mattered Most: The Forgotten Story of America’s First Stanley Cup Champions, and the War to End All Wars.
“These guys were the Seahawks,” Ticen says about how popular the Metropolitans were at the time. “If Frank Foyston was on the street right there, people would run out to see him. He got engaged and the Seattle P.I. ran a big article about his engagement. These guys were stars, they are the top of the pyramid. (Head coach) Pete Muldoon, when he dies, it’s a massive story, above the fold.”
Ticen admits that he’s not a ‘hockey guy’ but has always loved sports.
He grew up in Bellevue playing baseball and football and eventually would end up playing baseball for the University of Washington. That led to some time playing professionally in the minor leagues for the Los Angeles Angels organization.
Coaching youth baseball now, sports and the competitive spirit have always fascinated him, and he worked with the Seattle Sports Commission when the Stanley Cup paid a visit to Seattle in 2017 to commemorate the Metropolitans victory.
“We had the first event at the W.A.C. and we all agreed to meet at the Ice Arena site so we could take pictures of where it happened,” he says. “Literally, the entire street stopped and starts walking towards us. People start coming out of buildings. The Rainier Tower and the IBM building, we look up and you can see every floor people are in the windows looking down at us.”
It was the lead up to that visit and seeing the reaction people in Seattle had to the Cup as it made various stops in the city that convinced Ticen the Metropolitans story should be told.
While he had a writing background, he first pitched the idea to other authors, hoping one would take it up. After getting no responses he talked about it with his wife and eventually worked up the courage to write it himself.
He inquired with the Hall of Fame, who didn’t have much information for him, he scoured archives from the Seattle Times and P.I., and even worked with University of Washington genealogists. Early into his research he realized that this story was more than just a hockey story.
“I’m scrolling through March of 1917 and I get to two days before the first game of the Final and the headline is ‘Czar Abdicates’ and I thought ‘oh wow’,” Ticen says. “I love history and I texted my wife and said ‘you’re never going to believe what happened right before the Cup starts’. I read Game 1 and it was incredible…I couldn’t believe how it played out. Walt Disney, honestly, couldn’t have scripted it any better.”
Ticen weaves the build up to World War I, which is dominating the international news while the Metropolitans season is underway, into this story. The United States would declare war six days after the Metropolitans win the Cup and it had an effect on the league.
Most of the players in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association were Canadian citizens and already subjected to the draft. The rival National Hockey Association, made up of teams in the East, nearly didn’t compete in 1917 due to so many players off to fight in the war.
Ticen’s book ends up being a fascinating mixture of world events as well as what was happening locally in Seattle.
The Metropolitans played in the PCHA, a league formed by Frank and Lester Patrick. Seattle joined in 1915 and competed with the Vancouver Millionaires, Victoria Aristocrats and the Portland Rosebuds.
The NHA had instituted a salary cap which allowed the PCHA to raid its top players by offering more lucrative contracts. That allowed the PCHA to compete with the NHA with talent every bit the equal. The two leagues agreed that the champions of each would meet to play for the Stanley Cup.
“The Stanley Cup was just as important then as it is today,” Ticen explains. “It’s physically smaller, it doesn’t have all the barrel rings on the bottom but it’s everything. It’s the coveted Stanley cup.”
Interested in competition and the psychology of sports, Ticen details the famed 1917 season and how the heavily favored Metropolitans fared. They started slow, miserably slow, and Ticen says tensions within the team are high. Muldoon even stops speaking to the local press.
“He gets it so much as a coach,” Ticen says. “He’s just like ‘we’ve got to get this fixed and that fixed’ and they start building and it just gets a little bit better and better and then they’re in first place. They lead the league in scoring with the best defense.”
The season was a back and forth with Vancouver and the Metropolitans score a big win in the last game of the season, in Portland, to secure the PCHL title and a berth into the Stanley Cup Final. The Millionaires are incensed, believing they were still the better team and pushed to institute a playoff system that would take place in 2018 – fanning the early flames of a regional rivalry the current NHL Seattle is looking to reestablish.
When the Montreal Canadiens arrive in town, the Final’s games are top billing.
The Ice Arena, located at 5th and University, is packed with 3,500 fans who each shelled out $1 for a ticket. School children climb to the roof of the building to catch a glimpse of the action through the sky roof.
Husky football was popular back then and Seattle had a AAA professional baseball team, but hockey and the Metropolitans were the top dogs.
Ticen’s book is a story about determination, rough and tumble hockey, competition, war and features names that are in the Hall of Fame. It’s history and ultimately, it’s a story about Seattle. The team left behind a legacy that he is hoping the new NHL franchise in town will honor.
“I’m of the opinion that the banner should be hung in the arena,” he says. “Banners are about communities and about people, not about franchises. I was on two teams that won the Pac 10 championship at the UW. I walk in that ballpark and it makes me smile seeing those numbers on the fence, I get to show my kids. There are still grandkids (of the Metropolitans) who live in the area. Almost all of the players came back and lived here.
“It was a community thing. I don’t see it as the franchise acting like we have roots, we do have roots.”
When It Mattered Most is available now at all book sellers and Ticen will be appearing for readings locally beginning April 2nd at Folio in the Pike Place Market at 7 pm, Redmond’s Brick and Mortar on April 5th at 7 pm, University of Washington Book Store on April 9th at 6 pm and Third Place Books in Lake Forest on April 25th at 7 pm.