Women’s Hockey in 1892

Manitoba Daily Free Press, Feb. 27th, 1892, p.5:

“The much talked of hockey match between married and single ladies is to take place next Thursday at Mrs. Richards’ rink. The game promises to be an exceedingly interesting one. It is understood that a gallant officer has been plucky enough to accept the position of referee on this occasion.”



After January’s intense match, both teams took to practising with increased vigour. Each team could feel the rivalry swelling, and each longed to possess Anderson’s shiny new cup.

The next match was encouraged by increased interest from the public, with raucous applause audible outside the Thistle on Market Street. The fans were treated to a great finish, as Armytage again demonstrated his heroics, pulling the Vics ahead out of a 3-3 tie before the final whistle. With the victory, the boys in maroon drew the season series to a draw at 1-1-1. (MDFP, Feb. 15th, 1892. p.5)

This set up the final and decisive match between the clubs on March 12th, 1892. Originally scheduled for the previous week, the game was postponed due to soft weather and poor ice conditions. The extra wait was well worth it for the spectators who packed the Thistle for the match.

Even early on, fighting in hockey was seen as a disgraceful and desperate act. Early commentators suggested that too much fighting would ruin the game, and that sportsmanship and respect for officials were qualities that made a player great. It was so for this final match of the 1891-92 season, that was said to be “for blood” (MDFP, Mar. 14th, 1892. p.5).

The first half was played with increasing intensity, culminating in a scuffle at the half that found Jack Armitage on his back on the ice. Goals were scored by Girdlestone for the Pegs, and McCullogh and Armytage for the Vics. Early in the second half, the score was evened at two by Dennison on some pretty passing by Fred Ashe.

Ashe was said to be using some “nasty tricks” by hooking and tripping his adversaries with his stick. When he tried this on McCullogh, a fight broke out between the two. This being the first of its kind in Manitoba hockey, the referee decided that, as both men were at fault, both should remain on the ice. Neither were sent away or penalized.

The score remained unchanged until the final whistle. As this was a deciding contest, the teams were given a 5 minute intermission, then returned to the ice for a game of “next goal wins”. After some early overtime heroics by the Pegs keeper Tart Stowe, the captain Armytage put one past him, thus ending a scrappy championship match, to say the least.

And so the Winnipeg Victorias win the cup, donated by T.W. Anderson, and the glory of Manitoba’s first hockey championship.

“… play for the glory only”

The following letter to the editor appeared in the January 22nd, 1892, edition of the Manitoba Daily Free Press:

“Sir, I should like to offer a suggestion to the hockey players of Winnipeg through your valuable paper, viz : the formation of an association to be known an “The Manitoba Hockey Association.” You have here your lacrosse, football and cricket associations, why no hockey ? Which is as exciting and interesting a sport as one could wish for not only to play but to witness. I have no doubt that Brandon, Portage and other places would be only too willing to act in concert with the Winnipeg clubs in the formation of such an association. Although perhaps a little late in the season for this year, yet start the ball rolling and keep it up for an early start next winter. Doubtless if such an association were formed some sport-loving citizen, and you have many of them, would donate a prize for yearly competition, to become the property of the club winning same two years in succession instead of as now having the boys play for the glory only. Trusting that this suggestion will not be thought presumptuous on my part. – Puck ”

The pseudonymous “Puck” had certainly been granted foresight of almost supernatural proportions, as the very next day, following the match between the Pegs and Vics previously described, T.A. Anderson, President of the Victorias, presented a “cup for the championship among the hockey clubs in the city.” (WDFP, January 25th, 1892, p.5)

Perhaps not so coincidentally, a letter from Frederick Stanley, Earl of Derby, was read by Lord Kilcoursie at a banquet for the Ottawa Hockey Club on March 18th, 1892, at the end of the Ontario Hockey Association season. As quoted in McFarlane’s The Stanley Cup:

“I have for some time been thinking it would be a good thing if there were a challenge cup which could be held from year to year by the leading hockey club in Canada. There does not appear to be any outward or visible sign of the championship at present. Considering the interest that hockey matches now elicit and the importance of having the games fairly played under generally recognized rules, I am willing to give a cup that shall be annually held by the winning club.

I am not quite certain that the present regulations governing the matches give entire satisfaction. It would be worth considering whether they could not be arranged so that each team would play once at home and once at the place where their opponents hail from.” (p.17)

Being a challenge trophy, any club in Canada could stake its claim. And while the Vics would set their present sights firmly on the city championship, it would not be long before the Stanley Cup, that illustrious new prize, was well within their grasp.

Army’s Army

On October 19th, 1891, the officers of the Winnipeg Victorias met at the Cauchon Block on Main Street to discuss the reorganization for the upcoming season. Jack Armytage, a key winger from the previous season, was elected the team’s first captain (MDFP, Oct. 19th, 1891. p.8; Oct. 22, 1891. p.6). The officers of the Winnipegs held a similar meeting, and on December 8th, the two major teams plus another from Fort Osborne, consisting exclusively of members of the Canadian Mounted Rifles, met to devise a schedule. Each team, it was decided, would play the others four times (MDFP, Dec. 9, 1891. p.5).

The first game of the season had the two big clubs, Pegs and Vics, finish in a draw. The Vics trailed 2-0 at the half, but rallied from behind in the second and even managed to pull ahead 3-2 on a Parsons goal. Shortly thereafter, McDonnell of the Pegs scored his second to bring the game even. That’s the way it stayed, adding significantly to the rivalry between the two clubs (MDFP, Dec. 20, 1891. p.5).

The second match between the Vics and the Pegs, played on January 23rd, 1892, would add more fuel. Described as “… perhaps the most exciting athletic contest ever witnessed in Winnipeg” (MDFP, Jan. 25, 1892. p.5), this game would be an historic showcase of Capt. Jack Army’s leadership. The two teams skated onto the ice in front of approximately 400 eager hockey fans.

Controversy immediately ensued over the presence of Fred Ashe in the ranks of the Winnipegs. Ashe had left the city the previous season to play as a forward for the Montreal Victorias (MDFP, Jan. 24, 1891. p.8). As he had only recently returned, the Vics of Winnipeg viewed this as gross infringement on the rules. Their protests fell on dead ears and the referee, placing the puck at centre, announced the start of the game.

Terrible ice conditions immediately hindered the finesse players of both clubs. A rougher brand of hockey was taken up in combination with a very careful passing game. This roughness became particularly apparent mid-way through the first half, when Armytage was involved in a nasty collision with Beckett. Army was badly cut and lost two teeth. He requested and was granted a short intermission, and returned to the ice surface seven minutes later, bandaged and ready to continue. At the half, neither team was able to establish a lead, nor concede one.

The Vics were unable to generate solid team play in the second. The ice worsened and the faster Vics had trouble moving the puck smoothly. Pinned in their own end, they conceded two goals, almost in succession. At the final whistle, the Pegs had taken it 2-0.

Although the Vics had lost, it was clear they had made the correct decision in awarding Jack Armytage the captaincy. Army would have a dramatic impact on the rest of the season, and on the whole history of the franchise.

The Rules

Transcribed from the Manitoba Daily Free Press, Saturday, March 5th, 1892. p.5

For the benefit of the “oldtimers” and hockey players generally, the rules of the game are published as played in Ontario and Manitoba.

1. The game is played on ice by teams of seven on each side, with a puck made of vulcanized rubber, one inch thick all through and three inches in diameter. Hockey sticks shall not be more than three inches wide at any part. A goal is place in the middle of each goal line, composed of two upright posts, four feet in height, placed six feet apart and at least five feet from the end of the ice. The goal posts shall be firmly fixed. In the event of a goal post being displaced or broken, the referee shall blow his whistle and the game shall not proceed until the post is replaced.

2. Each side shall have a captain (a member of his team) who before the match shall toss for choice of goals. Each side shall play an equal time from each end. The duration of championship  matches shall be not less than one hour,  exclusive  of stoppages. The team scoring the greatest number of goals in that time shall be declared the winner of the match. If at the end of that time the game is a draw, ends will be changed, and the game continued until one side scores.

3. There shall be only one referee for a match, and in no case shall he belong to either of the competing clubs. He shall enforce the rules, adjudicate upon disputes, or cases unprovided for by rule; appoint the goal umpires; keep the time and the score; and at the conclusion of the match declare the result. The puck shall be considered in play until the referee calls the game, which he may do at any time, and which he must do at once, when any irregularity of play occurs, by sounding a whistle. His decision shall be final.

4. A goal shall be scored when the puck shall have passed between the goal posts from in front, and below an imaginary line drawn across the top of the posts.
Goal umpires shall inform the referee when a goal is scored. Their decision shall be final.

5. The game shall be started and renewed by the referee calling play, after having placed the puck on its large surface on the ice, between the sticks of the two players, one each team, who are to face it.

6. A player  is off-side if he is in front of the puck, or when the puck has been hit, touched, or is being run with by any of his own side behind him (i.e., between himself and his own goal line.) A player being off-side is put on-side when the puck has been hit by, or has touched the dress or person of any player of the opposite side, or when one of his own side has run in front of him, either with the puck or having played it when behind him. If a player when off-side plays the puck, or annoys or obstructs an opponent, the puck shall be faced where it was last played before the off-side play occurred.

7. The puck may not be stopped with the hand except by the goal keeper (see rule 9), but may be stopped, but not carried or knocked on by any other part of the body. No player shall raise his stick above his shoulder. Charging from behind, tripping, collaring, kicking, cross-checking, or pushing shall not be allowed. And the referee may at his discretion, rule a player who has infringed the above rule, off the ice for the game in progress, or for the whole of the match.

8. When the puck goes off the ice behind the goal line, it shall be brought out by the referee, to a point five yards in front of the goal line, on a line at right angles thereto, from the point at which it left the ice, and there faced. When the puck goes off the ice at the side, it shall be similarly faced three yards from the side.

9.  The goal-keeper must not during play lie, sit or kneel upon the ice; he may, when in goal, stop the puck with his hands, but shall not throw or hold it.

10. No change of players shall be made after a match has commenced, except by reasons of accident or injury during the game.

11. Should any player be injured during a match and compelled to leave the ice, his side shall have the option of putting on a spare man from the reserve to equalize the teams. In the event of any dispute between the captains as to the injured player’s fitness to continue the game, the matter shall at once be decided by the referee.

12. Should the game be stopped by the referee by reason of the infringement of any of the rules, or because of an accident or change of players, the puck shall be faced at the spot where it was last played before such infringement, accident, or change of players shall have occurred.

A Place to Play

The first major stumbling block for Manitoba hockey was the absence of a suitable indoor ice-skating facility. It was widely acknowledged that, were hockey to obtain the status of the preferred winter sport, some indoor ice would have to be procured for the comfort of the spectators (MDFP, Jan. 31, 1890, p. 6; MDFP, Nov. 6, 1890, p. 8.).

The first organized season had been played at the rink built by Albert W. Austin, Manager of the Winnipeg Street Railway Company, in 1888. Often referred to as Austin’s Rink, the Winnipeg Street Railway Rink was part of a winter amusement park that included snowshoe rental and a large toboggan slide (MDFP, Dec. 6, 1888. p.4). This rink was a great practice space, but spectators were not overly comfortable with the harsh winds of a Winnipeg winter. An indoor facility was needed.

The second official season of hockey in Winnipeg would be a fortuitous one in this respect. The Thistle Curling Club, having relocated from their past location, the Grand Rink at the corner of Princess St. and McWilliam (Pacific Ave.), gave up the building to new proprietors Brydon & Charlesworth (MD,FP, May 13, 1890. p.6). The Grand had celebrated its opening “fancy-dress” ball on March 23rd, 1885, as a roller-skating rink (MDFP, Mar. 24, 1885, p.4). This was during an era of extreme interest in roller-skating that had operators of outdoor ice rinks frightened:

Winnipeg Daily Free Press, March 24th, 1885. p.4

Winnipeg Daily Free Press, March 24th, 1885. p.4

Ultimately, the craze subsided and the rink was converted into a winter ice facility for curling. After the property was sold in 1891, Brydon & Charlesworth used it for storage over the summer, but converted it into an ice-skating rink in the winter (MDFP, Nov. 10, 1891. p.6). This coincided perfectly with the opening of the Victorias’ second season, a fantastic one for the growth of hockey in Manitoba.

All Even

Of course, this is not to say that hockey wasn’t already a popular game played between young men on the frozen Red and Assiniboine Rivers. A Free Press article from January 31st, 1890, describes the game being “play[ed] every afternoon at Mr. Austin’s open air skating rink and the ambulances wait outside for the victims” (p.6). In fact, the Hingston Smith Arms Company was already selling equipment for the many “shinny” players when the first organized match took place.

Manitoba Daily Free Press, Dec. 20th, 1890. p.11

Manitoba Daily Free Press, Dec. 20th, 1890. p.11

The true significance of the first game was the attempt, albeit somewhat failed, at turning hockey into an exciting spectator sport. The commercial aspects of the game had yet to really be considered, but marketing would become increasingly important over the next few years, and throughout the game’s entire storied history.

The second match was scheduled for January 17th, 1891, but was postponed. It was not until two months later that the game would take place.

For this match, the Vics moved Higginbotham to the Back position, and moved Howard up to Forward. This type of positional change was very common early on, as players tried to find the place on the ice where they could make the biggest impact. The roles of the various positions was also ill-defined. Only through experimentation by these early players would any orthodox style of play come to be accepted.

The game was played at the Winnipeg Street Railway Rink on March 14th, 1891. This was the first defeat for the Vics. Strong defensive plays by Stowe and Cronin stifled the speed and finesse of the Vics. Frank Beckett scored the only goal, near the end of the first half. It was agreed that the Vics had lacked in solid team play, an area where, on this occasion, the Pegs excelled. The season series was now level at one game a piece. (Manitoba Daily Free Press, March 16, 1891, p.8)

And so, a third and deciding game was hurriedly scheduled. It was to take place at the Street Railway Skating Rink on March 27th. This game was cancelled due to melted ice. The crowning of the best team in the city would have to be left until the next season.