Aside from the Stanley Cup, it could be argued no trophy in hockey is as important as the Allan Cup. In fact, it is almost as old as the Stanley Cup, and it predates the NHL as well.
In today’s episode, I am going to be looking at the early years of the Allan Cup. While it has been around since 1909, I’ll only be looking at about the first three decades of the cup, since I try and focus on the early history of hockey on this podcast.
Back in 1908, hockey was going through a transformative time in the country, with a rift growing between players who wanted to play professionally and those who wanted to remain with their amateur status. It was in that year that the top amateur teams left the Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association, which allowed professional players, and they formed the Inter-Provincial Amateur Hockey Union, which only allowed amateur players.
The Stanley Cup had originally been presented as an amateur trophy, with proceeds from the games going to the competing teams. This would lead to abuses of the principles of amateurism as clubs would bring in star players from around the country, no matter the cost, to win the Stanley Cup, paying for those players with the money made from the games.
Since the Stanley Cup was essentially being awarded now to the professional hockey champion in Canada, there needed to be something for the amateur players.
That is where Sir H. Montagu Allan comes into the story in 1909. Allan had been born in Montreal, the second son of Sir Hugh Allan, one of the richest men in Canada and the owner of the shipping business, the Allan Line. Throughout his life, he would grow his fortune through various businesses in industries from coal and rubber to hospitality and paper. He was also an avid sportsman and was a member of several sporting clubs. To give the amateur clubs something to fight for, he would donate the new trophy, which worked like the Stanley Cup.
He would write a letter to Blair Russel, the president of the Interprovincial Hockey Union, stating he wanted to donate a trophy. His letter says in part quote:
“With a view to stimulating the interest in amateur hockey throughout Canada, I have decided to offer a cup to be competed for by amateur clubs. This cup, I hope, will eventually become to the amateurs what the Stanley Cup now represents to the professionals, with the undesirable features eliminated.”
Trustees were named to administer the trophy, and it was to be passed from champion to champion by league championship or challenge.
The trophy was then presented to the Victoria Hockey Club of Montreal, who were members of the Inter-Provincial Amateur Hockey Union, to be presented to the champions of the league’s first season. The league only had four teams, with two based in Montreal, one in Ottawa and one in Toronto. The first winner of the trophy would be the Ottawa Cliffsides Hockey Club, who had the best record in the league for the season.
After the season was over, the first-ever challenge for the Allan Cup would be held with the Queen’s University Hockey club of Kingston defeating the Cliffsides to take the trophy only one week after Ottawa had first won it.
The Montreal Gazette would report quote:
“Defeating the Ottawa Cliffsides in one of the hardest fought matches played in Ottawa for years, the Queen’s University hockey team of Kingston tonight carried off the amateur championship and the cup donated by Sir Montagu Allan of Montreal, as an emblem of the same.”
In 1910, there were four challenges for the Allan Cup, with the Queen’s Golden Gaels winning twice and the Toronto St. Micheal’s Majors winning twice.
In 1911, the first team west of Ontario won the trophy, when the Winnipeg Victorias won against the Toronto St. Micheal’s Majors. Around this time, challenges were being pursued for the cup on nearly a weekly basis it seemed. Only one week after Winnipeg won, Kenora was looking to capture the cup. Interestingly, Winnipeg won the Allan Cup on Feb. 14, 1911, because the Toronto St. Michaels refused to play on certain days. One of the trustees for the Cup would send the following message, quote:
For the next three years, the Allan Cup was only won by a Winnipeg team. The Winnipeg Victorias held the trophy from 1911 to 1912 through five challenges, while the Winnipeg Hockey Club held it in 1913 through three challenges, and the Winnipeg Monarchs held it for half of 1914 in two challenges. That year, the Regina Victorias would become the first Allan Cup champions from Saskatchewan, winning it in two challenges.
One team that competed for the Allan Cup in 1911 were former Stanley Cup champions, the Kenora Thistles. At the time, most of the players from that legendary team were gone, but a new crop of players was now hungry to win, and they set their eyes on the Allan Cup. Unfortunately, they lost to Winnipeg, who won their second challenge for the Allan Cup in that game. In that challenge, Winnipeg beat Kenora 12-5 in the first game, but lost in the second game 5-4, but kept the trophy on the basis of goals scored.
Kenora would again play for the Allan Cup in 1914, losing this time to the Winnipeg Monarchs. So ended the quest to become the first team to win both the Stanley Cup and the Allan Cup. The Ottawa Senators did win the Allan Cup in 1948 and 1949, but this was not a continuation of the original Senators that dominated the hockey world for the first three decades of the 20th century.
With such a large country and so many clubs that could compete for the trophy, the decision was made to form the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association in 1914 to administer the competition of the Allan Cup. One of the first decisions of this new organization was to replace the challenge system with national playoffs. A provincial elimination scheme was decided upon, and no club would be called upon to play more than two series, or four games, in defence of the Allan Cup. Various branches were set up that teams would be part of in order to play for the Cup. The Saskatoon Daily Star would report quote:
“The formation of the new body, which will govern the recognized amateur hockey in the Dominion, was brought about after an all-day discussion, during which a constitution was adopted, bylaws drafted, and important progress made toward the task of amending the Allan Cup rules in such a way as to make them satisfactory to all concerned.”
Many legendary hockey players would get their starts in these early years playing on amateur teams. In 1915, the Winnipeg Monarchs won the Allan Cup with the help of Hockey Hall of Famers Dick Irvin and Fred Maxwell. In 1918, George Hainsworth would win the Allan Cup with the Kitchener Greenshirts. Hainsworth would go on to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961 after winning two Stanley Cups and three Vezina Trophies.
In 1916, many battalions would form hockey teams. The Winnipeg 61st Battalion, led by future Hall of Fame player Bullet Joe Simpson, won the Allan Cup. Another military team would come near to capturing the Allan Cup in 1918 when the Kitchener Greenshirts defeated the Winnipeg Ypres.
In 1920, teams that won the Allan Cup would represent Canada in amateur play at the Olympics and World Championships, which were typically dominated by Canadian teams for the next three decades. Profits from the Allan Cup games were then used to fund a national team for the country.
The first team to go overseas after winning the Allan Cup were the Winnipeg Falcons, led Frank Frederickson, who would eventually find his way to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Edmonton Journal reported quote:
“The Allan Cup goes west after an absence of three years and judging by the ability of the new holders, it may be a long time before it comes back again.”
In the 1920 Summer Olympics, where hockey first appeared prior to the first Winter Olympics in 1924, the Winnipeg Monarchs cruised to victory, capturing the gold medal, while Fredrickson had 12 goals in only three games.
On that team, eight players made the journey to Belgium for the Olympics. Of those eight players, three would make it to the NHL.
In 1924, the Toronto Granites would represent Canada at the Olympics after winning the 1922 and 1923 Allan Cups. Like with the previous Olympics, the Canadian team bulldozed through the competition, scoring an astonishing 110 goals in five games and allowing only three goals. Harry Watson led Canada with 36 goals, while Hooley Smith had 18 goals. Both men would wind up in the Hall of Fame.
Originally, challenges were one game only, then two games and in 1925 became a best-of-three series.
In 1928, the Cup was officially turned over to the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association by the trustees of the Allan Cup.
In 1933, the Moncton Hawks became the first team from the Maritimes to win the Allan Cup, thanks to two shutout victories over the Saskatoon Quakers. At that Allan Cup series, a man named Clarence Campbell would serve as one of the officials. He would go on to serve as the President of the National Hockey League from 1946 to 1977.
The Victoria Daily Times would report quote:
Apart from 1936, Allan Cup winners continued their dominance at the Olympics. It was in 1936 that the Canadian team lost one game, unfortunately that loss gave Great Britain the gold medal, although that Great Britain team was made up mostly of Canadians.
In 1938, the Trail Smoke Eaters won the Allan Cup over the Cornwall Flyers, led by Johnny McCreedy who would go on to win two Stanley Cups with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Smoke Eaters would win the 1939 World Hockey Championships in Switzerland, sweeping the entire tournament and scoring 42 goals in eight games, while allowing only one. With the Smoke Eaters was Joe Benoit, a Metis man, who would become one of the first Indigenous players to ever play in the NHL.
In 1945, the Allan Cup was cancelled for the first time due to the reluctance of travel due to wartime conditions, and many of the players choosing to work instead of play hockey.
Since 1909, the Allan Cup has been won by every province. Ontario has won the trophy more than anyone else by far, 50 times, with Manitoba being the next closest with 12. British Columbia won 11 times and Quebec won nine times. Thunder Bay has won the Allan Cup more than any other community, with 10 wins.
In 1984, the Allan Cup was replaced by the Memorial Cup as the top trophy for amateur teams in Canada, and today the Allan Cup is awarded to the top Senior AAA team in Canada instead. Today, the original Allan Cup sits in the Hockey Hall of Fame and a replica is awarded to the champions.
The trophy has also been won seven times by American teams. The Spokane Jets would win in 1970, 1972, 1976 and 1980, while the Warroad Lakers won it three times in a row from 1994 to 1996, something no other team has accomplished in Allan Cup play.
Only one player has ever won the Memorial Cup, Stanley Cup and Allan Cup while still being junior hockey eligible. That person was Danny Lewicki. Born in 1931 in Port Arthur, he would lead the Thunder Bay Junior Hockey League with 19 points in the regular season and 12 in the playoffs. He was then loaned to the Port Arthur West End Bruins, who won the Memorial Cup in 1948. After the win, the Toronto Maple Leafs bought the rights to Lewicki for a record price of $35,000. After his season with the Toronto Marlboros, Lewicki then played for the Marlboro’s senior team, which won the Allan Cup in 1950. That same year, he joined the NHL, helping the Toronto Maple Leafs to win the Stanley Cup. By the age of 20, he had won all three trophies.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the tournament was cancelled in 2020 and 2021, marking only the second and third time this had happened in the trophy’s history.
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Hockey League History, Hockey Hall of Fame, Wikipedia, Macleans, Habs Eye on The Prize, Hockey Central, The Chronicle Journal, Puck Struck, BusLeagueHockey, SIHR Hockey, Montreal Gazette, Winnipeg Tribune, Saskatoon Daily Star, Hockey Canada,