Now available in paperback

a Great Game

The Forgotten Leafs &
The Rise of Professional Hockey

Stephen J. Harper

A Great Game: The Forgotten Leafs & The Rise of Professional Hockey is a fascinating look at the hockey heroes and hard-boiled businessmen who built the game, and the rise and fall of legendary teams pursuing the Stanley Cup at the turn of the twentieth century. Stephen Harper brings alive the history of hockey's first decades and pays passionate tribute to the earliest star players of the game.

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A Great Game - The Forgotten Leafs & The Rise of Professional Hockey - Stephen J. Harper
The Book


The Forgotten Leafs & The Rise of Professional Hockey

Stephen J. Harper

In the tumultuous beginnings of hockey, the fights were as much off the ice as on it. With a historian's perspective and fan's passion, Stephen Harper presents a riveting and often-surprising portrait, capturing everything from the physical contests on the rinks to the battles behind the scenes and the changing social conventions of the twentieth century.

A Great Game shows that many things have stayed the same. Rough play, fervent hometown loyalties, owner-player contract disputes, dubious news coverage, and big money were issues from the get-go. Most important in these early years was the question: Was hockey to be a game of obsessed amateurs playing for the love of the sport, or was it a game for paid professionals who would give fans what they wanted? Who should be responsible for the sport – including its bouts of violence – both on and off the ice?

A century ago, rinks could melt, and by half time the blades screwed to the players' shoes could be sinking in mud. It was during this time that teams such as the Toronto Professionals of 1908 and the Toronto Blue Shirts of 1914 took turns battling for the city's very first Stanley Cup. Against the fanatical opposition of amateur hockey leaders, these "forgotten Leafs" would lay the groundwork for the world's most profitable hockey franchise.

In paying tribute to these hockey pioneers and the contagious loyalty of their fans, Stephen Harper resurrects the history of hockey's first decades. Illustrated with photographs of the game's greatest arenas and earliest star players, this entertaining and original book will captivate you from start to finish.

All author proceeds from the book will go to the Canadian Forces Personnel and Family Support Services (CFPFSS). The specific fund that the proceeds will be donated to is the Military Families Fund, which provides emergency financial assistance to military families faced with unforeseen and often immediate needs that have resulted due to conditions of service.

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The Author

Like millions of other Canadians, Stephen Harper developed his love for hockey at a young age as he played at the arenas and on the shinny rinks and roads of his hometown. Today, long retired from his on-ice "career" with the Leaside Lions, he is serving as Canada's 22nd Prime Minister, and is happily married to Laureen who, with their children Ben and Rachel, live in Calgary and Ottawa.

A member of the Society of International Hockey Research with a particular interest in the early decades of the game, Stephen Harper is an amateur historian interested in exploring the sport's impact on the people and places that define Canada.

A Great Game is his first published work on the game of hockey.

The History

MAR 31875

The first recorded game of formally organized ice hockey is played at the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal. This postcard illustrates an 1893 match between the Montreal (AAA) Winged Wheelers and Victorias at the latter's rink.

DEC 101885

A permanent indoor structure is erected to replace the open ice sheet at the Caledonian Rink in Toronto. The new, natural-ice facility, quickly known as the "Mutual Street Rink," later becomes Toronto's leading site for hockey.

FEB 161888

Toronto's first recorded game of hockey is played at the Granite Club Rink. Toronto at the turn of the century was a burgeoning metropolis of over 200,000 souls, as this image of Queen Street shows.

FEB 81890

The Ottawa Rebels (officially known as the Vice-Regal and Parliamentary Hockey Club) play two exhibition matches in Toronto. The visit, sponsored by Governor General Lord Stanley, ignites the city's passion for the sport.

NOV 271890

The Ontario Hockey Association is established at Toronto's Queen’s Hotel. The organization has a puritanical streak from the outset, especially in its embrace of the principles of amateurism.

MAR 181892

At a dinner for the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Association, Lord Stanley is quoted in a letter that he asked Lord Kilcoursie to read on his behalf:

"I have for some time been thinking that it would be a good thing if there were a challenge cup which should be held from year to year by the champion hockey team in the Dominion of Canada. There does not appear to be any such outward sign of a championship at present, and considering the general interest which matches now elicit, and the importance of having the game played fairly and under rules generally recognized, I am willing to give a cup which shall be held from year to year by the winning team."

The Stanley Cup is born.

DEC 21899

John Ross Robertson becomes President of the Ontario Hockey Association. A powerful Torontonian and an amateur idealist, Robertson establishes an iron grip over the influential organization. For the rest of his life, he wages a bitter war against any professional hockey in Ontario.

JAN 21 & 231902

The OHA champion Toronto Wellingtons travel to Manitoba to challenge the Victorias of Winnipeg for the Stanley Cup. It is Toronto's first Stanley Cup voyage. Unfortunately for the Wellingtons, they would lose two hard-fought games in the best-of-three series.

DEC 11903

The Federal Amateur Hockey League is announced. It is the first direct challenge to the Canadian Amateur Hockey League, which had been the country’s leading hockey organization up until that point. The new league would embrace key clubs that were gravitating toward professionalism, most notably the Montreal Wanderers and the Ottawa Silver Seven.

FEB 23 & 251904

The Stanley Cup champion Ottawa Silver Seven soundly defeat the OHA's Toronto Marlboros in a series marred by controversy over rough play. The Marlboro players will later quit the OHA to become professional.

APR 281906

The Montreal Amateur Athletic Association, the country's largest sports club, votes to allow professionals to play with amateurs on its sports teams.

DEC 281906

The first professional ice hockey game in Toronto is played at the Mutual Street Rink between the Toronto Hockey Club (dubbed the Toronto Professionals) and the Sault Ste. Marie Algonquins of the International Hockey League.

FEB 11907

Montreal's Amateur Athletic Federation of Canada is announced. It attempts to become the "realistic" alternative to the amateur fundamentalism of Toronto's Canadian Amateur Athletic Union. Throughout Canada's sporting world, the national "Athletic War" divides the country.

MAR 141908

The Toronto Professionals take to the ice against the Montreal Wanderers to challenge for the Stanley Cup in a sudden-death match. The two teams battle back and forth, but the visitors get into penalty trouble near the end and the Wanderers retain the Stanley Cup – and immortalize themselves as one of hockey's earliest dynasties.

SEPT 61909

The Amateur Athletic Federation of Canada merges with the Canadian Amateur Athletic Union to form the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada. The new organization is headed by James G. Merrick, a disciple of John Ross Robertson. The Athletic War is over with Toronto as the undisputed national capital of amateur sport.

NOV 191909

The Toronto Professionals officially fold.

NOV 251909

Upset with the Montreal Wanderers' move to a smaller arena, the Ottawa Senators, Montreal Shamrocks, and Quebec Bulldogs withdraw from the Eastern Canada Hockey Association and form a new league called the Canadian Hockey Association. The Wanderers, in tandem with the Renfrew's O'Brien family, quickly form a new league, the National Hockey Association, to compete with the CHA. The NHA manufactures a new francophone club without any prior hockey history – the Montreal Canadiens. A period of intense recruitment, court challenges over broken contracts, and limitless spending begins.

JAN 161910

The Ottawa Senators break from the CHA and are admitted back into the NHA. The commercial battle between the traditional, middle-class hockey managers of the CHA and the rising industrialists of the NHA is over, with the NHA proving victorious.

DEC 71911

From the proceeds of their father's British Columbia lumber business, former Quebec and Ontario hockey stars Lester and Frank Patrick establish the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. The PCHA develops a different set of rules than the established eastern game, including the creation of the blue line, the forward pass, the penalty shot, and allowing goalies to leave their feet to make a save.

DEC 211912

The Montreal Wanderers and Montreal Canadiens play an exhibition match in Toronto showcasing the NHA’s new six-man style of hockey.

DEC 251912

The re-born professional Toronto Hockey Club plays its first game in the National Hockey Association at a new artificial ice arena on Mutual Street, the Arena Gardens. For the first time a Toronto team in blue uniforms faces a Montreal team wearing the tricolore. A century-long hockey rivalry has begun.

MAR 111914

The Toronto Blue Shirts defeat the Montreal Canadiens in a two-game total-goals series to capture the city's first Stanley Cup. However, they do not actually receive the trophy that night as the Cup is stuck in Quebec City awaiting transportation.

MAR 191914

The Toronto Blue Shirts sweep their best-of-five series against the PCHA champion Victoria Aristocrats on home ice. They are the undisputed champions of the professional hockey world.

NOV 261917

The owners of the NHA form a new circuit, the National Hockey League, without the Toronto Blue Shirts. The Blue Shirt players, wearing the same uniform, become part of a "new" NHL franchise operated by the Mutual Street Arena.

MAY 311918

John Ross Robertson dies.