May 272009

Artificial ice made its first appearance in Canada in 1911 when Lester and Frank Patrick had it installed in arenas in Vancouver and Victoria. Before its use became common, many Stanley Cup playoff games were decided on ice that was soft as butter.

In 1905, for example, when Rat Portage, now Kenora, challenged Ottawa for the Stanley Cup, The Thistles zipped around the slow footed Capital City Boys to capture the first game of the series 9-3. The Rat Portage players wore new tube skates, invented by a man named McCullough, and many credited the thin bladed skates for their superior speed.

After game one, Ottawa fans resigned themselves to the loss of the Stanley Cup. Another win for the speedy Thistles in the best of three series and the trophy would go west.

But somebody in Ottawa — the canny (some say devious) perpetrator was never identified — came up with an ingenious plan to rob the visitors of what appeared to be a certain victory.

When The Thistles showed up for game two and glanced out on the ice, their mouths dropped open in amazement. Someone had flooded the ice surface with 2 inches of water an hour earlier — even though it was well above freezing and there was no chance the water would freeze.

The Ottawa strategy worked. The thin bladed tube skates worn by The Thistles cut deep into the soft ice, while the layer of water on top nullified their superior passing and stickhandling skills. Ottawa, a more physical team, appeared to be quite at home in the water and slush, and tied the series with a 4-2 victory.

The screams of outrage from the visitors over the flooding of the ice forced the arena manager to produce a somewhat better surface for deciding game. This greatly disappointed the Ottawa fans, who enjoyed the swimming pool atmosphere of game two. Ottawa’s Frank McGee scored the winning goal in a 5–4 triumph and the westerners returned to Rat Portage, furious but empty-handed.

Their howls of protest echoed from one end of Ontario to the other. “Some sneak in Ottawa flooded the ice deliberately and it cost us the cup.” They told one and all. Ah, but who could prove it?

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