It wouldn’t be possible to operate the National Hockey League without retaining hundreds of players. But at one time a professional league flourished in Canada while employing a mere 24 players, or fewer men than each one of the NHL clubs employs today.
The league was the Pacific Coast Hockey League, organized in 1911. And some of the players in the league, when they weren’t performing in games, earned a little extra money by acting as referees in league matches.
Two great hockey builders, brothers Frank and Lester Patrick organized the Pacific Coast Hockey League with all franchises–there were only three—based in British Columbia: in Vancouver, Victoria and New Westminster.
The Patrick brothers built new arenas in Vancouver and Victoria and had artificial ice installed, the first such ice in Canada. The Patricks raided Eastern Canada for talent and paid big money to the stars they signed. But not many stars. Only 23 players manned the rosters of the three clubs involved so each man was expected to play a full sixty minutes of every game during the 15‑game schedule.
The Patrick brothers were men of great vision. The added blue lines to the ice, introduced assists to the game and numerals to the players’ jerseys. In 1926, when hockey in the west collapsed, they sold all their players to the NHL clubs.