Portland Was First U.S.-Based Stanley Cup Finalist

The American legacy of the NHL will finally stretch into the Pacific Northwest when the expansion Seattle Kraken joins the league for the 2021-22 season. The Boston Bruins Bruins became the NHL’s first U.S.-based franchise in 1924. Four years later, the New York Rangers were the first American NHL franchise to win the Stanley Cup

However, what’s forgotten perhaps to all but only the most arduous historians of hockey is that the lore of the game in terms of major pro franchises in the USA began in the Pacific Northwest. The Pacific Coast Hockey Association, which became a Stanley Cup rival to the NHL, was born in 1911. Two of the long-standing franchises in the league were the Seattle Metropolitans and the Portland Rosebuds.

In 1916-17, the Metropolitans beat the defending champion Montreal Canadiens of the NHA, a forerunner to the NHL, to become the first U.S.-based Stanley Cup champions. One year earlier in the spring of 1916, the Rosebuds tangled with the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup final, becoming the first American team to play for Lord Stanley’s mug. Had there been online betting sites like MyBookie in the day, the Canadiens would’ve been overwhelming favorites to beat the Rosebuds. But it wouldn’t go as easily for Montreal as the experts were projecting.

The series opened on March 21, 1916 at Montreal Arena.

Rosebuds A Rough And Tumble Bunch

Belying their nickname, the Rosebuds were known as a team the opposition didn’t want to mess with. Left-winger Fred (Smokey) Harris led the PCHA with 75 penalty minutes and defenseman Ernie (Moose) Johnson (62) and center Tommy Dunderdale (45) were also no strangers to the penalty box.

Right wing Charlie Tobin led the team with 21 goals during the 18-game regular season. Goaltender Tom Murray posted a league-leading 13 wins and 2.75 goals-against average for the first-place Rosebuds.

In those days, the NHA and PCHA played under much different rulebooks. The NHA played six-man hockey and didn’t permit passing the puck forward in the attacking zone. The PCHA utilized a seventh skater, a rover, and allowed forward passing all over the ice. With Montreal playing host to the best-of-five series, three of the games would be played by NHL rules and two under PCHA laws.

A Promising Start

Backed by the shutout goaltending or Murray and a tenacious checking game, the Rosebuds won Game 1 by a 2-0 count, even though they played by NHL rules. Harris opened the scoring in the first period and sub Charlie Uksila, who’d only scored three times all season, netted a second-period tally. 

The 4,000 Montreal fans in attendance were impressed by the skill and speed of the Portland squad.


Canadiens Bounce Back

Missing injured regulars Newsy Lalonde and Jack Laviolette for Game 2, it was Montreal’s turn to put on the impressive checking display. The Canadiens won 2-1 under PCHA rules to even the series. All three goals were registered in the opening period of play, Skinner Poulin snapping a 1-1 tie to give the Habs the win.

Lalonde and Laviolette were back for Game 3 and Montreal roared to a 6-3 verdict. Didier Pitre netted a hat-trick to pace the victory. A fight broke out between Lalonde and Johnson that required police intervention on the ice to halt the fisticuffs. Both players were ejected from the game.

Staving Off Elimination

In a see-saw battle that saw Portland squander a 3-0 lead and fall behind 4-3, it took a three-goal third-period rally for the Rosebuds to scrape out a 6-5 win. 

Eddie Oatman netted two of those third-period tallies, including the game winner. For the first time since the Stanley Cup final had been extended to a best-of-five affair in 1914, a decisive fifth game would be required.

One Goal Short

Montreal claimed a first-period lead in Game 5 when Skene Ronan scored off a faceoff in the Portland zone. That goal held up into the third period, when Dunderdale tied the count for the Rosebuds. 

Midway through the final frame, Goldie Prodgers got loose on a breakaway and beat Murray to restore Montreal’s advantage. The game finished 2-1 and the Cup went to the Canadiens. It was the first of a record 24 Stanley Cups won by the franchise.

As for the Rosebuds, they’d never get another crack at Lord Stanley’s mug. The franchise folded in 1926 and Portland faded from major-pro hockey. The nucleus of the 1925-26 Rosebuds moved to Chicago to form a new NHL franchise called the Blackhawks.