Gordon Miller

Gordon Miller

100 years of hockey in Victoria

Patrick family shaped the modern game from house on Michigan Street

From his office in Washington, D.C., Dick Patrick, president of the Washington Capitals, recalls the home his grandfather Lester Patrick lived in on Linden Avenue in Fairfield.

“It was before my time, but my father told me stories,” Dick says. His father, Muzz, a Canadian boxing champ turned pro hockey player, was born and raised in Victoria. Muzz and brother Lynn won the Stanley Cup while playing for Lester, when the latter coached the New York Rangers in 1940.

Lester had previously won the Stanley Cup as a player and coach, his name engraved multiple times upon it. But even though 1940 was the first time Muzz and Lynn won hockey’s Holy Grail, it was the second time their names were engraved on it.

“I guess back in 1933 there wasn’t really a protocol for what to do with the Stanley Cup,” Dick says. “The story my dad told me is, after the Rangers won it, Lester kept it in his basement for the summer. (Muzz and Lynn) wanted their names in it too. Being teenagers, they etched their names into it with a nail.

“They got in a lot of trouble for that.”

Back in 1911, brothers Lester and Frank were supported by dad Joe Patrick when they used the family’s lumber fortune to create the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and build two arenas, one in Vancouver and one in Oak Bay.

The league ran successfully until 1926. Lester then moved on to the more promising NHL and grew to become one of New York’s most legendary characters, the Silver Fox. He was a newspaper darling and ran the New York Rangers and then Madison Square Gardens. Lester returned to Victoria each summer and never sold his house in Fairfield. In 1949 he formed the Victoria Cougars minor hockey team.

Frank followed a similar route, coaching the Boston Bruins in the 1930s before retiring to Vancouver. Both passed away in 1960.

But Lester and Frank were only two of six from their generation. Also living in James Bay were brother Ted and sisters Lucynda (Cynda), Dora and Myrtle. It was said that if Ted hadn’t suffered a serious leg injury in a childhood accident, he too would have won the Stanley Cup.

 

Proud to be Patricks

Away from the rink, but still in Victoria, the family continued to flourish.

Cynda Patrick followed her parents’ – Joe and Grace – religious upbringing, and married reverend John Wesley Miller.

“Cynda was a church organist and vocal soloist, not uncommon in that day when you were married to a minister,” says Gordon Miller, grandson of Cynda and one of Victoria’s remaining Patricks.

“My father was named Frank Patrick Miller, after my great uncle. My father carried a keen interest in the family (genealogy) and led the historian patriarch position in the family.”

That keen interest is part of an ongoing pride in the Patrick name, which Miller admits is due in part to the family’s hockey fame.

“Was there pressure to be interested in hockey? Yes. And we all follow it, to an extent,” Miller says. “Was there pressure to play? No.”

Some things have passed down, however. Like his grandmother, Miller is a musician, a piano instructor and music master at Oak Bay United Church.

Miller says the family continues to honour the Patrick heritage. For example, his sister is named Cynda and he has a son and daughter with Patrick and Patricia in their names.

“The extended family still gets together regularly, on the Island and mainland. We still feel a strong family connection. I think it’s safe to say it’s the notoriety of the hockey Patricks that is part of what keeps us together. Do we talk about hockey when we get together? Not much.”

Miller grew up in Ottawa and his migration to Victoria is parallel to that of Joe and Grace Patrick’s over 100 years ago.

 

It started in Oak Bay

When the Patrick family came to Victoria, they came with a dream to start a professional hockey league.

On Jan. 2, 1912, Lester’s Victoria Senators hosted the New Westminster Royals at the brand new arena, which was later known as Patrick Arena, on an out-of-the-way piece of property in Oak Bay.

Monday (Jan. 2) marks the 100th anniversary of that game, one that transformed the Patrick family name into hockey royalty. It wasn’t just the first game in Victoria, it was the first game of the PCHA, which existed until 1926 when it merged with the Western Canada Hockey League.

Thirty-seven years later, in 1949, during the excitement over the new Memorial Arena construction on Blanshard Street, Victoria Daily Times sports writer Archie Wills ran a summary of hockey history in the city. He revisited an original game report, describing how the red, white and blue coloured Senators lost that first game 8-3 to the dazzling Royals, in their black and orange jerseys.

 

They shaped the game

Despite giving so much to the game, there will be little fanfare for the Patricks on the PCHA’s centennial anniversary. The WHL Victoria Royals will play at home Monday against the Calgary Hitmen, but that’s only by coincidence.

Since the passing of Frank and Lester in 1960, their role in changing the sport has been relegated to the historical archives.

But it was during the summers in the family home on Michigan Street that Frank would return from running the Vancouver Millionaires. He and Lester were rarely satisfied with the flow of the game, and often made changes, shaping hockey as its known today.

Frank is credited with introducing the blue line/offsides and raising the stick in celebration of a goal, and Lester with installing the red line. These rules were necessary, as the PCHA used forward passes, which the NHL didn’t adopt until 1928-29.

Together, they hashed out even more rules, including numbers on jerseys, an assortment of penalties and the penalty shot.

Lester’s Senators became the Aristocrats and eventually the Cougars. It is said, in Victoria sports writer Eric Whitehead’s book The Patricks: Hockey’s royal family, that when Lester sold the Cougars team to Detroit (Cougars/Falcons/Red Wings), the buyers were shocked when he revealed the contracts were 100 per cent verbal.

sports@vicnews.com

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