It happened today - March 26, 2016

March 26 is not a happy day for the Ottawa Senators. Mind you, they don’t have a lot of those. And at least on this date in 1915 they lost in the Stanley Cup finals instead of expiring dismally in a lunge for the last wild-card playoff spot.

Yes, I’m talking about the hockey team not the legislators. Who don’t seem to have a lot of good days nowadays either, to be sure. And I’m talking about their suffering a three-game sweep in the Stanley Cup finals by the Vancouver Millionaires in the first championship series between the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and the National Hockey Association. Those were the days.

There are a few things I really like about this story. First, the name Vancouver Millionaires. Nobody would call a hockey team that today, although it would actually be accurate now which it certainly wasn’t then. And second, I like the fact that in those days hockey was truly played by inspired amateurs.

I realize nostalgia ain’t what it used to be and if you put, say, the fabled Ottawa Silver Seven on the ice against a mediocre modern team, for instance the Ottawa Senators, or even a really terminally bad one like the Toronto Maple Leafs, the modern players would sweep them from the ice even if outnumbered.

The size, strength, and systematic nurturing of the abilities of modern players has produced profoundly superior athletes. But as is surprisingly common, this application of scientific technique has improved something bit by bit relentlessly until it is all but ruined. Even the enormously superior protective equipment encourages a style of play that guarantees injury. Progress is full of such paradoxes.

The game is too loud, too lavish, too expensive, too egotistical, and prone to bouts of suffocating defence that bore fans to the brink of tears. And while there are fixes, like bigger rinks to open up the game, there are always “fixes” that will put it back in jeopardy. The spirit of the game just isn’t what it was when teams of misfits with day jobs traveled for days by train to play in unheated open rinks for the joy of winning rather than the lavish paydays associated with ten straight years missing the playoffs.

Remember Frank McGee? Blind in one eye, he led the Silver Seven to three Stanley cups playing “centre” and “rover”, and once scoring 14 goals in one… no, not season, one single Stanley Cup game; he scored five or more goals in a Stanley Cup game eight times. At age 33 he was killed fighting in France, at Courcelette, during the Battle of the Somme.

As recently as the 1944-45 season, Rocket Richard scored a record eight points in a game after moving furniture all day, something no modern player would do. And of course if I were the coach I would absolutely forbid their doing it. But still, the athletes were much more regular guys back then and I miss that.

Also back then Ottawa teams used to win, which was kind of nice. And a hockey dynasty was rising in Toronto. Which tells you how different things once were.