Inside the NHL

TORONTO – As the Stanley Cup Final was playing out last week, it seemed a good time to check in on memories from when that trophy was first awarded on U.S. soil.

The Seattle Metropolitans, of course, defeated the Montreal Canadiens in 1917 to win Lord Stanley’s mug for the only time. So, what does the Hockey Hall of Fame have to commemorate that franchise? Quite a bit, it turns out.

And not all of it is at the Hall’s main display room in downtown Toronto. In fact, once there you’ll currently see a game jersey worn by 1916-17 Pacific Coast Hockey Association MVP Frank Foyston of the Metropolitans and that’s about it.

But head out of downtown farther west and you come to the Hall’s 18,000 square-foot D.K. (Doc) Seaman Hockey Resource Centre, located in the same building where the Toronto Maple Leafs have their training facility.

The resource center also is where 75% to 80% of Hall of Fame memorabilia has been stored since opening in 2009. Visits are by appointment – usually limited to hockey historians and researchers, with no photography allowed  – though the Hall committee is considering opening its doors to the public to raise needed operational funding. One storage room contains up to 4,000 sticks donated by former players.

“We used to store all of the archival stuff on a floor below the main displays,’’ said Izak Westgate, assistant curator for the archives center. “But we eventually realized we would need more space. Even now, the way we keep accumulating things, we’re looking at ways to expand within this current facility.’’

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The center’s lobby was stacked with shipping crates when I visited. “Sorry for the mess,’’ a receptionist said. “They’re all going to Vegas this afternoon.’’

The crates contained the Hart, Calder, Vezina, Ross, Selke and other trophies to be handed out at the NHL Awards gala in Las Vegas later this month. The Hall safeguards the decades-old hardware as well as the Stanley Cup.

Westgate led me upstairs toward a table where he’d laid out Metropolitans memorabilia as well as some white gloves.

“Those are the one thing we insist upon,’’ he said.

Once the gloves were on, he pointed to a plastic bag containing another of Metropolitans star Foyston’s game-worn jerseys.

“You can take it out,’’ he said.

The jersey looked and felt fragile, with small holes permeating the century-old wool. But once unfurled, it resembled the same jerseys shown in black and white photographs run in The Seattle Times for years – only now in full color. The Hall keeps a similar jersey worn by goalie Hap Holmes.

On the same table, Westgate had left Foyston’s MVP trophy from the Stanley Cup year and his skates. The trophy was something to behold and lift, given its authentic silver bowl top adding to the weight.

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I tried to envision Foyston holding it as it was presented to him. Though I couldn’t imagine using his skates to get anywhere fast, the blades appearing well worn with a century’s decay while the leather looked weak compared to today’s ankle supports.

But the really fascinating stuff on the table was the paperwork. The Hall keeps row upon row of old newspapers and game programs documenting the game’s history.

And one item on the table was a 1915 souvenir program from the old Seattle Ice Arena’s debut season. I removed it from its plastic storage pouch – gloves on, of course – and carefully flipped through its 28 pages. Some had already detached from the program’s spine, but the lettering was clear as day as I imagined being a Seattle sports fan 104 years ago sitting in the arena waiting for the Metropolitans to take the ice.

The first thing that jumped out was an ad from the Piper & Taft Sporting Goods Store on Second Ave., selling suits and overcoats for $15 – and noting that it was a deal because they had a retail value of $25. There was another ad for the “Washington Natatorium and Turkish Baths’’ inside the Moore theater building.

Finally, a back page ad noted that the arena itself had been roofed with “The Philip Carey Co’s Built-up Asbestos roofing.’’

Yes, times have certainly changed.

The program contained feature articles on the history of hockey’s Pacific Coast development, figure skating and photos of similar ice arenas in New York, Boston, Cleveland and Vancouver.

On the same table was a smaller program from the 1916-17 Stanley Cup Final as well as original photographs of the Metropolitans and Canadiens posing together on the ice. Also, a 10-cent program from a 1940-41 game in which the Seattle Olympics – the only year they played under that name – played host to Vancouver and a 1949-50 program from a Seattle Ironmen game against the Victoria Cougars.

I’d asked Westgate whether the Hall had Seattle Eskimos or Sea Hawks files. We manually searched the climate-controlled, warehouse-style archives rooms and found a Victoria Cubs program from 1928-29 in which they played host to coach Pete Muldoon’s Eskimos. Somebody even pencil-marked a scorecard inside the program and it appears the Eskimos won 4-3.

Small details like that are a reason having the original item is often the best way of preserving history. The Hall has a video editing room where they are looking to digitize row-upon-row of film canisters containing game footage as far back as the 1930s.

Westgate figures the same digitizing will eventually replace the slowly-deteriorating newspapers taking up a sizeable archives space. The Hall tries to keep clippings on every team, player and Stanley Cup win – some more recent than others.

There’s a Seattle Sunday Times magazine section from Jan. 30, 1921 with its cover showing an illustration of the Metropolitans and Vancouver playing at the Seattle Arena. A referee in the background has a capital letter “R’’ sewn on his jersey as was then commonplace.

A file folder on the Metropolitans contained a 2017 feature by Times columnist Larry Stone commemorating the 100thanniversary of the Cup victory. The Hall collects as many outside newspapers as possible when its limited staffers travel for events, but the bulk of clippings still come from Toronto’s four dailies.

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I decided to test the archives’ completeness. I told Westgate about covering the “Stanley Cup riot’’ for the Montreal Gazette in June 1993 after fans went on a rampage following the Canadiens’ title victory over Los Angeles – the last by a Canadian-based team.

Westgate quickly moved to a Stanley Cup newspaper cover portion of the archives and within seconds was sorting downward. “Here’s 1998, 1996, ah, there we go…!’’ he said, plucking a plastic-covered Gazette front page with a “Cup Comes Home’’ headline, a shot of goalie Patrick Roy hoisting the championship trophy and my co-written riot story and byline off to the left, above the fold.

“Congratulations,’’ Westgate said. “You’re in the Hall of Fame.’’

And so are the Metropolitans. You just have to dig a little.