As one historian said of hockey, “It is as Canadian as the Maple Leaf”. So too was the birth of Leafs Nation.
From the ashes of the former National Hockey Association in 1917 rose the Torontos, a pro hockey team owned by the Toronto Arena Company.
The team was created as the first board of the NHL, headed by president Frank Calder, did not want Canada’s then second-largest city to be without a hockey franchise. Calder assigned former players of the NHA’s Toronto Blueshirts, owned by the much-maligned Eddie Livingstone, to the temporary Toronto franchise.
Amid legal battles with Livingstone, the Torontos played in stead of the Quebec Bulldogs to help balance the schedule of four teams: Montreal Wanderers, Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators.
When their inaugural season was over, the team took on the name Arenas, after their home the Mutual Street Arena and won the Stanley Cup in 1918.
But after two years, the Toronto Arena Company did not want to manage the team, so on Dec. 13, 1919 manager Charlie Querrie turned over the team to the St. Pats Group for $5,000. Shareholders would be Fred Hambly, Percy Hambly, Paul Ciceri and Richard Greer. Querrie still had shares in the team as well.
For nine seasons Toronto St. Pats played during a tumultuous time for the fledgling league — through World War 1 and the Spanish Flu.
Still, the St. Pats would win their first Cup in 1922 three games to two over the Vancouver Millionaires.
But darker days were fast approaching, as litigation by Eddie Livingstone against both the Toronto St. Pats and NHL would soon lead to Querrie putting his shares in the Pats on the market.
The first interested party was from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and their offer was $200,000.
In an attempt to keep the team in Toronto another shareholder, Jack P. Bickell, called former New York Rangers GM Conn Smythe and asked him to become co-owner of the team. Putting together an ownership group to raise $160,000, Smythe would join forces with Bickell.
A new blue and white nation would be born Valentine’s Day, 1927.
The St. Pats last game would be Feb. 16, 1927 — a 5-1 loss to the Detroit Cougars. On the train back to Toronto, Smythe, a WWI veteran, announced the team would be renamed the Maple Leafs.
“I had a feeling that the new Maple Leafs name was right,” he said. “Our Olympic team in 1924 had worn maple leaf crests on their chests. I had worn it on badges and insignia during the war.
“I thought it meant something across Canada.”
Sponsored by The Canadian Experience and Maple Leaf Sports + Entertainment, “Canada’s Hockey Experience: The Sport of a Country” is a unique, 20-week online series on the history of hockey.