Coronavirus outbreak brings back ghosts NHL’s 1919 Stanley Cup cancellation
On Thursday, the NHL became the third American sports league after the NBA and MLS to suspend the regular season. The NBA’s Utah Jazz have had two players diagnosed with coronavirus as Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were both found to have contracted it.
The NHL, along with the NBA and MLS, hopes to resume the league when it can and complete the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The league has only twice previously cancelled its Stanley Cup Playoffs with the most recent coming in 2004-05 due to a player lockout. The other occasions in which the Stanley Cup Finals was cancelled in 1919 when another pandemic rocked the world.
In 1919, the Spanish flu infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide. It claimed the lives of an estimated 50 million people.
The ice hockey season in 1918-19 saw the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens qualify for the Stanley Cup against the forgotten Seattle Metropolitans. The Metropolitans qualified for the finals from the Pacific Coast Hockey Association as the two teams met in a best of five games series.
The PCHA was an ice hockey league that ran from 1911 to 1924 in the Western portion of the United States and Canada. The Metropolitans played in the league from 1915 to 1924 when they folded with the league.
Seattle had won the 1917 Stanley Cup Finals defeating the Canadiens three games to one. The two teams would meet two seasons later in the finals series that was never finished.
The two teams entered Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals with the series at 2-2-1 and a win for either team would have given them the cup. The series had already been moved to a Game 6 after initially being a five-game series. Neither ice hockey team could find a winning goal in overtime in Game 5 influencing officials to add one more game to the series.
Unfortunately, Game 6 was never played as public health authorities in Seattle called the game off. The cancellation was made with just over five hours to go until the game was to start.
A number of Montreal players including Joe Hall, Jack MacDonald, Newsy Lalonde, Bill Couture and Louis Berlinquette and coach George Kennedy were hospitalized with fevers of 38 to 40.5 degrees Celsius due to the Spanish flu. Two Metropolitano players, Roy Rickey and Muzz Murra, and coach Pete Muldoon, were diagnosed with Spanish flu as well.
All but one of those players and coaches would recover. Hall, a 37-year-old defenseman for the Canadiens and a three-time Stanley Cup-winner, died four days after Game 6 was supposed to be played. Kennedy, Montreal’s head coach, died two years later after contracting the Spanish flu for a second time. Seattle’s Muldoon died of a heart attack a decade later with many people close to him believing the illness had damaged his heart
Even before the game was cancelled, there was a belief that the players were already affected by the Spanish flu. Game 4 saw players fall to the ice in exhaustion and it was in retrospect that hockey officials realised the exhaustion was due to issues resulting from Spanish flu.
It is believed by historians that the Spanish flu was brought to the United States by military troops returning from World War I fighting in Europe.