The brothers Patrick were always breaking rules—Perhaps that’s why they’re at the top of the hockey heap
THAT EVENING back in 1903 when Lester Patrick, a defense player, amazed the hockey fans of Brandon, Manitoba, by stickhandling his way through the opposition in defiance of sacred tradition and accepted conventions, is as good a place as any to begin consideration of the astonishing saga of the Patrick Brothers. That performance, almost revolutionary in its significance, keynotes the whole story.
The Patricks have always been rebels. To them, that anything in hockey had been done in a certain fashion was never a sound reason for continuing to do it in that fashion. It is because of this that, while there have been more spectacular brother acts in hockey, no fraternal pair has ever exercised so important an influence on the game. They are iconoclasts, innovators, defiers of tradition, creators of new devices.
In his school days and at McGill University, Lester Patrick was a forward. He played rover under the bid seven-man system. When, entirely by chance and greatly to his surprise, he found himself, thirty-three years ago, wearing the uniform of the Brandon team in the Manitoba Hockey League, he was pressed into service as a defense man. The tactics of point and cover point were strange to him. He was a fast-skating stickhandler, and the first time the puck came to him in that Brandon game he began a weaving rush down the ice that ended in front of the opposing team’s nets, giving the goaltender, to whom such a thing had never happened before, a nasty turn. Lester’s team-mates yelled at him, the manager banged on the boards in fury, and the spectators were shocked into a frozen silence. His final shot went wide, and young Mr. Patrick skated back to his position at cover point as Lome 1 lannay, playing back at point, demanded indignantly to be told what in tunket he thought he was trying to do.
Grizzled and garrulous ancients such as this reporter like
to sit around the fire during the long winter evenings and recall that in those olden days the accepted technique of defensive hockey was for the point and cover point to take up |x>sitions in front of the goaltender and wait for the play to come to them. Their only attacking stratagem was lofting. When a loose puck came their way they took it on the blade of their sticks and hoisted it into the rafters. The rubber smacked on the ice somewhere around the opposition goals.
Once in a long while an attacking forward might pick it up there and score. It has even happened that a lofted drive, festooned with horseshoes, caught a goaltender flat-footed and hit the net behind him without further assistance. The lighting in the old-time rinks was nothing to brag about, and such miracles have been recorded—but not often.
They Changed the Game
CHARLIE McWIIIRTER, who managed a Brandon department store and handled the hockey club for the fun of it, was annoyed with young Mr. Patrick. McWhirter had been trained in the old seven-man tradition, as had every other hockey manager up to that time. When he saw his new cover point streaking down the ice with the puck at the toe of his stick, just as though he was a forward, McWhirter’s sense of the proprieties was outraged. Such radicalism he felt, was fraught with peril to his defense. Anyway, it had never been done. The manager’s greeting to Lester Patrick in the dressing room at half-time was dour. It was even sarcastic.
“Listen,” said Mr. McWhirter. “After all, 1 am only the manager. 1 am nothing in your young life but the guy that runs this club. That being the case, would you be so kind and condescending as to inform me what in the hot place you mean by cutting up didoes out there on the ice. You are supjxjsed to be a defense man. Do you, by any chance, think you are a forward? Or what, if any?”
The Patrick boys were brought up to be polite; but that never stopped them arguing in support of a bright idea, once they were satisfied in their own minds it was bright. So, Lester Patrick went into his speech. He said:
“Look here, Mr. McWhirter. I’ve been playing rover all my life. I’m a good stickhandler and a pretty fast skater. If I get the puck, why shouldn’t I take it down the ice instead of lofting it into the roof and making the other side a present of it?
“Under the old system,” went on Mr. Patrick, who was now getting hot, “a defense
player stays in one position, waiting for something to happen to him. If he gets the puck he’s supposed to hoist it down to the other end of the rink, where an opposing player takes it and hoists it back. It all seems pretty simple-minded to me. We just give ’em the puck and invite them to see what they can do with it. If I can carry the puck down to their goal, there’s anyway an even chance that one of our own men will take a pass and get a shot away close in. Why isn’t that a smart idea?”
“But it’s never been done,” wailed the agitated Mr. McWhirter. “There isn’t a defense player in the world who ever attempted such a thing. You’re leaving your goal unprotected. Suppose they take the puck away from you in mid-ice? Suppose they score on us while you’re a couple of miles out of your position? Suppose ...”
“It doesn’t work out that way,” said Mr. Patrick positively, although he hadn’t the faintest authority for so forthright a statement. “I can get back as fast as they can; and in the meantime the play’ll be up in front of their goal, not in front of ours.”
Mr. McWhirter quit right there. He said that young Lester Patrick could go ahead with his crazy notions if he had to, but if the other side got through for goals while his cover point was off playing cops and robbers in the opposition territory, that was going to be just too bad. Just too bad !
Of course, as every 1936 hockey fan knows, the Patrick plan worked. It not only worked but it developed into the defense rush play, one of the most spectacular features of the modern game. Lionel Conacher, King Clancy, Ching Johnson, Eddie Shore, all the bright, shining stars of the rearguard are past masters of the attacking defense strategy.
They score goals, too. Thirty years ago a defense player who scored a goal was looked upon with suspicion by his pals. They felt that it wasn’t ethical, and there was a tendency to consider the offender as a poor sport.
Lester Patrick ended that superstition. Afterward, collaborating with Brother Frank, he helped to end many another. Experts have figured that the Patricks have been responsible, directly or indirectly, for more than a score of
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changes in hockey customs and hockey rules. Some of these were important, others turned out of minor consequence; but every one of the Patrick innovations has remained in the game to become accepted practice.
Lester and Frank Patrick introduced the three-zone system with its blue lines. They wrote off the old rule that forbade a goaltender to fall to the ice when attempting a save, as well as the one that said he must not throw the puck. They legalized the forward pass and puck kicking, within reasonable limits, and they introduced the modern scoring system granting an assist to the play-makers in a twoor three-man goal, sharing the credit with the men who make the goal possible instead of giving it all to the player making the final shot. The old method was obviously unfair. It worked to the discouragement of team play, built up individual stars at the expense of the passing game, but nobody did anything about it until the Patricks came along. All through their hockey careers these two have been revolutionaries.
No Athletic Background
PERHAPS it’s the Irish in them. Lester is the oldest son, Frank the second, in a family of nine. On both sides the Patrick family is of North of Ireland stock, resident in Canada for many generations. Lester was horn at Drummondville, Quebec, on December 31, 1883, which makes him fifty-two years old on the last day of last year. It is an old family joke that he came pretty close to not being born at all. Frank is two years younger than his brother.
They represent the true pioneer stock— sturdy, upright in conduct, fearing God and honoring the King, ambitious and eager to work hard to make their dreams come true. Father Patrick—both parents are still living —was a clerk in a general store at the time that Lester was horn. His father had been a farmer. Toiling long hours in the store, Patrick, senior, was everlastingly planning to improve his condition and the condition of his family. He bought his way, with savings that did not come easily, into a small lumber business. The Patricks cut down trees on their wood lot. sold the logs, stripped the bark for Montreal tanners, retailed the slabs for firewood.
Lester was about to enter his ’teens when the family moved to Montreal, branched out as dealers in coal as well as in wood, became comfortably off in the manner of that day and age.
Usually there is an athletic background behind the famous brother acts of hockey, but in the Patricks’ case the reverse rather is true. That family was planned on patriarchal lines. The hoys did what father told them to do, and Father Patrick had very definite ideas to the general effect that games were good to build strong young bodies, but merely as games. He flatly refused to permit his sons to play professional hockey until years after professionalism had been accepted as a normal condition.
“Frank and I,” says Lester, “played our first hockey on the sidewalks of Point St. Charles. We cut sticks from the woods on Nun’s Island, and used a tin can, a lump of ice, a stone, anything that came handy, for a puck. Mother didn’t like the idea at first.
The Point kids were pretty tough, and we got banged up at times; but when she saw we couldn't be persuaded, there were sticks and a real puck in our stockings one Christmas, and we’ve gone on from there.”
The Patrick fortunes continued to prosper, and soon the family moved uptown to Guy Street, where they took a house opposite the site of His Majesty’s Theatre, which the young Patricks watched going up. Firemen flooded a near-by vacant lot and the Guy Street boys had a real rink to skate on. Russell Bowie, the great Montreal Victorias player and most obstinate of all amateurs, who in later years refused fabulous sums to turn professional, lived in the same block. They played scratch games with lads from other parts of town, and generally speaking had a swell time arguing about goals and planning devious stratagems against opponents after the manner of healthy Canadian boys all over the country.
Lester went to Montreal High School. He admits he was bright at school, too bright for his own good. He entered McGill for an Arts course when he was sixteen years old. That turned out badly. He was one of the youngest boys in the university, found college life difficult, and departed from those halls of learning after one year’s trial. Father Patrick said: “You’re not cut out for that. You’d better come into the business with me.” So that was done, and Lester became a bookkeeper.
Playing For Fun
HE WASN’T doing much about hockey at that period of his career, but he had the normal boy's enthusiasm for all games and the men who played them, which led him into a thrilling adventure. He still likes to talk about it.
“Ottawa was playing Montreal at football. The Ottawa team was being driven in a horse bus to the M.A.A.A. field, and I hopped on the step. One of the players pulled me in and asked me if I wanted to see the football game. You know what I told him; but 1 had no ticket, or money.
“He said, ‘You stick by me, and I’ll take you in. ’ Boy! That was a thrill. I hung around waiting to thank this big chap after the game was over, and he told me they’d be hack during the winter to play hockey. ‘You wait at the rink door for me and I’ll see that you get in again.’
“It was the old Victoria Rink on Stanley Street, of course, and I was there. Sure enough, my pal came along, recognized me. and appointed me guardian of the Ottawa sticks for that evening.
“He was Weldy Young, a grand guy if ever there was one. Harvey Pulford, Alf Smith and Rat Westwick played for Ottawa that night, and I always get a kick from the knowledge that years later I played senior hockey against those three. They were fading then and I was coming up, and that’s the way it goes.”
After he left McGill, Lester Patrick turned out with Montreal Juniors, helped them to win a Canadian championship, teamed up such future greats as Dr. George Cameron. Billy Meldrum and Grover Sargent. Next season he was out with Westmount Intermediates. Brother Frank was with him and so was a hefty curly-headed youth who later was to rival the Patricks’ reputation as a
big-time hockey manager. His name was Arthur Ross.
All through these years Lester Patrick was working in his father’s office, playing hockey for the fun of it, never thinking that the game might turn into a career. In the summer of 1903 tilings happened that touched off the wanderlust that is in most young thoughts at twenty.
Lester, now a big strapping youth nearing his twenty-first birthday, was a member of the Royal Victoria Rifles. Longshoremen on the Montreal waterfront went on strike, and longshoremen on strike are not famous for their gentle manners. Victoria Rifles were ordered out to protect Government property, and young Patrick went along. For weeks he lived with the regiment in tents pitched along the docks, a rough-andready existence very different from the sheltered family life he had known. After the strike was settled and the soldiers went home, Lester Patrick had one seething ambition. He wanted to go West and grow up with the country.
Canny Father Patrick said: “All right; if your mind is made up you can try it. You can go, but you'll go on a homesteaders’ excursion, with a return ticket in your pocket. You mightn’t like it.”
Lester knew what he wanted, or thought he knew. He wanted to be a cowboy, to rope steers and tame bronchos. The Western fever had him; but not for long.
He arrived at Calgary and, after having looked the town over, tackled a rawboned and rangy gentleman who had been pointed out to him as a rancher and an employer of cowhands. The lean one said: “Well, you look like a pretty fair prospect to me. I guess I can find a place on my ranch for you. You can drive out with me tomorrow.”
“What,” asked Mr. Patrick, “is the pay?” “The pay,” the rancher told him, “is twenty dollars a month and keep.”
Not so good.
“And what,” Mr. Patrick asked next, “are the hours?”
“The hours,” said his prospective boss, “are from sun-up till sunset.”
“And right there,” confesses Lester Patrick, telling the story thirty-three years afterward, “I lost all the ambition I ever had to be a cowboy.”
Seeking an occupation more suited to his training and ability, Lester Patrick contrived to catch on with a survey party then engaged in laying out Alberta’s irrigation system in the territory north and west of Calgary. The engineer in charge was J. S. Dennis, later to become Colonel Dennis and destined to achieve eminence in the service of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Lester was attached to the survey party as a rodman and chainman, and he did well at it, earning $45 a month and board. He is proud of the fact that the lines surveyed by
that party remain undisturbed to this day.
Came winter, and Lester Patrick, feeling pretty well pleased with himself, money in his pocket and a sense of having conquered the West in his heart, started for home and the family. Three or four Montreal boys with whom he had played hockey back East were toiling on behalf of the Brandon team. Lester stopped off to say “Hello” and listen to some home-town gossip. His friends met him at the station and said, “You’re going to play for us.” “Not I,” said Lester Patrick. “Yes, you,” said the athletes. “We need you.”
“So,” sighs Mr. Patrick today, “without intending to, I became an imported player. Imported from the station to the rink.”
In his first game, playing on the defense he staged the puck-carrying performance that made hockey history. It must have worked, because Brandon that year won the Manitoba title and played off for the Stanley Cup, losing to Ottawa’s famous “Silver Seven.” In those days, to be beaten by Ottawa was an honor to be proud of.
He was still an amateur in every sense of the word.
“That winter,” he says, “I worked in a steam laundry as an accountant, and when I say worked, I mean worked. I drew $15 a week salary, and I punched the time clock every day at eight in the morning, at noon, at one, and at six. I worked all right.”
Returning East for the Ottawa series, Lester again joined forces with his family. For the time being he had had enough of the wide open spaces, where hockey players worked in steam laundries. lie applied himself again to the growing wood-and-coal business that represented his father’s main interest. During the winter of 1904-05 he played with the Westmount team in the Eastern Canada Hockey League. Next season he joined the famous old Wanderers of Montreal and helped them win the Stanley Cup. They made him captain of the Wanderers team in 1906-07, when in the Stanley Cup games Wanderers were challenged by New Glasgow and won, then by Kenora Thistles and lost. Stanley Cup competition at that time was a straight challenge proposition, so Wanderers, having lost the trophy to Kenora, promptly challenged for it again, and won it back. To hockey fans of this day and age it looks more than a bit goofy that a dub could win the Stanley Cup from another club and then lose it back to the same club in the same season; but those things did happen, and the hockey fanatics of the era were just as violently steamed up about them as they are about the more orderly procedure of the present time.
A Great Pair
MEANWHILE, what of Frank Patrick, the younger brother?
It is not the least interesting thing about the Patrick pair that they are so different, one from another. They do not even look like brothers, for Lester is tall, sallow and lanky, while Frank is rubicund, rounded and stocky. Frank, not so brilliant a pupil at school as Lester, turned out to be a sounder student at McGill University. He was always a good hockey player, but he did not have Lester’s dash. On the other hand he was a painstaking and thorough-minded referee, and he handled senior games in workmanlike fashion when he was only seventeen years old.
But, while Lester was gallivanting around in the West, Frank was sticking close to home, attending to his studies and helping out in the business when he had spare time on his hands.
Looking back, it is easy to see that one Patrick was a perfect complement of the other; so that, when at last circumstances made them Grand Moguls of professional hockey on the Pacific Coast, where majorleague hockey had never before been known, they were destined for a sensational success. That is the second half of the story.
Note—This is the first of two articles describing the spectacular hockey career of Lester and Frank Patrick. The second will appear in an early issue of Maclean's.