1899 Stanley Cup fiasco — the referee went home

by Bruce Cherney (part 2 of 2)
According to Referee J.A. “Bill” Findlay’s statement issued two days after what became known as the Stanley Cup “fiasco” in Winnipeg newspapers, player Antoine “Tony” Gingras and Montréal’s Bob McDougall went after the puck against the boards and “both were checking heavily. Finally McDougall lost his temper and made a swipe at Gingra’s leg.”
Following the slash, Gingras dropped to the ice, resulting in the Winnipeg Victorias losing another key player that seriously jeopardized their bid to reclaim the Stanley Cup they had lost three years earlier to another Montréal team. The Vics had already lost captain Donald “Don” Bain, who was a star of the Winnipeg squad, to an eye injury during the first game of the 1899 three-game series for the cup in Montréal.
Gingras’ injury in the February 18 game and his inability to continue meant that, under the existing rules, the Vics would be a man short for the 12 minutes remaining in the game (other accounts say 13 minutes, including Findlay’s). At the time, one substitute to the seven-man squad was only allowed in the first half of a two 30-minute period game (there was a 10-minute interval between the two periods) in the event of an injury. In the case of an injury in the second half, the captain of the opposition side had to agree that his team would play without one of their players. It wasn’t a mandatory requirement, and the Montréal Victorias gave no initial indication they would take this action. As it turned out, they refused to drop a player from their squad and gladly accepted the Stanley Cup by default.
Findlay could have ordered Montréal to drop a player, but there was chaos on the ice, and he had effectively lost control of the situation. 
In the wake of the crippling slash delivered to Gingras, Winnipeg team officials demanded a game misconduct be given by Findlay to McDougall which would have evened up the two sides. Instead, Findlay gave a minor penalty to McDougall, which meant the Winnipeg team would be playing a man short for 10 minutes. At the time, Winnipeg was down a goal (3-2) and without McDougall’s removal from the ice, the Montréal team would have in effect benefitted from what amounted to a power play for the rest of the game. Under such circumstances, it would have been virtually impossible for Winnipeg to score a tying goal.
Incensed by the on-ice ruling, the Winnipeg team walked off the ice, refusing to return until Findlay reversed his call and assessed McDougall a game misconduct.
Findlay said in his version of the incident that he called a penalty to McDougall, the duration of which was to be determined by the extent of Gingras’ injury. This was in keeping with the rules of the game as contained in the first book on hockey by Arthur Farrell, Hockey: Canada’s Royal Game, published in 1899 (only four copies are known to exist with one in the Library and Archives of Canada). Farrell was a player on the Montréal Shamrock hockey club. In his book, Farrell said that in the event of “foul play,” a referee was to “deal out his punishment to an offender commensurately with the grievousness of the foul.”
Findlay asked Gingras where he was hurt, and “found the alleged blow was below the knee. I asked him to show me his knee there on the ice, but he did not seem, to my mind, anxious to do so. I did not hear anyone ask me to go into the (dressing) room to look at his injury until after my decision had been given. I then came to the conclusion that the injury was not severe.”
A this stage, the Vics walked off the ice, and shortly after called Findlay into their dressing room to assess the extent of Gingras’ injury. Findlay said he saw a one-inch long break in the skin below the knee, but it wasn’t deep, “nor did I think it would necessitate the retirement of Gingras.”
On the other hand, Dr. Neilson of Winnipeg, who also examined Gingras, said the injury to the player’s right leg wouldn’t allow him to continue playing. Unfortunately, the physician was absent when Findlay visited the Winnipeg dressing room.
Findlay insisted that his call was correct and that the Winnipeg squad had no justification to refuse to continue the game.
Findlay went to Ottawa to give his version of the game two incident to the Stanley Cup trustees. Apparently, his version of events closely coincided with the statement issued by A. Code, the president of the Winnipeg Victorias club, and Jack Armytage, the spare Winnipeg forward who was designated team captain after the injury to Bain. Armytage, then only a team official, didn’t even expect to play, but his participation became necessary following the injury to Bain and the fact that there was no one else available as a substitute.
“I got rattled and lost my head,” Findlay confessed. “I went into the Winnipeg dressing room to see how Gingras was hurt, and everybody started at me for not ruling McDougall off for good. (Goaltender George “Whitey”) Merritt said I had been unfair all along and they could not get justice.
“I said: ‘Captain Armytage, have you been satisfied with me until now. He said, ‘Yes,’ then I said: ‘Then your men have no right to talk as they do. Get another referee’ and off I went. That is where I went wrong, and no one feels it more than I do.”
Findlay proposed that the game restart with one of the timekeepers taking over as referee, but the Winnipeg players refused, which resulted in Findlay saying he would take the matter up with the Stanley Cup trustees. 
“Then I went home. A few minutes after I reached home, Messrs, Howard Wilson, with Mr. Barlow and P. Spanjaardt, the latter of the (Montréal) Star, drove to the door and urged me to go back, as things were at a standstill and the audience all waiting for something to be done ... I went back to the rink and had another unsatisfactory conversation with the Winnipegs (another nickname for the Victorias who were sometimes simply referred to as the Pegs), and then put on my skates.”
At the rink, Findlay said he gave the Winnipeg players ample time — 15 minutes — to return to the ice, but they still refused.
“As regards McDougall’s blow on Gingras’ leg, I still think it was not given with any intention of putting Gingras out of the game. The leg is not a likely place for a man to aim for with such intentions. Mr. McDougall assures me that although he swiped at Gingras, that, as a matter of fact, he missed him ...”
This contradicts an earlier visit by McDougall to the Winnipeg dressing room, when the Montréal player apologized for inflicting the injury to Gingras and admitted he “made a vicious swipe,” according to the Winnipeg team. 
Photos of the Victorias from the era show they played without the benefit of much by way of protection. In the photos, leather shin pads under leggings were scanty at best (some players didn’t even bother wearing shin pads) and so-called hockey pants did not cover much of the lower body, so a heavy stick blow to a  knee could easily take a player out of a game.
“I consider that I was still in power when I ordered the Winnipegs on the ice and that the award to the Victorias (forfeiture of the game by Winnipeg because the team refused to continue play) was within my jurisdiction.”
At the time, Findlay was reported to be one of the best referees in Canada, so it is surprising that he had become rattled when his call was criticized.
In the end, the trustees ruled not to do anything about the incident.
Stanley Cup trustee Philip Dansken “P.D.” Ross said the trustees “declined to call the contest off,” citing betting on the game as a factor in the ruling by the trustees, although the trustees “had nothing to do with the betting.”
“If Winnipeg had asked for more play” said Ross, “we would have ruled whether or not they should have more play. They did not ask that: in fact, they say they are not in a position to play further. Our concerns stop there. Betting men can get out of their own troubles.”
Ross implied that the Winnipeg team’s motive for wanting the entire Stanley Cup series replayed at a later date was that Winnipeggers had bet heavily on the game, and since the game was forfeited as a result of Findlay’s ruling, Winnipeg bettors looked to the trustees to help them recover the money they lost on wagers. 
At the time, the Stanley Cup was a challenge trophy involving amateur teams (professional players began vying for the cup in 1910, but it didn’t become the cup for professional leagues, the National Hockey Association and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, until 1915), but the outcome of each game involved heavy betting by professional and amateur gamblers. Gambling wasn’t restricted to hockey game, as it was a problem plaguing virtually every sporting event of the era from athletics to rowing.
“It came, therefore,  as a painful surprise when it was learned that these ‘trustees’ had not only declined to make any action, but had gone out of their way to deliberately insist the Winnipeg men, by imputing to them as the motive prompting the request made in their statement that they merely wished to save the money that had been bet on their team,” according to  a February 21, Manitoba Morning Free Press article.
The newspaper called it an “indignation” and “insult” to Winnipeg, adding to the “brutal treatment” received by the local hockey team.
“The net result of the most unsportsman like action of the Montréal men has been to make Winnipeggers feel proud that in the west at least, the morale of the sport has not reached so low an ebb that ‘victory at any cost’ is made the governing principle of the game.” 
The Free Press claimed betting by Winnipeggers, locally and in Montréal by those who went east to cheer on the team, was light, “and it is felt here that the excuse given by the trustees is a miserable pretext for evading what they clearly perceived to be their proper course.”
The Montréal Gazette on February 20  declared the “behaviour of the Winnipeg men is not a matter for congratulation, and they will return from whence they came with diminished instead of increased laurels. They have nothing to complain of.
“Judging from the style of play in the second half the story can be summed up in a few words: ‘The Montréal Victorias would have won anyhow.”
Following the controversial game, McDougall issued a statement in which he insisted he had only apologized for swinging his stick at Gingras. He claimed his stick missed the Winnipeg player. 
On February 26, a number of the players, including Bain, Gingras, Robert Benson, Charles W. Johnstone and club president Code returned to Winnipeg to a warm welcome.
“Mr. Code stated most emphatically that the fiasco at Montréal had done as much to show the superiority of the West over the East in hockey, as though the boys had brought back the cup, and furthermore stated that in his opinion the same was the general feeling in Montreal.”
After the Free Press published its February 21 article headlined, An Insult to Winnipeg, the Ottawa Journel (February 23), which was owned by Ross, responded with: “The Free Press is evidently a little warm on the subject and when it gets back to the normal temperature it would probably see that the Winnipeg team was not insulted. There is no doubt that the Winnipeggers had no thought of bettors when they made their request that the contest be called off, but nevertheless, the action of this kind on the part of the trustees would undoubtedly have been interpreted to mean that bets were off. The trustees simply pointed this out and declined to call the game either on or off.”
In response, the Free Press claimed the article was penned by Stanley Cup trustee Ross “of the Journal,” and his statement that “bets were off” could also be applied to Montréal bettors, “and by a policy of inactivity (by the Stanley Cup trustees), save money for those who had won by the skin of their teeth, and by means that even in the east was strongly condemned.”
When the Winnipeg fans greeted the returning team at the CPR depot on Higgins Avenue on February 26, they saw that Bain was “in capital spirits” despite his “eyesight being badly injured” (Morning Telegram, February 27),
Bain vowed that he would recover in a month or so, and be ready to play when another Stanley Cup challenge was issued.
Gingras, who was reported to be badly limping, “spoke nicely of the courtesy extended to them in Montréal, and though he described the Montréal Victoria play as being decidedly dirty ... the sympathy of the Montréalers was largely in favour of the visitors.”
The Free Press on February 27 reported: “From conversations held with different members of the team, a Free Press  representative learned that  ... in Montréal there is a widespread suspicion that the press is heaping abuse on the western team in order to counteract the openly expressed sympathy with them shown by all who saw the second of the two matches played. They all said that the immense crowd which was present at that match accorded them perfectly fair play and the storm of hisses which greeted Macdougall’s (sic) exploit in maiming Gingras was conclusive evidence that the spectators at least strongly disapproved of the tactics of which the home team thought necessary to adopt, in order to ensure victory.”
Bain said his injury would soon heal and he was eager to replay Montréal to show them Winnipeg was the better team.
“The boys state individually and collectively that they are not daunted by their failure this year, but are determined at all hazards to bring the much-prized trophy to Winnipeg on the next possible opportunity,” reported the Morning Telegram.
A resident of Winnipeg formerly from Montréal suggested that when the Vics next go east to play hockey, they should wear under their sweaters pistols and cartridge belts and carry bowie knives. “then when they go on the ice, they could, with great effect, announce that they have come to  play hockey, but if any other game had to be played — why, they would offer no objection” (Free Press, February 21).
A year later, the Winnipeg Victorias issued another challenge for the Stanley Cup, taking the Montréal Shamrocks to a third and deciding game, in which the Montréal side eked out a 5-4 victory.
In 1901, Bain and Gingras were with the Victorias when the Winnipeg team reclaimed the Stanley Cup. 
In the first game of the three-game series in Montréal on January 29, 1901, left winger Burke Wood scored two goals, while Bain and Gingras each scored a goal in a 4-3 Winnipeg win. 
In the second game, the score was tied 1-1 after regulation time sending the game into overtime. Besides netting the first overtime goal in Stanley Cup history, Bain also scored Winnipeg’s only goal in regulation time.
On January 21 and 23, 1902, the Victorias hosted challengers Toronto Wellingtons and beat the Eastern team 5-3 and 5-3 to retain the cup. Two months later on March 13, 15 and 17, the Victorias lost the cup to the Montréal AAA. The Vics took the first game 1-0, but Montréal won the next two games by scores of 5-0 and 2-1. 
It was the last time a Winnipeg-based team held the title of Stanley Cup champions. 
Ironically later in 1899, the Montréal Victorias lost the Stanley Cup to the Montréal Shamrocks without a challenge being issued. The Shamrocks were the Canadian Amateur Hockey League champions and the cup was anπ award to the best amateur hockey team in Canada (although Lord Preston of Stanley insisted it should always be a challenge trophy so it was initially inscribed as the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup). The Shamrocks finished the league schedule with seven wins and one loss, while the Victorias had a 6-2 record. 
Actually, the March 1, 1899, final league game of the regular season, which the Shamrocks won 1-0, over the Victorias was considered the Stanley Cup game.
Fittingly, a hockey stick from the controversial February 18, 1899, Stanley Cup game is now in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. It is inscribed, “Fizzy the Referee went home.”