|League||Western Pennsylvania Hockey League|
|Home arena||Duquesne Gardens|
|Owner(s)||Various local banks|
|Regular season titles||(3) 1902-03, 1907-08, 1908-09|
The Pittsburgh Bankers were one of the earliest professional ice hockey clubs. The club was based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was a member of the Western Pennsylvania Hockey League, the first league to openly hire hockey players, from 1900–1904 and 1907-1909. The team played all of its games at the Duquesne Gardens, and was involved, in the first known trade of professional hockey players.
The Bankers consisted of a group of local men from Pittsburgh that were employed by local banks during the early 1900s (decade). The team actually began as the amateur Pittsburgh Bankers League, a local amateur hockey league. According to Stan Fischler, a renowned author and commentator on hockey, "In the early 1900s a local league also sprung up, called the Bankers League. Some of the banks started a hockey league as a promotional stunt and brought Canadians down and gave them jobs in the banks. They were down here to play hockey but in order to qualify and play for the bank they had to be an employee of the bank. I don't know what they gave them to do at the bank, but it wasn't much." This led to the Bankers laying partial claim to being one of the first teams to pay athletes. The league later merged into one team which became members of the Western Pennsylvania Hockey League, in 1900.
First title: 1902
In 1902, the Bankers signed Hod Stuart to a professional contract; this was disputed between the Bankers and the Pittsburgh Victorias, who also claimed him. Eventually the Bankers won the dispute and kept Stuart, who was considered, in certain hockey circles, to be the “greatest hockey player in the world." Hod was offered a salary of US$15–20 per week, plus steady income from a day job in Pittsburgh. Stuart scored seven goals and had eight assists and was named the best cover-point in the league in 1903. The Bankers claimed their first WPHL title that season and faced off against the Portage Lakes Hockey Club, located in Houghton, Michigan for the title of top professional team in the United States. The winner of that series is unclear since Portage Lakes would win two of the four games and tie a third and the Bankers claimed the edge in total goals, 11-6. Another of the era's stars, Charlie Liffiton, joined the Bankers in 1902 to help the club win its first title. Over his two seasons with the club, Liffiton reportedly scored three goals in four playoff matches.
Consolidated into the IPHL
The following season, the Bankers saw their star player, Hod Stuart, leave the team to join the Portage Lakes Hockey Club. In fact as Portage Lakes continued to play professional exhibition games, the team raided all of the WPHL teams for their key players. The Bankers', Charlie Liffiton, was offered 1350 to play for the Portage Lakes club for the remainder of the season, making him the era's highest paid player. The WPHL and the Bankers disappeared for the following season so that the WPHL could consolidate into the Pittsburgh Professionals and begin playing in the International Professional Hockey League. The idea for the new league was the idea of James R. Dee, a Houghton businessman, who came up with the idea after watching the Bankers and Portage Lakes play in 1904. Several Bankers' players, such as Lorne Campbell and Hod Stuart played for the Pittsburgh Professionals. Meanwhile other Bankers players, like Charlie Liffiton, played for Portage Lakes.
Revived and quick demise
The WPHL, along with the Pittsburgh Bankers was revived in for the 1907-08 season, once the IPHL folded. On January 28, 1908, the Bankers might have been the first team to trade professional hockey players. According to the deal, the Pittsburgh Pirates sent Jim MacKay, Edgar Dey and Dunc Taylor to the Bankers for Josephy Donnelly, Cliff Bennest and a player named "McGuire". The Bankers would go on to win their second league title in 1907-08. The Bankers then played a "World's Series" with the Montreal Wanderers. The Wanderers won the series two games to one.
The following season saw future Stanley Cup winner Skene Ronan made his professional hockey debut with the Bankers, however Ronan would later break his contract to leave the team and play with the Toronto Professionals. Meanwhile future Hall of Famer, Alf Smith returned to the Western Pennsylvania Hockey League and played for the Bankers and the Pittsburgh Duquesne before he was suspended from the two teams for rough play.
However the defection of star Bankers players such as Ronan, Tommy Smith, Harry Smith and Edgar Dey were now common in the WPHL. The newly revived league, could no longer rely on salaries as novelty to attract Canadian talent, since professionalism had spread into Canada. Many players signed up, particular since the WPHL played on the Duquesne Gardens' artificial ice and was not dependent on cold weather to provide a naturally frozen surface, however as winter began and Canadian rinks became available, the players would just flock north to teams closer to home. This jumping effected all of the league's teams. Once the Pittsburgh Lyceum team folded on December 23, it was decided to discontinue the WPHL after the season. The Bankers ended their final season, by winning the final WPHL championship title and typing the Pittsburgh Athletic Club for the most titles won at 3 each.
The following members of the Bankers became enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame:
- Bouchette, Ed (May 2, 1999). "Ice Age". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. C1.
- Diamond, Dan, ed. (2002), Total Hockey: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Hockey League, Second Edition, New York: Total Sports Publishing, ISBN 1-894963-16-4
- "Icy Inklings", Pittsburgh Press, 1902-12-19
- Mason, Daniel S. (Spring 1998). "The International Hockey League and the Professionalization of Ice Hockey, 1904-1907". Journal of Sport History 25 (1): 1–17.
- McKinley, Michael (2009), Hockey: A People's History, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, ISBN 978-0-7710-5771-7
- Podnieks, Andrew (2000), The NHL All-Star Game: Fifty Years of the Great Tradition, Toronto: HarperCollins, ISBN 0-00-200058-X
- "Before the NHL: Western Pennsylvania Hockey League, International Professional Hockey League". Crashing the Net. January 28, 2010. Retrieved April 17, 2012.
- Fitzsimmons, Ernie. "Is Pittsburgh the Birthplace of Professional Hockey?". Pittsburgh Hockey.net. Retrieved April 20, 2012.
- "Charlie Liffiton". Liffiton Family. June 2, 2006. Retrieved April 10, 2012.
- Coleman, Charles (1966). The Trail of the Stanley Cup, vol. 1, 1893-1926 inc. National Hockey League. pp. 645–646.
- Kitchen, Paul (2008). Win, Tie or Wrangle. Manotick, Ontario: Penumbra Press. ISBN 978-1-897323-46-5.
- Fitzsimmons, Ernie (2000), "Early Professional, Early Senior WHA and Modern Minor Professional League Standings", in Diamond, Dan, Total Hockey, Total Sport Publishing, pp. 414–432, ISBN 1-892129-85-X