Western Canada Hockey League
The Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL), founded in 1921, was a major professional ice hockey league originally based in the prairies of Canada. It was renamed the Western Hockey League (WHL) in 1925 and disbanded in 1926.
|Part of a series on the|
of the NHL
In 1921, the Edmonton Eskimos and Calgary Tigers of the Big Four League saw their league collapse on allegations of pay for amateurs. Together with the Regina Capitals and Saskatoon Sheiks the teams organized the openly-professional Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL). The league was organized under the presidency of E. L. Richardson of Calgary, with Wesley Champ of Regina, Robert Pinder of Saskatoon, K. C. MacKenzie of Edmonton, and J. Lloyd Turner of Calgary, becoming the directors. The league, like the National Hockey League (NHL), played six-man hockey, without the old 'rover' position. The new league was recognized as a comparable league to the existing Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA). The winner of a series between the champions of the two leagues would go on to face the winner of the NHL for the coveted Stanley Cup.
The WCHL's first season, 1921–22, saw the Saskatoon Sheiks have money problems and relocate to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, to become the Moose Jaw Sheiks. The Edmonton Eskimos won the regular season standings, but were upset in the playoffs by the second place Regina Capitals. The Capitals then faced the Vancouver Millionaires of the PCHA to determine who would go on to face the Toronto St. Patricks of the NHL for the Stanley Cup. Vancouver won the series against Regina, but lost to Toronto in the Stanley Cup finals.
In the next season, the Moose Jaw team folded, but the WCHL returned to Saskatoon with a new franchise, the Saskatoon Crescents, led by Newsy Lalonde. The WCHL and PCHA started playing inter-league games, but kept separate standings. The Edmonton Eskimos won the regular season, but lost to the PCHA's Vancouver Maroons in the Stanley Cup playoff.
In the 1923–24 WCHL season, the Calgary Tigers finished in first place while Edmonton finished at the bottom of the standings. The playoffs were changed this year, too, despite a protest from the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL. Instead of the two western leagues playing off to see who would play the NHL champion for the Stanley Cup, the president of the PCHA, Frank Patrick, insisted that the NHL champion had to play the PCHA winner first. This change ended up not making any difference for Montreal, as the team swept Vancouver and then Calgary for the Stanley Cup.
For the 1924–25 WCHL season, the PCHA folded and two of its teams, the Vancouver Maroons and Victoria Cougars joined the WCHL, giving the league six teams. The Saskatoon franchise became the Saskatoon Sheiks. The league had some top-level talent on its rosters, with stars such as Bun Cook and Bill Cook and rookie Eddie Shore. The Victoria Cougars, coached and managed by PCHA founder Lester Patrick, won the league championship and went on to face the Montreal Canadiens for the Stanley Cup. Victoria easily beat the Canadiens three games to one, out scoring them 16 to 8. This would be the shining moment for the WCHL as Victoria became the first non-NHL team to win the Stanley Cup since the formation of the NHL in 1917. Since then, no non-NHL team has won the Cup. In fact, the next season, 1925–26, would be the last time a team from outside the NHL would even challenge for it.
With the NHL rapidly expanding into the United States, salaries were on the rise and the WCHL was finding it difficult to keep its star players. In 1925, the Regina Capitals relocated to Portland, Oregon, and rekindled the old name of Portland Rosebuds, which had been out of use since 1918. With the move into the U.S. came a name change for the WCHL. "Canada" was dropped and the league was renamed the Western Hockey League (WHL).
The Edmonton Eskimos won the regular season for the third time in five seasons, but it was the Victoria Cougars who won the league championship and moved on to play for the Stanley Cup. Expectations were high for the defending Stanley Cup champions, but Montreal's other NHL team, the Montreal Maroons, were too strong for Victoria handily beating them three games to one and out scoring them 10 to 3.
With financial problems too great to overcome, the league folded following the 1925–26 season, leaving the NHL as the only top-level professional league in North America. The NHL board of governors purchased the contracts of every player in the WHL for $258,000. However, separate deals were made in stocking two NHL expansion teams. The rights to the Victoria Cougars' players were bought by the Detroit franchise (which would eventually become the Detroit Red Wings) causing the team to be named the Detroit Cougars in their honor, and the Portland Rosebuds' players' rights were purchased by Frederic McLaughlin for his new Black Hawks team.
The remnants of five former WHL teams formed the minor-professional Prairie Hockey League in 1926. While minor-pro and junior league hockey thrived in the west for many years thereafter, top-level professional hockey did not return to western Canada until 1970, when the Vancouver Canucks joined the NHL. By that time, the void left by the sudden disappearance of major professional sport in Western Canada had been long filled by Canadian football. Prior to the WHL's demise, football in Western Canada was a strictly amateur sport played only in the Prairie provinces and organized at the provincial level, with teams far below the caliber of the top Eastern Canadian clubs. Within a few months of the WHL's collapse, senior football arrived in British Columbia with the formation of the British Columbia Rugby Football Union. The top Western teams eventually achieved sufficient support to form a fledgling interprovincial circuit, the Western Interprovincial Football Union. Because the WIFU played a brand of football that was distinct from the U.S. game, unlike the WCHL it did not have to directly compete with teams in large U.S. markets. By the 1950s, the WIFU had become a fully professional league equal in caliber to the most powerful Eastern Canadian league (the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union) with which it merged in 1958 to form the Canadian Football League.
- Calgary Tigers (1921–1926)
- Edmonton Eskimos (1921–1926)
- Regina Capitals (1921–1925), Portland Rosebuds (1925–1926)
- Saskatoon Crescents (1922–1923), Saskatoon Sheiks (1923-1926)
- Saskatoon Sheiks (1921–1922), Moose Jaw Sheiks (1921–1922)
- Vancouver Maroons (1924–1926)
- Victoria Cougars (1924–1926)
|Season||Regular season winner||Playoff champion|
|1921–22||Edmonton Eskimos||Regina Capitals|
|1922–23||Edmonton Eskimos||Edmonton Eskimos|
|1923–24||Calgary Tigers||Calgary Tigers|
|1924–25||Calgary Tigers||Victoria Cougars|
|1925–26||Edmonton Eskimos||Victoria Cougars|
- List of Stanley Cup champions
- Pacific Coast Hockey Association
- World Hockey Association
- List of ice hockey leagues
- Coleman, pp. 401–402
- Coleman, Charles (1964). The Trail of the Stanley Cup, vol. 1, 1893-1926 inc. National Hockey League.