The NHA signalled the beginning of its final campaign with a pre-season All-Star game of sorts that took place on December 17, 1916 in Toronto. Yes the season began a fair bit later 100 years ago. The game pitted the newly formed powerhouse 228th Battalion hockey team formed of military players in the Toronto area and an All-Star team consisting mainly of the other Toronto NHA entry, the Blueshirts, reinforced by eastern players Newsy Lalonde, Didier Pitre and Jack Marks.
As described the following day in the Toronto World, the match was no contest but still entertaining;
"Wonderful Speed Displayed By Soldiers' Hockey Team
Saturday night's pro. hockey season opener deserved a bigger attendance than was in evidence. Despite the fact that the 228th Battalion snowed the All-Stars under to the tune of 10 to 3, it was a real lively contest, with an abundance of thrills.
All good things that have been printed about the soldiers' ability to play hockey haven't been enough. Saturday night they looked to be the greatest aggregation of puck-chasers that ever stepped on the arena. And that doesn't exclude the champion Toronto's of several seasons ago or any of the coast teams who have played here. They have barrels of speed, team play, all are classy stick-handlers and weight is their middle name...at the end of the game, when you would have expected to see the overworked regulars show signs of tiring, it looked as if they could have left Oatman, Arbour and a goalkeeper on the ice and still played rings around the All-Stars."
The review of the All-Stars was less than complimentary, especially toward the Eastern imports;
"Generally speaking, it looked as if there would have been more stars on the ice if they had stayed in the wet district. Newsy never worked himself too hard and Pitre didn't seem particular what got by him. When Marks got the puck he made the soldiers hustle, but he didn't seem too anxious to get it."
The soldiers however received glowing reviews;
"(Eddie) Oatman and (Amos) Arbour were the pick of the soldiers. The way those two boys went down made the fans gasp. Each scored three goals. Oatman gets back with his man faster than (Alf) Skinner does, and that's saying a lot. Arbour is a scrappy little player with barrels of speed. He stickhandled his way thru every kind of defence Saturday night. (Art) Duncan was good also. And (Howie) Lockhart in goal should have been drawing money for net minding long ago. He stopped everything he had a chance on and some on which everybody thought he had no chance. (Claude) Wilson was only fair."
To be fair, Claude Wilson, the goalkeeper for the Stars was only a practice goalie for the Blueshirts had not played pro hockey for two years, and even then he was only a fill-in for Toronto's Hap Holmes. And even then, he played a mere sixteen minutes of scoreless tending over two games.
In the 1916/17 season, the Blueshirts would go on to play .500 hockey until the team folded on February 11, 1917. This was precipitated when the 228th Battalion was summoned overseas to military duty on February 10 and the remaining four teams voted to suspend the Blueshirts operations and continue play with four Eastern teams (Ottawa, Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Quebec). The Blueshirts players were dispersed among these clubs by drawing of names. Such was the business of hockey 100 years ago, a year before the NHL was formed.
|228th Battalion Team|