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The WCHL—Pros On The Prairies

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After the First World War, the National Hockey League had begun to outstrip the Pacific Coast Hockey League as the more important pro league in the country.

Some of the biggest stars of the PCHA, including Hall of Famers Didier Pitre and Newsy Lalonde, had gone back to the Eastern NHL clubs. The PCHA teams suspended operations at an alarming rate. The big-spending ways of the PCHA owners—who, between 1911 and 1920, had attempted to pry all the major names from the eastern clubs by establishing pro powerhouses in the West like the Vancouver Millionaires and Seattle Metropolitans—had come back to haunt them. In 1918,  Even though the Seattle Metropolitans won the Stanley Cup in 1917, the PCHL’s decision to focus expansion in the United States had been a disaster.  One after another, teams like the the Portland Rosebuds ceased operation.

And while the PCHL had initiated many exciting rule changes, such as the introduction of changing on the fly and the penalty shot, it refused to modernize the game in the same way the NHL had. The PCHL still held onto the notion of hockey as a seven-a-side game, with three forwards, a defenceman, a goaltender and a rover. That led to a clogged ice surface that restricted scoring chances.

If pro hockey was to flourish in Western Canada, more pro teams were needed on the Prairies. In 1921, four new pro clubs, the Edmonton Eskimos, Calgary Tigers, Regina Capitals and Saskatoon Shieks formed the new Western Canada Hockey League. Surprisingly, the new league chose to stick with the antiquated Western rules and keep the rovers. It was agreed that the winner of the WCHL title would play the PCHL champion for the right to represent the West in the Stanley Cup final against the NHL champion from the East.

Only months after the start of the WCHL, money problems forced the Shieks to leave Saskatoon for Moose Jaw. The Shieks would not continue after the season, and were replaced by the Saskatoon Crescents the next year. That first season, the second-place Regina team upset the regular-season champions from Edmonton in the WCHL final, but lost to Vancouver in the PCHL/WCHL showdown. The NHL’s Toronto St. Patricks—who would later change their name to the Maple Leafs—won the 1922 Cup.

The next season brought more innovations to the WCHA. Both eastern leagues decided to modernize their rules, ridding themselves of the rover position. Now, hockey was a universal six-aside game from coast to coast.


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