Dan (L) and Jack Connolly with some of their silver

1907-09: Life in a Northern League

The GLHA had proven that professional hockey could work despite all the negative publicity the amateur-backing old money suits in Montreal and Toronto could throw at them. This development was obviously of benefit to the players, but as had been shown with professional baseball in the United States, it was also quite profitable for club owners as well. But the GLHA aside, the biggest development in pro hockey's long-term success had very little to do with ice and a whole lot to do with mining. Silver mining to be specific. 

In 1903, while the GLHA was still just a dream, silver was discovered in the Lake Temiskaming region of Ontario along the border with Quebec, some 200 or so miles north of Toronto. Over the next few years an amazing quantity of silver was dug out of the earth in this largely unsettled region. Mining made several men wealthy (as they built up mining companies of their own) while drawing many others to the area to work for the aforementioned mining moguls. These working men needed recreation and hockey was a natural choice in an area where winters were both long and cold and the nearest large city was a long trip away. So the various mining towns (which had sprung up around the mines themselves) created their own hockey clubs and just like club owners everywhere, the competition spurred the naturally competitive business owners to seek an edge - and that eventually meant paying top players to come north and play for their clubs.

Some wags called it "the Silver Circuit" but officially it was called the Ontario-Quebec Hockey Confederation. The OQHC lasted only three seasons, but is of signal importance to the development of pro hockey as it was the birthplace of several clubs who would be mainstays of "the League" when it launched later on. The initial slate of clubs in the OQHC for the 1906-07 season consisted of just two clubs: the New Leiskard Silver Skates and the Long Lake Hockey Club. It was a small beginning - two more clubs joined the fray for the 1907-08 season with the Cobalt Miners and the Latchford Locomotives.

If you're sensing a pattern, it's probably this: these were all small towns. And initially, these small town clubs were purely amateur. That changed in 1908 when the owners of the New Leiskard Silver Skates, brothers Louis and Thomas Young sold their club and their mine to another sibling-run company - the Connolly Mining Corp. Brothers Dan and Jack Connolly immediately decided to bring in top notch talent to make the Silver Skates the best hockey club not only in the region, but in Jack's words, "the best in the entire world."

For the 1908-09 season, the Connollys had a list drawn up of the seven best hockey players in the world (whose opinion was used for this list is unknown). On the list were names that are now part of the pantheon of the sport: brothers Bill and George Yeadon (defense), Gevis Murphy(center), Vital LeBlanc (right wing), Max Dewar (defense), Al Fleming (rover) and John Tomlinson (goaltender). Of this list, the Connollys got six to sign on the dotted line. Only Max Dewar refused as he found Jack Connolly to be "pushy to the point of obnoxiousness" and decided to stay in Montreal where a formerly amateur outfit was also going pro for the 1908-09 season (more on that in a bit). Ultimately in a twist that no one saw coming, he signed with and suited up for the Challenge Cup playoff as a member of the Latchford club - who were playing (who else?) New Leiskard for the Cup. Dewar would go on to be not only one of the game's biggest stars as a player, but ultimately as a team owner and league official to cement his status as one of the pillars of the modern game.

To say that New Leiskard was a powerhouse was an understatement. They pummeled all opposition and easily won the Challenge Cup despite Dewar's appearance as a "ringer" for the Locomotives.