Albert Trautman, Montreal National Hockey Club Owner

1907-09: Amateur No More

Since the "Montreal Game" had, in the 1880s, risen to become the de facto standard for hockey in North America, the game had been almost exclusively amateur in nature. The game was popular on college campuses in both Canada and the across the northern part of the United States where, in the late 19th and early 20th century, it was seen as a pastime for the elite whose children attended these colleges and universities. In other words, the "Old Money" was firmly in favor of keeping hockey amateur. 

But the success of professional baseball, which thrived in the same areas of the U.S. and in the large Canadian metropolises of Montreal and Toronto, did not escape the notice of sports-minded businessmen. These were men who were not "old money" and who had, in most cases, built their fortunes in the cutthroat world of business where the bottom line was everything. And if professional baseball could be profitable (and it was - wildly) then why not hockey too? This gave rise to the GLHA and when that league, which was very regional in scope and ambition, folded, the moneyed elite sighed in satisfaction. But their troubles were only beginning.

The men who built the mining companies that were pulling silver and other metals out of the earth in Ontario were not old money. And when those men launched their hockey league - again fairly limited regionally, but with greater ambition than the GLHA had seen, this was not unnoticed by others in both the larger Canadian cities and northerly American cities as well. Therefore it was only a moderate surprise when the best amateur league in the world suddenly decided to turn professional.

The league in question was the Amateur Alliance of Canadian Hockey Clubs, a mouthful of a name that most hockey followers shortened to either the Alliance or the AAC. But the AACHC found itself with a dilemma when the OQHC, with its silver-lined coffers full, started drawing Alliance players north to play in the wilds of mining country. And though most of the fellows who considered amateur hockey sacrosanct howled in dismay, the Alliance decided to drop its leading "A" and turn pro for the 1908-09 season. This decision, which was not taken lightly, was spurred by Montreal Nationals owner Albert Trautman. The defections stopped almost immediately (though in the case of the very top tier of players only Max Dewar resisted the siren song of the Connolly Brothers' money). Dewar, who would be a maverick his entire life, became the face of the ACHC as a starring member of the Nationals. Jack Connolly of the OQHC's New Leiskard club noted that forcing the AACHC to turn pro was the smartest thing "that bald-headed fish" (his derisive nickname for Trautman) ever did.

It wasn't all rosy - the ACHC had been an eight-team loop in 1907-08 and fully half of those clubs split off to remain amateur. But the four clubs who did stick it out were based in three of the country's most important cities: the aforementioned Montreal Nationals, the Montreal Royal Hockey Club (Royals), the Ottawa Athletic Club (Athletics) and the Quebec Champlain Hockey Club (Champlains). Where was Toronto in all of this? Toronto did have its own pro team - but the league in which they played lasted only one season and disappeared into history without having made much of an impression. Unsurprisingly, it wouldn't take long for pro hockey to return to Toronto.

The one-and-only season of the ACHC was won by the Ottawa Athletic Club. The Ottawas had the best player in the league in manager (coach) and center George Dupree. Dupree was an extremely talented player who would end up in the Hall of Fame down the road and a man so singleminded in his devotion to his hometown club that the Connollys didn't even bother approaching him, though they did manage to poach Al Fleming from his club. As we'll see later on, this was the type of thing that guys like Dupree would not forgive and certainly would never forget.

Despite Max Dewar's stellar efforts the National Club ended up second, one game behind the Athletics in the ACHC regular season that essentially served as a qualification tournament for the big prize: the Challenge Cup. Third-place Quebec had a 19-year-old kid who would go on to be one of hockey's greatest goal scorers in Paddy O'Donoghue, an Irish-born center who somehow settled in comfortably in the heart of Canada's Francophone community. O'Donoghue had a modest debut (and in fact played the next season in a lower league), but much greater things awaited down the road. The Royal Club finished last with a 2-10 record. The lone bright spot was a right winger with otherworldly puckhandling skills. He'd go on to a long and distinguished career as well. His name? Francis Craft.

With Ottawa unable to topple the Connollys' star-laden New Leiskard club in the Challenge Cup tournament, the one-year history of the ACHC ended. Something new, bigger and much more permanent was in the offing.