Martin Nolan (L) scored the first goal in NAHC history; Francis Craft (R) led the league in scoring in its first season

The North American Hockey Confederation (NAHC)'s 1909-10 season actually didn't start until after the new year, so it should more correctly be known as the 1910 season, but that might be nitpicking. Regardless of what you call it, that season was special because it was the first season under the new and unified structure of professional hockey. What had been two competing leagues was now one and any questions about whether the "big city" ACHC or "mining town" OQHC was the better loop were finally able to be answered on the ice.

The NAHC was certainly not the only pro hockey league in operation that year. Two other "professional" circuits: the Ontario Industrial League (OIL) and the Maritime Hockey Conference (MHC) both considered themselves the equals of the NAHC. It's highly doubtful that any of those clubs could have competed with the NAHC outfits, but we'll never know. What we do know is that both those outfits operated on their own terms and there were quality players in both of these leagues. 

The first game in NAHC was played in Ottawa on January 15, 1910 between the home Athletic Club of Ottawa and the visiting Locomotives of Latchford - fittingly a matchup between "big city" and "mining town" clubs. The mining town's squad won by a 7-5 margin. The first goal was potted by Ottawa's Martin Nolan five minutes and 13 seconds into the game. Nolan would finish with a pair of goals while Latchford got a pair of goals from Sam Loverock and a hat trick from Joe McMahan. The high scoring affair was typical of the time period - with little in the way of protective gear, it wasn't a great time to be a goalie.

The season was not long, in terms of games, especially when compared to the modern era. The seven-club circuit had a simple schedule formula: every team played each of the other teams twice, once at home and once away. This made for a twelve-game regular season which mainly served as an elimination tournament for the right to compete for the Challenge Cup. The New Leiskard club, dubbed the "Silver Skates" by media wags for Jack Connolly's use of his silver fortune to buy players for his "expensive hobby" as the newly-created Canadian Hockey Weekly dubbed it.

Unfortunately for Connolly, his high-priced talent didn't - at least in 1909-10 - pay out big enough dividends on the ice. An agreement between the seven club owners before the season began dictated that the top two clubs in the NAHC would meet in a best-of-three series for possession of the Challenge Cup. Connolly's Silver Skates finished with 15 points, tied for second place behind the Nationals' 17 points. But the Cobalt Miners - his brother's club - also had 15 points (and also had been built on "silver money" as it were) - and was the second-place club based on their winning one more game than the Silver Skates did. Cobalt posted a 7-4-1 mark while New Leiskard was 6-3-3. Growling that his brother had "better keep that big silver bowl in the family," Jack's disappointment was evident.

Connolly did get some satisfaction in that aside from the National Club's first-place finish, the next four spots were claimed by OQHC alumni with the Athletic Club and Champlains finishing at the bottom of the standings table. That result was largely the lingering aftereffect from the wholesale raiding the OQHC clubs had done prior to the previous season - and there would be repercussions related to that coming up shortly.

The list of top individual performers was headed up by Francis Craft, the 21-year-old right wing of the National Club (by way of the defunct Montreal Royals) who was a master puckhandler and, as his league-leading 23 goals attested, an adept scorer (and passer) as well. Four others topped the 20-goal plateau that season: Ty Crain and Tom DeWitt of the Cobalt Miners, Nap Bertrand of the Silver Skates and Al Carson of the Long Lake Club (aka the Lakers). Craft also led in assists with 24, and therefore points (47) as well. Tying him on the assist leaderboard was Laker center Max Thibodeaux. Paul Guimond, a lone bright spot for the woeful Champlain club of Quebec, was tied for third with 23 goals. The league's top defenseman was probably Sam Buchberger of the Lakers who tied Guimond with 23 helpers. Ottawa's Martin Nolan had 22 assists to go along with his 17 goals. Montreal's Tip McLeod (21) and the aptly-nicknamed Wee Tommy Jenkins of New Leiskard (20) rounded out the players who reached 20 assists on the season.

On the goaltending side, the best of the bunch was John Tomlinson of the Silver Skates. The 28-year-old barely edged out Miners netminder Chief Casserly with a 4.53 GAA (Casserly was second at 4.69) and later research would indicate that Casserly probably had a higher save percentage. 

  Team          GP W L T Pt GF GA
1 Nationals 12 7 2 3 17 80 71
2 Miners 12 7 4 1 15 79 67
3 Silver Skates 12 6 3 3 15 64 56
4 Locomotives 12 5 4 3 13 63 66
5 Lakers 12 5 6 1 11 74 75
6 Athletic Club 12 4 7 1 9 58 72
7 Champlains 12 2 7 3 7 65 76

The Challenge Cup contest between the Nationals and Miners was immediately protested by both the champion Sherbrooke Industrials of the OIL and the Maritime champion St. John Johnnies, but no one involved with the Cup or the NAHC paid any attention to their squawking - the winner of the best-of-three match series would take possession of the Cup for 1910.

The Nationals, feeding off the ire of star defenseman Max Dewar and the tremendous skills of Francis Craft roared out of the gate in the first game of the Challenge Cup series, rolling to a seemingly insurmountable 7-0 lead midway through the second period. But the Miners showed serious grit and in one of sports history's greatest turnarounds, scored sevens goals in the remaining 30 minutes of the game, forcing an overtime where they won 8-7 over the stunned National Club on a brilliant goal by Tom DeWitt. 

Game two saw the Miners draw first blood with a Billy Bare goal that was immediately answered less than 30 seconds later by Craft. The Nationals took the lead shortly thereafter thanks to Simon Lamoureaux's goal and the clubs skated evenly through the rest of the first period which ended with a 2-1 Nationals lead. But as in the first game, in the second period, the Miners exploded, putting the puck in the net six times to go up 7-2 entering the third. The teams traded goals in the third, but the die had been cast in an 8-3 Miners win - keeping the "big silver bowl" in the Connollys' hands for another year.

Disgusted, Nationals' star Max Dewar briefly considered retiring to work in his family's timber business but time, and the thought of life without hockey, made his "retirement" brief and he would be back for more in the winter of 1910-11.