The first season of the "big league" - a term coined by a sportswriter in Toronto, and one that wouldn't last for reasons we'll see later - was a good and entertaining season with a denouement that was right out of Hollywood even if it took place on the other side of the continent.

It almost seemed fated, though of course it was not. It was a product of two highly competitive individuals - one of whom was part of one of the richest families in the U.S. and the other who was less wealthy, but was very, very good at judging hockey talent. On the one side was Samuel Bigsby. A scion of one of New York's wealthiest and most infamous families, Mr. Bigsby owned the New York Shamrocks and the magnificent arena the team called home - Bigsby Gardens. The other was a lifelong hockey man, wealthy in his own right, who had excelled as a player, a coach and a general manager in his sport. That man was William T. Yeadon. Until the season before Yeadon had actually owned the New York Eagles. Now, having sold off most of his shares (he retained a somewhat modest 10% interest in the team), the former defenseman remained the coach and personnel man for his team. The icing on the cake was that the two clubs shared the Bigsby Gardens, with the Eagles paying rent to the Shamrocks' owner.

They met for the first time on opening night - the schedule makers had an eye for drama and got the "big league" off to a rollicking start. The game was technically a home game for the Eagles, but the crowd was fairly evenly split between partisans of both the Eagles and Shamrocks. The usual cloud of cigar smoke wafting through the rafters may have obscured the view for the fans in the cheap seats, but everyone in attendance was treated to a great game. The clubs battled through over 59 minutes to a 3-3 tie before the game was won by eventual McDaniels Trophy winner Andre St. Laurent of the Eagles. He beat the very dependable Davey Vert with a wrist shot into the top-right corner of the net with just 37 seconds left on the clock. The tally was St. Laurent's second of the game (he'd go on to lead the league with 36 goals) and the Eagles held on for the few remaining ticks of the clock to stun the favored Shamrocks.

For the Eagles, it was a sign of things to come - playing in the arguably tougher Canadian Division (where they had to battle the ever-talented Athletics and Valiants among others) - the Eagles soared to 53 points behind the St. Laurent brothers, with Bill Yeadon behind the bench (and on one occasion, back on the ice as a defenseman when injuries left the club a man short). The Eagles scored 105 goals, second only to - yep, the Shamrocks (110) - and were the third stingiest as well. For the Shamrocks, it may have served as a wakeup call - the greenshirts went on a tear, and though they'd eventually come back to earth a bit, they finished the season with a 29-15-0 mark, a league high 110 goals and a league-low 70 allowed. They were the class of the American Division and the NAHC as a whole.

The Canadian Division featured a much tighter race than that of the American Division. The Ottawa club dogged the heels of the Eagles all season long as did the surprising Chicago Packers and the always dangerous Montreal Valiants. For the Packers, a team in just its second season, to be competitive was a surprise and a large bit of the credit can be laid at the feet of owner Augustus Hoch, who made it clear that he wanted a contending club and gave his personnel man the money to make it happen - the first move was bringing in Jack Barrell from Toronto and the right winger delivered a 20-goal season and ultimately won the Yeadon Trophy as well. The Valiants were let down by their defense because their offense was very good. Ottawa had a solid defense as always, but couldn't score enough to make a push to catch the Eagles.

The American Division belonged to the Shamrocks from the drop of the puck in November. Frank Denny's Boston club enjoyed a solid season to come in second with a 21-19-4 mark while the two Canadian clubs in the American Division (the Nationals and Quebec) each posted 39 points. Detroit - like Chicago a second-year club- was not as aggressive in acquiring talent and was the league's poorest performer, going 14-26-4.

Part of the NAHC's new rules included the provision to have six clubs in the postseason. The second and third-place clubs in each division would play a two-game, total goals series with the winner taking on the first-place clubs. The winners of those series would then face off for the Challenge Cup.

The initial series pit the Bees and Nationals in the American and the Athletics and Packers in the Canadian. The Nationals got in by virtue of having one win more than the Champlains though they each had 39 points. It didn't matter as the Bees made quick work of the Nats, winning the total goals series by scores of 3-1 and 4-0. The Athletics also advanced, downing the Packers 3-1 and 2-3 for a 5-4 total. The Bees then faced the Shamrocks in another two-game, total-goals matchup - this time the Shamrocks won by 4-0 and 3-1 margins and the Canadian championship went to the Eagles thanks to a 2-1 and 2-0 win over the Athletics. 

This set up a grudge match between the two New York clubs for the Challenge Cup. The Shamrocks would take the hardware in the best-of-five series, winning in a sweep, though each game was decided by one goal margins: 2-1, 1-0 and 3-2. Samuel Bigsby, cigar clamped between his teeth raised the cup on the ice after game three while Bill Yeadon looked on stonily. The rivalry had been born back in November, but now it had reached another level.

 

North American Hockey Confederation Standings 1926-27

American Division GP W L T PTS GF GA   Canadian Division GP W L T PTS GF GA
New York Shamrocks 44 29 15 0 58 110 70   New York Eagles 44 26 17 1 53 105 75
Boston Bees 44 21 19 4 46 102 99   Ottawa Athletics 44 21 20 3 45 81 74
Montreal Nationals 44 17 22 5 39 70 99   Chicago Packers 44 21 21 2 44 92 94
Quebec Champlains 44 16 21 7 39 89 102   Montreal Valiants 44 20 22 2 42 92 101
Detroit Bulldogs 44 14 26 4 32 77 96   Toronto Dukes 44 19 21 4 42 92 100

 

NAHC SCORING LEADERS 1926-27

Player Goals   Player Assists   Player Points  
Andre St. Laurent, NYE 36   Buck Bernier, NYE 17   Andre St. Laurent, NYE 40  
Chris Schneider, NYS 26   Nels Shepherd, TOR 15   Nels Shepherd, TOR 32  
Harvey McLeod, VAL 23   Danny McLachlan, CHI 14   Chris Schneider, NYS 32  
Ben Clayton, NYS 23   Bernie St. Laurent, NYE 10   Buck Bernier, NYE 31  
Dad Weller, QUE 21   Elmer Morey, QUE 10   Dad Weller, QUE 30  
Jack Barrell, CHI 20   Ace Anderson, OTT 9   Harvey McLeod, VAL 30  
Albert Fortin, TOR 19   Dad Weller, QUE 9   Danny McLachlan, CHI 28  
Frank Gerow, BOS 19   Four players tied 8   Albert Fortin, TOR 26  
Nels Shepherd, TOR 17         Three players tied 25  
Three players tied 16              

 

NAHC GOALIE LEADERS 1926-27

Player W L T ShO GAA
Davey Vert, NYS 29 14 0 9 1.59
Sam Jordan, OTT 21 10 3 10 1.64
Dutch Lenz, NYE 23 12 1 10 1.65
Fred Brown, BOS/NYE 15 13 3 5 1.66
John Murphy, DET 14 26 4 5 2.06

 

AWARD WINNERS:

McDaniels Trophy - Andre St. Laurent, NY Eagles

Yeadon Trophy - Jack Barrell, Chicago

 

  

With the dust having settled from the absorption of the USHA by the NAHC, the so-called "big league" of hockey had a routine offseason. 

The death of Al Juneau inspired the Valiants to donate a trophy to the league in Juneau's honor. The Juneau Trophy would henceforth be awarded to the top goaltender in the NAHC, starting with the upcoming 1927-28 season.

In light of the depressed state of the offensive games (and fans grumbling about it), a new rule was to be implemented for the upcoming season - forward passes in the neutral and defensive zones, which had been illegal, would now be permitted. The hope was that this would result in faster play (it would) and more goals (results were mixed as teams began using the rule to ice the puck, which was not illegal at the time). The league also allowed "on-the-fly" line changes. Changing personnel was still fairly new to the game after its "ironman" beginnings and previously changes were made only on game stoppages. Now the rule modern fans see for changes during play was put into place, again making for a faster game with better flow.

Max Dewar, the former firebrand defenseman-turned-coach had invented a new goal and the NAHC decided to adopt it. The goal as described by Dewar (who was coaching in Boston) was "shaped like a B" - the double curves in the back and flax netting was better able to catch (and keep) the puck than the old cage. Variations of Dewar's design would remain the standard for the goal through the current day.

In Chicago, Adolphus Hoch dismissed coach Pappy Day despite a solid 21-21-2 performance by the Packers in their first-year in the NAHC. Calling Hoch the "Windy City Windbag," Day would never coach in the NAHC again and he left Chicago wishing a "hex" upon the Packers franchise. The results of the change drew mixed reviews from players and fans - new coach George Mitchell's debut season... well, we'll talk about that later. One thing that does bear mentioning is that Jack Barrell, the star winger whom Hoch had purchased from Toronto prior to the 1926-27 campaign, suffered a broken leg in training and would play sparingly (and not very well) in 1927-28.

In a swap of right wings Ottawa sent 24-year-old up-and-comer Gant Wanless to the Shamrocks in return for cash (the Athletics were in the league's smallest market) and veteran Jim Beyer. The A's also sold defenseman Hugh Boughner to Toronto as they sought to both reduce payroll and bring in cash. Wanless would go on to long and productive career while Beyer was on the way out but the Boughner move was a smart one as he too, was on the way out. 

One thing that became obvious after the 1927-28 season was that the bulk of the talent in the NAHC appeared to reside in the Canadian Division. Four of the five clubs in the Canadian posted records above .500 while only two American Division clubs could say the same. To be fair, every team in the American Division had been a member of the USHA while only the New York Eagles of the Canadian Division could say the same. And there was the fact that the Montreal Valiants were simply dominant in 1927-28.

The Valiants were superb in all facets of the game. Their goalie, Cal Laberge, was the top netminder in the league, posting a 1.37 GAA while playing every minute of every game. The offense was high-powered, scoring a league best 125 goals (22 more - or half a goal per game better - than their cross-town rivals who were second were 103). The Valiants' top line of Harvey McLeod (36 goals), Rene Mailloux (30) and Dick Carey (23) was both young and extremely gifted while the defense pairing of Syd Laurent and Lou McDonald was top notch as well. The Valiants were built to dominate - and they did, posting a 32-11-1 mark, winning their division by 15 points and also posting 13 more than the American Division champions did.

If the Valiants were the best team in the league (and they were) then the best-run team had to be the Ottawa Athletics. Despite being cash-strapped, the A's finished 24-18-2 with the second-best record in their division and third-best in the league as a whole. Ottawa had a couple of top-notch wingers in Fred Byers (23 g) and Frank Clinard (21) and one of the best defensemen in the game in Ace Anderson (9g, 8a). Third-place went to the New York Eagles, whose were 22-20-2 and had a burgeoning star on their hands in Buck Bernier (23 g, 12 a) working as center between the brother tandem of wingers Andre (18 g, 6 a) and Bernie St. Laurent (14 g, 14 a). The Eagles had a great defensive anchor as well in Hoss Thompson, a big, physical defenseman who could also score (10 g, 6 a). Dutch Lenz was a solid netminder and the Eagles, ironically, might have been good enough to win the American Division. 

Toronto, at 20-17-7, was the fourth team in the division to post a winning record - and the fourth to post a positive goal differential as well (100-92). With Jack Barrell sold off to Chicago and their brief run as a true contender over, the Dukes were in a transitional period. Goalie Henry Gemmill was pretty good, but the club was derailed by injuries to two of their best forwards. Albert Fortin led the club with 22 goals, but only played 32 of the 44 games. Similarly Norb Hickey (10 goals) played only 22 games. The Dukes brought in Jack Cooper in a trade with Boston, and he played well with 11 goals in 26 games for Toronto. Quebec was the lone Canadian Division team to have a poor season, turning in a 13-30-1 record. The Champs featured the very talented Elmer Morey (14 g, 7 a) on defense. Morey was a multisport star who also played professional football and lacrosse and excelled in all three sports. But even Morey couldn't help a club plagued by poor goaltending and frequent turnovers. The Champlains allowed a league-high 126 goals.

Coming into the season the American Division was thought to be the exclusive preserve of the high-priced New York Shamrocks. But the Greenshirts weren't particularly lucky in 1927-28, stumbling badly and finishing in fourth place with an 18-24-2 mark. The flip side of that coin was the surprising Detroit Bulldogs who rose from a last place performance in 1926-27 to win the division with a 24-16-4 mark. Wingers Dutch Van Nostrand (27 goals) and Baldy Hicks (20) paced the attack while goalie John Murphy (1.97 GAA) anchored the defensive side. The Bulldogs were short on name recognition, but played hard and worked as a team under first-year coach Charles Rausse, the former star center who brought a great work ethic and solid tactical knowledge to his new role.

The Montreal Nationals finished second, five points back with a 21-18-5 mark. Left wing Charlie Gagnon turned in a stellar season, nearly notching a point-per-game with 26 goals and 15 assists in 41 games. Longtime star goalie Jesse Hart was not quite as quick in goal as he had been in his salad days, and turned in a somewhat middling season (2.13 GAA) in a goal-depressed era and the gritty Bulldogs eked out more wins than losses despite a goal differential of just +5. The third-place Boston Bees started slowly but were chugging along be season's end, playing far better than their final record of 21-21-2 would indicate. Defenseman Cy Beech continued to emerge as one of the game's most exciting (and hard-hitting) players, racking up 165 penalty minutes while scoring 12 goals, just three off the team lead of right wing Frank Gerow's 15. Fred Brown turned in a brilliant season in net, posting a 1.65 GAA that was third in the league behind Laberge and Ottawa's Sam Jordan (1.64).

The Shamrocks as previously mentioned were a big disappointment in 1927-28. At age 35, goalie Davey Vert was seemingly starting to show his age, turning in a 2.24 GAA which among all starting goalies was only better than the performances of the goalies in Chicago and Quebec. The Shamrocks did get another great goal-scoring performance from star center Chris Schneider (28 goals) but the team was flat-out undisciplined, racking up nearly 600 penalty minutes, by far the most in the NAHC, and both Vert's poor performance and the team's flat goal differential of 100-100 can be at least partially laid at the feet of their playing shorthanded about 20% of the time.

Then there was the Chicago Packers. The 1927-28 season was an unmitigated disaster. With their former coach having "cursed" them on his way out of town, an owner who openly criticized the new coach in the papers on a regular basis and a front office that shuffled players like playing cards, the Packers were a mess. The team's star, right wing Jack Barrell, had his leg broken in two places in training camp, didn't return until February and even then was playing at less than 100%, finishing with just two goals in 10 appearances. Chicago traded for Charles Tattler from the Nationals and he did turn in a reasonably solid performance with 16 goals and 9 assists in 32 games, but he had Malcolm Cummings (20 g, 5 a) were the only offensive firepower to be found with Barrell out and team struggled to score goals (only Quebec scored fewer). With 22 skaters seeing ice time (including the "retired" George Mitchell who was coaching the team), there was no continuity or cohesiveness. And Mitchell was a dead man walking, and knew it. The team allowed a whopping 139 goals (more than twice as many as the Valiants) and used two goalies - veteran Adam Scott walked away from the team after being shelled mercilessly in his four games and Otis Pershall was unable to do much, posting the highest GAA of any goalie with more than 20 appearances (2.95).

The playoff format again featured the 2nd and 3rd-place clubs in a two-game, total-goals matchup to be followed by another two-game, total-goals matchup with the division winners before the best-of-five Challenge Cup Finals. The Canadian Division saw the Eagles down the Athletics 3-2 and 3-1 but fall to the juggernaut from Montreal 2-1 and 4-0. The American saw the red-hot Boston Bees take out Montreal 1-2 and 3-1. The Bees shocked the Bulldogs 4-3 and 3-1 to make the Finals. Boston's run came to a screeching halt as the Valiants' all-around brilliance resulted in a sweep by scores of 3-2, 4-2 and 3-1.

The McDaniels Trophy went to Harvey McLeod of the Valiants for his stellar season (36 goals, 19 assists, 55 points) in which he led the league in goals and points and was second in assists. The Yeadon Trophy as the league's "most gentlemanly" player went to New York Eagles star Buck Bernier who had only 15 penalty minutes while scoring 23 goals and 12 assists. And the brand-new Juneau Trophy for the best goaltender went, appropriately enough, to Juneau's replacement in the Montreal Valiants' net: Cal Laberge, who racked up 16 shutouts en route to a 32-11-1 record and miniscule 1.37 GAA.

 

North American Hockey Confederation Standings 1927-28

American Division GP W L T PTS GF GA   Canadian Division GP W L T PTS GF GA
Detroit Bulldogs 44 24 16 4 52 101 90   Montreal Valiants 44 32 11 1 65 125 61
Montreal Nationals 44 21 18 5 47 103 98   Ottawa Athletics 44 24 18 2 50 88 74
Boston Bees 44 20 20 4 44 81 75   New York Eagles 44 22 20 2 46 93 87
New York Shamrocks 44 18 24 2 38 100 100   Toronto Dukes 44 20 17 7 47 100 92
Chicago Packers 44 10 30 4 24 79 139   Quebec Champlains 44 13 30 1 27 72 126

 

NAHC SCORING LEADERS 1927-28

Player Goals   Player Assists   Player Points  
Harvey McLeod, VAL 36   Dick Carey, VAL 23   Harvey McLeod, VAL 55  
Rene Mailloux, VAL 30   Harvey McLeod, VAL 19   Dick Carey, VAL 46  
Chris Schneider, NYS 28   Charlie Gagnon, NAT 15   Rene Mailloux, VAL 42  
Dutch Van Nostrand, DET 27   Bernie St. Laurent, NYE 14   Charlie Gagnon, NAT 41  
Charlie Gagnon, NAT 26   Syd Laurent, VAL 12   Buck Bernier, NYE 35  
Buck Bernier, NYE 23   Lionel Young, NAT 12   Chris Schneider, NYS 35  
Fred Byers, OTT 23   Rene Mailloux, VAL 12   Dutch Van Nostrand, DET 32  
Dick Carey, VAL 22   Buck Bernier, NYE 12   Albert Fortin, TOR 29  
Albert Fortin, TOR 21   Four players tied    Dick Carey, VAL 29  
Two players tied 20         Bernie St. Laurent, NYE 28  

 

NAHC GOALIE LEADERS 1927-28

Player W L T ShO GAA
Cal Laberge, VAL 32 11 1 16 1.37
Sam Jordan, OTT 24 18 2 13 1.64
Fred Brown, BOS 20 20 4 11 1.65
Dutch Lenz 22 20 2 10 1.92
John Murphy, DET 24 16 4 8 1.97

 

AWARD WINNERS:

McDaniels Trophy - Harvey McLeod, Mtl Valiants

Yeadon Trophy - Buck Bernier, NY Eagles

Juneau Trophy - Cal Laberge, Mtl Valiants