Hockey is Alberta's game

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

Alberta's hockey history is older than the province itself. In fact, a dozen years older. The first recorded hockey game took place at Calgary's Star Skating Rink Jan. 4, 1893, where the Town Boys beat the Tailors 4-1 in a game that saw seven players -- a goalie, two defencemen, three forwards and a rover -- play per side.

Long before the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers became the top two teams in the world through much of the 1980s, and long before the NHL came to Wild Rose Country, hockey was fully ingrained into the province.

Edmonton's first recorded game came Christmas Day, 1894, when the Thistles beat Fort Saskatchewan 3-2.

Soon after, the Battle of Alberta became a regular staple of life, and eventually Stanley Cup dreams took hold.

In 1908, the Alberta Hockey League champion Edmonton Eskimos challenged the Montreal Wanderers for the Cup but lost. A 1910 challenge by the Eskimos also saw a defeat, to the Ottawa Senators.

The new professional Western Canada Hockey League was born in 1921, and both the Eskimos (in 1923) and Calgary Tigers (in 1924), as league champions, earned the right to challenge for the Stanley Cup.

Both teams failed to return home victorious, but the list of players who skated for those teams included the likes of Harry Oliver, Red Dutton, Dutch Gainor, Gordon (Duke) Keats and Eddie Shore.

By then, the National Hockey League had possession of the Stanley Cup, and Alberta turned its hockey attention to the amateur and minor pro game, which gave plenty to enjoy.

The 1925-26 Calgary Canadiens became the first Alberta team to claim the Memorial Cup, symbolic of the junior hockey supremacy.

In the mid-'40s, both Edmonton and Calgary claimed an Allan Cup crown, and the Edmonton Mercurys became the world champions in 1950 and Olympic champs in 1952 -- sandwiching a world title for the Lethbridge Maple Leafs.

By the 1950s, the Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Flyers were farm teams for NHL squads, and became the launching points for many stellar careers -- including those of Bill Hay, Jim McFadden, Doug Barkley, Johnny Bucyk, Glenn Hall and Norm Ullman.

By the mid-'60s, with NHL hockey broadcasts taking viewers of the pro game, senior hockey began to disappear but was replaced by junior hockey. Since then, fans in this province have been treated to a steady stream of championship teams from Calgary, Edmonton, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Red Deer.

Meanwhile, had a certain deal been completed as planned, hockey's biggest Battle of Alberta wouldn't be between the Flames and Oilers. When the fledgling World Hockey Association came to fruition - the brainchild of Bill Hunter - Edmonton was to be home to the Oilers and Calgary was to become the Broncos. However, the Broncos didn't get off the ground and the expansion franchise was awarded to Cleveland. The Oilers survived and thrived during the six seasons the WHA existed. Immediately after, they became one of four squads to join the NHL in 1979.

The Calgary Cowboys - a vagabond squad that came after stops in Miami, Philadelphia and Vancouver - came to the Stampede City for a pair of seasons beginning with the 1975-76 campaign.

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100 YEARS AGO ...

Baseball was the most popular spectator sport across the country, and attracted all classes to both play and watch. At urban commercial rinks, there were carnivals and ice shows to draw crowds. Boxing and lacrosse enjoyed strong popularity.


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