The glory of Victoria
by Lucas Aykroyd|23 NOV 2018
Canada's Joe Hicketts, who won World Junior gold in 2015 as the Victoria Royals captain, is part of a long line of players who have brought fame to the B.C. provincial capital.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
They call Victoria the “Garden City,” and in many ways, the seeds of modern hockey history were sown right here in the British Columbia provincial capital.

Co-hosting the 2019 World Juniors with Vancouver (26 December to 5 January) will just add to an already-sparkling legacy that’s tied to the very first Olympic hockey tournament.

At the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, the Winnipeg Falcons senior amateur team won gold for Canada with a 29-1 goal differential. Captain Frank Fredrickson starred with 12 goals, including a seven-goal outburst against Sweden and the winner against the silver-medal Americans.

However, Fredrickson, inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958, wasn’t done. He, along with fellow former Falcon Haldor Halderson, would lead the Victoria Cougars to the 1925 Stanley Cup. The Western Canada Hockey League club, managed by the legendary Lester Patrick, defeated the Montreal Canadiens – starring centre Howie Morenz and goalie Georges Vezina – three games to one in the final.

The Victoria Daily Times reported on the triumph: “They skated like fiends, passed the puck like masters, shot like machine-guns, and their defence was as hard to penetrate as the side of a battleship.”

This wasn’t just the first and only Stanley Cup victory for Vancouver Island’s largest city. It was also the last time a non-NHL team would ever win the Cup, and the only such occurrence since the NHL’s 1917 founding. No B.C. team has captured the Cup since.

Lester Patrick, another future Hockey Hall of Famer (1947), would shape the rules of modern hockey, along with his brother Frank, to an unparalleled degree. The Patricks founded the professional Pacific Coast Hockey Association (1911-24) and implemented innovations like blue lines, forward passes, line changes and jersey numbers.

The Patricks also built the 4,000-capacity Patrick Arena for $110,000 in 1911. When Victoria faced the New Westminster Royals there on 2 January, 1912, it was the first professional game ever on artificial ice in Canada. The arena stood in the suburb of Oak Bay at the intersection of Cadboro Bay Road and Epworth Street until 1929, when it burned down.

Victoria’s pro hockey heyday ended when the Cougars relocated to Detroit in 1926, ultimately becoming the modern-day Red Wings NHL franchise.

The Memorial Arena opened in 1949 at the northeast corner of Blanshard Street and Caledonia Street, the site of today’s Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. Minor pro and junior A hockey kept local fans entertained in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

However, the 1971 entry of the major junior Victoria Cougars into what’s now the Western Hockey League (WHL) marked the next milestone era in the sport locally.

Grant Fuhr was the most famous member of this Cougars incarnation. The acrobatic goalie, who’d win five Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers and the 1988 Vezina Trophy, backstopped Victoria to the 1981 WHL championship. Fuhr also earned 48 out of Victoria’s league-record 60 regular-season wins. He won the 1984 and 1987 Canada Cups, plus a silver medal at the 1989 IIHF World Championship in Sweden. “To me, Grant was the greatest goalie who ever played,” said Wayne Gretzky in his book 99: Stories of the Game.

Yet Fuhr, a 2003 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, isn’t the only noteworthy former Cougar. For example, fierce centre Mel Bridgman was the number one overall draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 1975. The late Paul Cyr suited up for Canada’s first World Junior gold-medal team in 1982. 

While Vancouver fans still lament that the Canucks traded Cam Neely to Boston for Barry Pederson in 1986, Pederson shone with the 1981 Cougars with a team-best 147 points. Remarkably, the savvy pivot’s 52 points in 34 NHL playoff games gives him the third-best career playoff points-per-game average (1.529) of all time, behind Gretzky (1.837) and Mario Lemieux (1.607) and ahead of Mark Messier (1.250) and Bobby Orr (1.243). 

Ex-Canucks Henrik and Daniel Sedin are the most famous brother duo in British Columbia hockey history, but the Cougars also produced a pair of big-time siblings.

Geoff Courtnall, a sharp-shooting left wing, and Russ Courtnall, one of the fastest right wings in NHL history, were Victoria teammates in 1982-83. The brothers reunited for a Worlds silver medal in 1991 in Finland and with the 1995 Canucks. Geoff also captured the 1988 Stanley Cup with Edmonton. In 1984, Russ captained Canada’s World Junior team and played at the Sarajevo Olympics. In 1991, he won the Canada Cup.

Other ex-Cougars also left their mark on the IIHF landscape, sometimes with emerging hockey nations.

Vancouver-born winger Simon Wheeldon played for Austria at two Olympics (1998, 2002) and three Worlds (1998, 2000, 2001). Curt Fraser, who played with Gretzky, Mike Gartner and Bobby Smith on the 1978 World Junior team, coached Belarus at the 2007 and 2008 Worlds. Rich Chernomaz, who got a 1995 Worlds bronze medal as a player, would coach Hungary from 2013 to 2017.

Even after the Cougars moved to Prince George in 1994, the provincial capital continued to spawn some top-tier talents.

Victoria, famous for its mild climate and springtime cherry blossoms, doesn’t afford young players many opportunities to skate on outdoor rinks, unlike elsewhere in Canada. Yet that didn’t stop Victoria-born Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn from capturing World Junior gold in 2009, Olympic gold in 2014, and the NHL scoring title in 2015. His older brother Jordie has played close to 400 NHL games on defence with Dallas and Montreal.

Colorado Avalanche defenceman Tyson Barrie briefly crossed paths with the Benn brothers on the 2006-07 BCHL Victoria Grizzlies. Internationally, this Victoria native, who scored a career-high 57 points last season, owns Worlds gold (2015) and silver (2017), as well as a World Junior silver (2011).

The WHL’s Victoria Royals, who came to town in 2011-12, have created a new legacy. In 2015, Royals captain Joe Hicketts earned World Junior gold on a team with Connor McDavid and Max Domi. In 2016, then-coach Dave Lowry both helmed the World Junior team in Finland and led the Royals to the WHL title.

With perennial U20 contenders like the U.S., Sweden, and Finland playing their group games at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, the odds are good that Victoria fans will see some generational talents blossoming at the 2019 World Juniors. It’s history in the making.