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How the flu disrupted the 1919 Stanley Cup

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The staffers found out first. Upon clocking into work the morning of April 1, 1919, they were soon handed an unexpected assignment: strip away the temporary ice sheet from the arena in downtown Seattle, and instead begin laying the foundation for a roller rink. Why the sudden change? A few hours later, at 2:30 p.m., an official announcement came down from management. The sixth and decisive game of the Stanley Cup Final had been canceled on account of influenza.

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Across the street at the Georgina Hotel, the block of rooms reserved for the visiting Montreal Canadiens had morphed into a sickbay. There, five Habs players and manager George Kennedy stayed bedridden, temperatures ranging between 101 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit, according to The Toronto World. It was reported that all but four Canadiens had fallen ill, which left the NHL champions far short of a full roster to face the host Seattle Metropolitans, representatives of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, for the ultimate title.

“Not in the history of the Stanley Cup series has the world’s hockey championship been so beset with hard luck as this one,” wrote The Montreal Gazette, though such hardships were hardly confined to sport. At the time, the pandemic logged in history as the Spanish Flu was ravaging post-World War I society, eventually affecting an estimated 500 million, one-third of the entire population, and killing around 50 million. “Medical science for four and one-half years devoted itself to putting men on the firing line and keeping them there,” read an editorial in the Dec. 28, 1918 edition of Journal of American Medical Association. “Now it must turn with its whole might to combating the greatest enemy of all—infectious diseases.”

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By no means would this mark the last time that a viral outbreak infiltrated the NHL’s sweaty, germy ranks. At least 23 players league-wide—plus one linesman and one referee—came down with the mumps in late 2014. Earlier this week, the same contagious illness befell Vancouver defenseman Troy Stecher, Minnesota forwards Zach Parise and Jason Pominville, and Wild assistant coach Scott Stevens.

But, as the league continues celebrating its centennial anniversary, the disease that disrupted its third season remains the only cause for an outright cancelation of the championship. It’s why the official ledger lists Montreal and Seattle with two wins apiece, plus a tie in Game 4. And why both team names were eventually engraved on the Stanley Cup above the words “SERIES NOT COMPLETED.” And why, on an even more crushing level, the NHL lost one of its most tenured and decorated veterans, a 37-year-old defenseman for the Canadiens named Joe Hall.

He was an Englishman by birth but immigrated to Canada when he was young, first settling in the Manitoban city of Brandon. Even though Hall took up hockey full-time at 19 years old, he never forgot his humble roots. During the offseason, according to the World, he often returned home to toil on the railroad gangs, eventually saving enough to buy a home for his wife, two sons and one daughter. “In comfortable circumstances,” the newspaper noted.

On the ice, Hall developed a reputation as an equally hard, often physical worker whose effort ascended him up hockey’s ladder. “Hall played the game for all there was in it, and although he checked hard and close, he was never known to take a mean advantage of a weaker opponent,” the Globe would write in his obituary. “He was popular with his club mates, and made many friends in the cities in which he played hockey.” It even earned him a nickname, though friends disputed its accuracy. “As far as I’m concerned he should have been known as ‘Plan’ Joe Hall and not ‘Bad’ Joe Hall,” Canadiens forward Joe Malone once said, according to Stan and Shirley Fischler’s 2003 book Who’s Who in Hockey. “That was always a bum rap.”


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