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The unique National Hockey League schedule delivered this year by the COVID-19 pandemic led to an all intra-divisional season. Border restrictions also meant that all seven of the NHL’s Canadian squads were housed together in the North Division.
The NHL is keeping the intra-divisional slate through the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs. That guarantees the presence of a Canadian NHL club in the final four of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The long-suffering Toronto Maple Leafs, who haven’t won or played in a Stanley Cup final since 1967, is given the best sports betting odds of being that team. In fact, the Leafs are the third betting choice to win the Stanley Cup at odds of +650.
It won’t help bring a Stanley Cup-winning team to Saskatchewan, of course, since there are no NHL teams situated in the province. There never has been in fact. However, it might come as a surprise to learn that there was a time that Saskatoon came very close to making a run at a Stanley Cup title. From 1917-26, the first decade of existence for the NHL, the league competed for the Stanley Cup with rival major pro loops. These included the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, situated on the Canadian and American west coast, and the prairie-based Western Canada Hockey League, which included teams in Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, and Saskatoon.
In 1924, the PCHA and WCHL merged into one league. It was known as the WCHL in 1924-25 and shortened to the WHL in 1925-26. In both of those seasons, the Saskatoon Sheiks finished second in the regular-season standings, qualifying for the playoffs.
“Stanley Cup, Saskatchewan Blues” by St. Louis Blues/Twitter is licensed under CC BY 3.0
A Powerhouse Lineup
Several hockey legends of the past and the future came together over those two campaigns to give Saskatoon one of the finest professional clubs in the country.
The key to Saskatoon’s revival after existing in the early years of the league as a doormat was the work of player-coach Edouard (Newsy) Lalonde. A superstar with the Montreal Canadiens, Lalonde was a Stanley Cup champion, NHL scoring leader, captain, and coach with the Habs until he was traded to Saskatoon for the pro-rights to a promising youngster named Aurel Joliat in 1922.
Lalonde immediately set out to utilize his many hockey connections to assemble a powerful club in Saskatoon. He signed the Cook brothers, future Hockey Hall of Famers Bill and Bun, to play on the forward line. In goal, he inked another future Hall of Famer in George Hainsworth. All three would go on to sensational NHL careers – the Cooks with the New York Rangers and Hainsworth with the Montreal Canadiens and Leafs – and each would win multiple Stanley Cups.
To anchor his defense, Lalonde acquired Harry Cameron, a two-time Stanley Cup winner in Toronto.
The First Close Call
It all came together for the Sheiks during the 1924-25 season. Playing out of Exhibition Stadium, they finished second in the WCHL standings at 16-11-1. Saskatoon would face the Victoria Cougars in a two-game total goals semifinal series. The winner would advance to face the first-place Calgary Tigers for the right to represent the west in the Stanley Cup final.
Game 1 was played at Victoria and the Cougars took advantage of home ice to fashion a 3-1 lead. Corb Denneny scored the lone goal for Saskatoon.
Coming home, Saskatoon could never overcome the deficit. Jack Walker opened the scoring for Victoria. Fred Gordon tied it, but Frank Fredrickson restored Victoria’s lead. A goal from Corb Denneny pulled the Sheiks even, only for Victoria’s Frank Foyston to again shoot the Cougars ahead. A late goal from Cameron fashioned a 3-3 tie, but Victoria advanced 6-4 on total goals.
The Cougars would go on to topple Calgary and beat the Canadiens to win the Stanley Cup.
“Saskatoon Blades” by saskatoonblades.com is licensed under CC BY 3.0
Pawed By Cougars Again
History repeated itself in the rechristened WHL during the 1925-26 campaign. Saskatoon (18-11-1) again finished second and would once more square off with third-place Victoria in the semifinals.
Opening in Saskatoon, the Sheiks held the Cup champs to a 3-3 tie. Saskatoon fought back from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits. Bill Cook scored twice and Laurie Scott netted the other tally.
Off to Victoria for the decisive game, no player could solve Hainsworth or Victoria goalie Hap Holmes during regulation time. At the 8:10 mark of overtime, Cougars defenseman Gord Fraser made a solo rush and drove a high shot past Hainsworth. The Sheiks were eliminated.
The Cougars would again go to the Stanley Cup final but this time, lost to the Montreal Maroons. The WHL folded soon after the conclusion of the season and with it went Saskatoon’s last shot at Stanley Cup glory.