Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Lester Patrick
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6 NOVEMBER 2009
The Stanley Cup Champion 1907 Montreal Wanderers. Lester Patrick (center of 2nd row) served as team captain. (HHOF)
It is impossible to imagine any one person who has contributed as much to hockey as Lester Patrick. Known in his later years as 'The Silver Fox,' Patrick played the game, was a coach, an executive and an owner through his Hall of Fame career.

Born December 30, 1883 in Drummondville, Quebec, Curtis Lester Patrick was the son of a very successful timber baron. The family moved to Montreal when Patrick was young, and it was there that he discovered his love of sports. Besides hockey, the young man starred in cricket, lacrosse and rugby. Recognized as an outstanding point (defenceman) while playing university hockey for McGill in 1900, Patrick left school to pursue a hockey career, and by March 1904, was a nimble, puck-carrying member of the Brandon Hockey Club in the Manitoba Northwest Hockey League that competed against the Ottawa Silver Seven for the Stanley Cup. Ottawa easily took the best-of-three challenge in two consecutive games.

Lester Patrick confers with referee King Clancy.
(Imperial Oil/Turofsky/HHOF)
By the next season, Lester returned to Montreal and joined a team in Westmount. In 1905-06, he was recruited by the Montreal Wanderers and enjoyed his first Stanley Cup championship in March 1906 when the Wanderers dethroned the Ottawa Silver Seven. During that era, the Stanley Cup was competed for by challenges, and in January 1907, the Wanderers lost the Cup to Kenora, but two months later, earned it right back. Patrick captained that squad and was named to the Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association (ECAHA) All-Star Team.

The family moved to British Columbia in 1907, where the family patriarch further pursued his lumber business. Lester and his equally talented brother, Frank, played with the Nelson Hockey Club. But Lester's talents did not go unnoticed that season and he became a much coveted free agent. He joined Edmonton for several games in 1908-09 and both brothers left BC to play with the Renfrew Creamery Kings (also known as the Millionaires because of their penchant for signing high-priced free agents) of the newly-formed National Hockey Association, the predecessor of the National Hockey League.

Lester and Frank returned to British Columbia with a dream in 1911. Borrowing resources from the family timber business, the Patricks created their own league. The Pacific Coast Hockey Association was born in 1911. Lester played, coached, managed and owned the Victoria Aristocrats while Frank did the same with the Vancouver Millionaires. A third franchise was placed in New Westminster and named the Royals. The Patricks built new arenas in each city and introduced artificial ice to western Canada.

The PCHA lured a number of stars from the competing NHA, including Newsy Lalonde and Cyclone Taylor, and became a significant force; so much, in fact, that beginning in 1913-14, the Stanley Cup championship was decided by a series between the champion of the PCHA and the winner of the NHA. That first March, Lester's Victoria team was defeated by the Toronto Blueshirts for Lord Stanley's trophy.

NY Rangers GM Lester Patrick with coach and fellow future Hall of Famer Frank Boucher. (HHOF)
While overseeing all aspects of the Aristocrats, Lester also captained the team, and was selected to the First All-Star Team in three of the five seasons he played for Victoria. Plagued by poor attendance, the franchise was moved to Spokane in 1916, and Patrick again was elected to the First Team All-Star. Following the 1916-17 season, the Spokane Canaries disbanded and Patrick joined the Stanley Cup champion Seattle Metropolitans.

A Victoria franchise was revived in 1918, renamed the Cougars, and Patrick became the player-manager. He was named to the Second All-Star Team in both 1918 and 1920.

Lester Patrick retired from playing at the conclusion of the 1921-22 season in order to concentrate on managerial duties for the Victoria club, although he did return to the ice to help the team in 1925-26. Patrick's Victoria Cougars beat the Montreal Canadiens in 1925 to capture the Stanley Cup.

Innovations introduced by Lester and Frank Patrick to the PCHA permeated the National Hockey League and are still in use today. The Patricks are credited with introducing numbered sweaters, blue lines, penalty shots, assists on goals, changing players on the fly, using three lines, developing a farm system to nurture prospects and allowing goaltenders to leave their feet to make a stop.

The PCHA had merged with the Western Hockey League, but by 1926, the Patricks sold the league and the rights to all of its players to the NHL. The Victoria Cougars, for example, were sold to a Detroit franchise and became the Detroit Cougars, an early incarnation of the Red Wings.

The New York Rangers were granted a franchise to begin play in 1926-27. Although Conn Smythe was the team's architect, he was dismissed before the season began and replaced by Lester Patrick, who assumed the roles of coach and general manager. Smythe, meantime, used his severance money to purchase the Toronto St. Patricks, renaming them the Maple Leafs.

1940 Stanley Cup Champion New York Rangers. (Imperial Oil/Turofsky)
Patrick enjoyed almost immediate success in New York. The team, tagged 'the classiest team in hockey,' won the Stanley Cup in 1928, only their second year in existence. The Rangers defeated the Montreal Maroons on April 14. "I tell you, these boys have all the courage in the world," he said of his victorious team. Patrick even suited up to play goal in Game 2 after his netminder, Lorne Chabot, was injured.

The Rangers won the Stanley Cup again in 1933. Earlier that season, Patrick was appointed president of the Rangers, an additional portfolio to his coaching and managing duties. After the Stanley Cup win on April 13, Lester was presented with a replica Stanley Cup made of sugar.

Patrick continued to guide the Rangers until 1939, when he chose to focus strictly on his duties as general manager and relinquished the coaching reins to veteran Ranger, Frank Boucher. Patrick had been a superb coach, earning selection as coach of the NHL First All-Star Team six times (this was prior to the institution of the Jack Adams Trophy for the NHL coach of the year. In 1939-40, the team again won the Stanley Cup, defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs. Patrick remained president and general manager of the New York Rangers until 1946 when he retired from the NHL, although he maintained his position as vice-president of Madison Square Garden until 1950.

Hockey Hall of Fame Inductee Lester Patrick (HHOF)
After leaving the NHL, Lester returned to Victoria where he oversaw the operation of the Victoria Cougars, a minor professional outfit in the Western Hockey League. He left that post for retirement in 1954 and died June 1, 1960.

Lester Patrick's extraordinary life in hockey has been recognized with several prestigious honours. In 1947, he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Players' Category. The playoff champion in the WHL was awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy. The NHL introduced the Lester Patrick Award in 1966 to honour contributions to hockey in the United States. Lester Patrick was also the namesake of the Patrick Division, one of the National Hockey League's former divisions.

Perhaps Patrick's greatest legacy is the passion for the game he infused in his family. Sons Lynn and Muzz both enjoyed outstanding NHL careers. Lynn was also elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame (in the Players' Category) while Muzz later followed his father's path and was coach and general manager of the New York Rangers. Lynn's son Craig played in the NHL and was GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins during their first two Stanley Cup championships. He, too, is an Honoured Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame as a Builder. Muzz's son Dick is president and part-owner of the Washington Capitals.

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.