Lester Patrick

Is there one person who has had more impact on the game of hockey than any other? The answer is yes: Lester Patrick - hockey's "Silver Fox"

Lester Patrick, along with his brother Frank, made countless contributions to the game of hockey throughout his lifetime as a player, coach, manager, owner and National Hockey League governor. Together the Patrick's pioneered hockey as big business.

Though he was born in Drummondville, Quebec, Dec. 30, 1883, Lester Patrick grew up and learned to play the game as a youngster in Montreal. The son of a very successful lumberman in Quebec and later British Columbia, Lester was also was known as a star athlete in cricket, rugby and lacrosse.

Lester first became prominent as a hockey player out west as he dropped out of McGill University in order to pursue puck dreams. Known for his great speed and puck skills, in 1903-04 he used his abilities as one of game's earliest offensive defensemen to help a team from Brandon Manitoba fall just short of a Stanley Cup championship against the Ottawa Silver Seven. He then returned to Montreal to play with Westmount before joining the Wanderers in 1905-06. Patrick was part of two Stanley Cup championships with the Wanderers before he moved to Nelson, British Columbia in order to work in the family lumber business.

Lester, and his equally talented brother Frank, played in the small town of Nelson, BC until 1909-10. That season both Patrick brothers headed to Renfrew, Ontario where they signed up to play with the Renfrew Millionaires of the newly formed National Hockey Association - the direct forerunner of the National Hockey League.

However the Patricks returned to the west in 1911 and started their own circuit - the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. The PCHA was the most serious big league alternative that the NHA/NHL ever faced, even bigger than the World Hockey Association challenge of the 1970s.

The Patricks borrowed money from the million dollar family lumber business in order to finance the league. Both would continue to, as well as serve as coach, manger and owner of teams - Frank in Vancouver and Lester in Victoria. The money went to create Canada's first artificial ice rinks as well as pay players - who were mostly taken from the NHA. There were other franchises in Edmonton, Seattle, Calgary, New Westminster, Regina and Saskatoon.

Artificial ice was not the only invention to the game that the Patricks brought about. Other revolutionary innovations included:

Numbered Jerseys
Blue Lines
Penalty Shots
Allowing of goalies to leave their feet to make a save
Allowing of players to kick the puck
Rewarded assists on goals
"On the fly" line changes
Encourage rushing defensemen
Inaugurated a farm team system
Devised a profitable playoff system which is now used universally.

The NHL adopted everyone of Patrick's innovations, and are still in use today.

"The Patricks" wrote famed sports writer Elmer Ferguson "legislated hockey into modernism."

The PCHA eventually would have to fold eventually, and the Patricks sold the league and all of its players rights to the NHL in 1926. Lester would follow suit, being named as the architect of the New York Rangers, taking over from Conn Smythe, in 1926. Patrick served as coach of the Rangers until 1939 - guiding them to Stanley Cup championships in 1928 and 1933 in addition to being named as the NHL's best coach 6 times (there was no official trophy given to the top coach at that time, but hew as named to the NHL first all star team as coach 6 times). He continued to serve as manager of the Rangers until 1946.

His many accomplishments as a player and innovations as a builder are shadowed by one night in the 1928 NHL playoffs.

Six years earlier, while in charge of the Vancouver Millionaires, Patrick allowed Toronto to use Eddie Gerard, a borrowed player, as an emergency replacement as the Toronto team was decimated by injuries. Patrick did it as a show of sportsmanship and for the good of the game of hockey, but Gerard when on to be the star from that point on and cost Patrick and the Vancouver Millionaires the Stanley Cup. Six years later, Gerard and Patrick would cross paths again in the playoffs in 1928 with Patrick coaching the New York Rangers and Gerard managing the Montreal Maroons. Teams back then didn't carry back up goalies, and when Ranger starter Lorne Chabot was injured, Patrick asked to use a borrowed goaltender as a replacement, but Gerard refused knowing the Cup would be his almost certainly with the Rangers lacking a true goalie. Patrick, at the age of 44 decided to put the pads on himself. This move energized his Rangers. They played inspired hockey and the game went in to overtime. In a game that Hollywood couldn't dream of, Frank Boucher went on to score in overtime for the Rangers. The Rangers went on to win the Stanley Cup.

At that moment Patrick was immortalized forever. This is one of the NHL's most legendary moments.

After stepping down as the Rangers boss in 1946, Lester returned to his beloved Victoria where he ran the minor league Cougars until 1954.

He is generally regarded as the architect of modern day hockey as his name is identified with many of the major developments in style of play, the organization and expansion of the game. He is also credited with expanding the game to western Canada, particularly British Columbia, as well as popularizing it in the north eastern United States.

Today Lester Patrick is remembered by the Lester Patrick Memorial Trophy. It is given out annually to recipients who shows "outstanding service to hockey in the United States." The award only honours a part of Lester's great hockey contributions, but at least he is forever remembered by the NHL in some way.


wendy last 7:44 PM  

Awesome and inspiring. I am using Lester Patrick's story and example of good sportmanship for a business training. What goes around comes around... eventually! Thanks for the heartfelt article

Unknown 8:37 AM  

I was recently given a puck and letter that has his autograph on it and the letter is on MSG letter head from 1934. It's an awesome piece of history. Your article was a great source of information for me to learn about this man. Thanks!

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