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11-28-2012, 04:45 PM
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Hugh Lehman - the dominant goalie in the history of the Western leagues that rivaled the early NHL

We should take the PCHA seriously

Originally Posted by wikipedia
The Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) was a professional men's ice hockey league in western Canada and the western United States, which operated from 1911 to 1924 when it then merged with the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL). The PCHA was considered to be a 'major' league of ice hockey and was important in the development of the sport of professional ice hockey through its innovations.

The league was started by the Patrick family, professional hockey players from Montreal, building new arenas in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. After a few years of play, the league was accepted by the Stanley Cup trustees as being of a high enough standard that teams from its league were accepted for Stanley Cup challenges. Starting in 1915, the league entered into an agreement where the Stanley Cup was to be contested between the National Hockey Association and the PCHA after the regular seasons were finished. The league struggled to make money, and various teams moved into different cities in an attempt to be successful financially. Eventually, the league, to survive, merged with the WCHL in 1924.
The WCHL would fold in 1926, ushering in the era when the NHL had all the best talent in North America. But for a number of years, the PCHA was the NHL's main rival.

After the Portland Rosebuds, an American-based team, joined the PCHA in 1914, the Stanley Cup trustees issued a statement that the Cup was no longer for the best team in Canada, but now for the best team in the world. This shows how seriously the Cup trustees took the PCHA

The structure of the Stanley Cup playoffs from 1915 to 1926 - think of the of the NHA/NHL as the Eastern Conference, the PCHA and later the WCHL as the Western Conference
  • From 1915 to 1921, the Cup final was between the PCHA champion and the NHA/NHL champion. (The NHA turned into the NHL in 1918 as a legal formality designed to expel one renegade owner and his team. It was otherwise unchanged).
  • The PCHA would would win 2 Stanley Cups in this 7 years period (vs 4 for the NHA/NHL and 1919 cancelled due to the Spanish flu). The first was in 1915 when Lehman's Vancouver Millionaires beat the NHL's Ottawa Senators in the finals. The second was in 1917 when the Seattle Metropolitans with Hap Holmes in goal beat the Montreal Canadiens in the finals, becoming the first American team to win the Cup.
  • From 1922-1924, the new Western Canadian Hockey League (WCHL), PCHA, and NHL all competed for the Cup with one alternating team having a bye to the finals. After 1924, the PCHA folded and their 2 best teams joined the WCHL.
  • In 1925 and 1926, the Cup finals were between the WCHL (now a merger of the pCHA and old WCHL) and NHL. The WCHL Victoria Cougars (with Hap Holmes in goal) beat the Montreal Canadiens in 1925 for the last Cup win by a non-NHL team.
  • After 1926, the WCHL folded and their best players joined the NHL.

Strength of the Western Leagues vs. the Eastern Leagues
  • From 1915-1926, the Western Leagues won 3 Cups to 8 Cups from the East (with one series cancelled due to the flu).
  • The WCHL was given "major" status in 1921-22 and the PCHA merged into the WCHA prior to to 1924-25. After the WCHL folded prior to 1926-27, the best players from the West joined the NHL. 6 of the top 10 NHL scorers in both 1927 and 1928 had been in the WCHL in 1926.

I think the evidence points to talent in the West going from almost as good to par with talent in the East. When the PCHA was the only Western league, it was almost on par with the NHL, and was good enough to win 2 Cups over the NHL. After the WCHL was created, I think the combined WCHL/PCHA was just as good as the NHL. For the 2 years the WCHL existed after absorbing PCHA talent, it may have been slightly better than the NHL.

Hugh Lehman was the consensus best goalie in the history of the major Western leagues

Referree Mike Ion hand-picked official all-star teams for the length of the PCHA's existence. I believe he refereed every PCHA game, but I'm not sure, so if you have to rely on the opinion of only one guy, he was the guy you wanted to rely on. These are the PCHA All Star Teams for goalie:

He picked Hugh Lehman as the PCHA 1st Team All Star in 11 of the league's 13 years of existence (1912, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1918, 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924). Mike Ion picked a 2nd Team All Star goalie in 7 of the 13 seasons. In 1917, Lehman was a 2nd Team All Star. Fellow Hall of Famer Hap Holmes was a 2nd Team All Star 5 times under Lehman.

It wasn't just the All-Star teams. Newspaper articles indicate that Lehman was the class of the West:

Originally Posted by The Morning Leader, Feb 26, 1919
...the goaltenders, who have demonstrated that they can stop the hard shots a la George Vezina and Hugh Lehman.
From a Regina paper, infers that Lehman is the class of the West and Vezina of the East.

Originally Posted by Wes Champ, President of the Regina Vics after returning from watching 2 games of the Stanley Cup playoff series in 1931
(Charlie)Gardiner is even better than Hughie Lehman, known as "Eagle Eye' was in his prime, and the way he comes out of his goal - sometimes as much as 15 feet - just breaks the hearts of opposing sharpshooters.
The way Champ talks about Lehman, he is taking for granted that Lehman was the goalie that people in the west would compare future goalies to. Champ had owned the Regina Capitals when they competed in the WCHL, so he would have been very familiar with Lehman. (For a few years, the WCHL and PCHA played regular season games against each other).

More quotes about the perception of Hugh Lehman as the superstar goalie of the west can be found in Nalyd Psycho's profile here. The profile contains links to all the original newspaper sources used in this post.

Lehman was a star before joining the PCHA in 1912

He was 26 when he was a 1st Team All Star for the 1st Team and 38 for the last time in the PCHA. But he had already been a star in the split leagues before the PCHA was created.

In the era of Cup challenges (before the PCHA vs NHA/NHL playoffs), Lehman participated in two losing Cup challenges against the NHA champions, both in 1910.

Originally Posted by Ottawa Citizen - Mar 18, 1922
Hugh Lehman who has been a star for the last twenty years. And it could not be said that youth was served to the detriment of Lehman this time, as the veteran played equally as well as the St. Patrick's wizard.
Originally Posted by Ottawa Citizen - Apr 13, 1961
The fish-cold statistics of record books tell the story of Hugh Lehman's hockey life. Few players can match his nomadic exploits and, quite possibly, there never has been a goalkeeper who can match his ironman career.

Hugh Lehman was to the Western Leagues what Georges Vezina and Clint Benedict were to the Eastern leagues. He was a dominant regular season goalie for a very long time. Lehman perhaps should have won more Cups than he did (more on that later), which is why it makes sense to rank him a little below Vezina and Benedict. But in my opinion, he is basically Tony Esposito's equal.

Last edited by TheDevilMadeMe: 11-28-2012 at 08:19 PM.
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